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Educational Gap in the United States: Are We Truly Equal?

Written by Elise Yang

The college application season can often be associated with one word: stress. It is an integral threshold of growing up for many young adults in the United States, especially for this competitive generation stumbling towards an uncertain future. However, is the playing field level for all?

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2012, the United States ranks 14th in the world for the percentage of 25-34 year olds who partook in higher education (42%). Across all OECD countries, the millennials in the American workforce tied for last on mathematics and problem-solving tests among the millennial workers in all the industrialized countries tested. EducationWeek has also reported in May 2021 that no improvement has been shown in high school math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), even after 40 years of trying every “proven practice.”

On top of these statistics, OECD reports that 30% of higher education expenditure comes from private sources in other countries but in the United States, it’s 60%. Private schools in the United States also account for 25% of all American schools and consist of 10% of all PK-12 children. Breaking down these facts, what do these numbers really tell us? There is only one reasonable conclusion from these statistics: the American public education system is falling far behind other countries. Unfortunately, as a result it is affecting the workers’ expertise in the nation. Considering the national statistics collected by NAEP only apply to public school districts, the United States is going through a major crisis in terms of leading their next generation to be the most skilled workforce in the world. An aspiration that significantly diverges from reality, given that around 90% of PK-12 kids depend on underfunded public schools for an education.

On the other hand, U.S. News concluded in September 2021 that research consistently showed private school students tend to perform better on standardized tests. The NAEP, often associated with being the “nation’s report card,” also found that private school students tend to outperform their public school peers in nearly all subject areas, including college entrance exams like the SAT (NAIS).

As someone with the experience of going through both public and private school, I can personally speak for the greater opportunities and individualized school experience I was fortunate to take away from private school. Perks like college counseling, flexible schedule building, personalized instruction assistance, smaller classrooms, and attentive teachers were all amazing factors that contributed to a better high school experience for me – things I wouldn’t have gotten had I stayed in my old public school. However, that privilege also comes with a yearly 30,000 dollars tuition, which is a number a vast majority of American families cannot afford.

College applications unpack in a bundle of extracurriculars, interviews, grades, essays, and so much more. While many colleges are going test-optional or test-blind around the country, impressive scores on standardized exams still play a significant factor in the admissions process. The education gap between public and private institutions lead to underperforming scores from public school students compared to their private counterparts, who have access to more resources for success. The inadequate quality in free American education will ultimately place its students at a great disadvantage that will ultimately impact the outcome of college acceptances – a major milestone in one’s life.

As far as things go, we are not equal. Something needs to be changed.

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