Writing Catalog

Kameron Shiver

Grade: 10

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Scott Boehnen

The Disparities in Education: Caused by Race

Critical Essay

The Disparities in Education: Caused by Race

Jarvis DeBerry, a editor for Cleveland.com defines poverty as a "trap." In an article he states, "Poor people are cursed with the worst of everything: the worst housing, the worst schools, the worst wages, and they are the least likely to have access to quality medical care, quality child care, fully stocked grocery stores, banks where they cash checks or borrow money without getting fleeced or reliable transportation to jobs that might pay them enough to cover life's expenses."(DeBerry quoted in Cleveland.com Editorial Board, and The Plain Dealer Editorial Board). The mechanism that causes people to fall back into this trap is often education. The Center for Poverty and Inequality Research found data that shows that poverty rates for those without a college diploma is 14%, and without a high school diploma is an overwhelming 29% ("How Does Level of Education Relate to Poverty?"). Education is extremely important in evading this trap that so many fall into time, and time again. Sadly, the people affected by inferior education most in Northeast Ohio tend to be people of color. Black people in Ohio have a poverty rate of nearly 30% ("Black Poverty by State 2022."). Nearly one in three Clevelanders lives in poverty, and even more alarming, nearly one in two Cleveland children lives in poverty (CUYAHOGA COUNTY PLANNING COMMISSION). This disadvantage is not skewed toward children; since nearly half of Cleveland is black, poverty is also a facet of the inequality that Black Clevelanders confront every day (Ahern). The cause of this inequality, from generation to generation, is unequal access to high-quality education. Cleveland Metropolitan School District is the largest district in Cleveland and is where many Cleveland children go to school. This district is consistently one of the lowest preforming districts in Ohio. In 2018, they were ranked as the 7th worst school district and received an overall grade of F because just one of their 24 standards was met (Exner). That means that almost every child in Cleveland gets their education from a bottom ten school in the state. How does one expect these children to escape this "trap" if they are at a severe disadvantage just by going to school. They aren't. These children are doomed to fail. The main cause of this failure is unequal funding: the Cleveland Metropolitan School District does not receive enough money to care for the problems their impoverished students have. The unequal funding of these schools disproportionally affects children of color because of hyper-segregation and "white flight" that cause people of color to live in high poverty rate areas. The solution to ending the disparities in education begins with educating middle class families on the advantages of integration and improving how Ohio funds its public schools.

The disparities in education, particularly caused by race, stem from unequal funding in Schools. This unequal funding is caused by hyper-segregation which still widely affects Cleveland. Cleveland is one of the most segregated cities in America. In fact, 48% of the Cleveland population is black, while only 21% of those who reside in the suburbs are black. Comparatively, white people make up just 40% of the Cleveland population and a staggering 71% of nearby suburbs (Ahern). The problem becomes even larger when poverty rates are considered. The US census estimates that almost 32% of Cleveland residents live in poverty. When this statistic is compared to nearby suburbs like Solon (3.6%), Shaker Heights (8.1%), Brooklyn (12.3%), Cleveland's poverty rate is exponentially larger (Quick Facts | Cleveland City, Ohio). Poverty greatly increases the amount of money a district must spend on each student because of issues like disability that tend to affect large cities more than suburbs. For example, Cleveland Metropolitan School District has the ninth-highest percent of disabled students in the State. This forces the district to spend more on taking care of each special education student. Mixing that with the rate of limited English-speaking students, where Cleveland Metropolitan School District ranks 17th highest in the state (O'Donnell), and so many more problems that affect impoverished kids, Cleveland ends up spending much more on each student than most suburbs. The problem with Cleveland's high spending is their overall budget. The 2021 Fiscal Year Budget for the district says, "we estimate revenues of $835.9 million from local, state, and federal sources ... We are also projecting $1.1 billion in expenses across all funds." According to the Budget for the year, the district is operating at a loss. This raises the question of "why the district doesn't receive enough money?". Well, the answer to that is in Colin Hsieh's research paper, according to Colin Hsieh, "Ohio funds schools based on the property taxes of its citizens, meaning that richer districts receive more funding while poorer districts receive less funding." (Hshieh). This would explain why the district does not receive enough money to properly educate their students, while a district like Shaker Heights can educate their students and end the year with a budget of over 61 million (Shaker heights budget).

The real issue with unequal funding is that it disproportionately affects students of color. Since black people make up a large amount of the Cleveland population, it would be smart to assume that black students make up a majority of Cleveland schools. This assumption is proven correct because Cleveland Municipal School district has a minority enrollment of 85%, a number that is 53 points above the state average (publicschoolreview.com). These schools are filled with black students, and it is rare to see a white student in this district. The question is "why is this district so segregated? This issue stems from years and years of a phenomenon called 'white flight'. 'White flight' is when white people move out of urban locations particularly because there is an abundance of minorities. There are so many examples of 'white flight' in Cleveland. One of the main examples of 'white flight' is Bedford Heights. Bedford Heights was an all-white city from its creation in the early 1950's until around 1970, when Bedford began to attract its first large number of African Americans. Ten years later, the city had a population of 13,214, of which 27% were black. Since then, the city's population went down 2,680, but the real statistic is that the percentage of black people in the city nearly tripled to approximately 72% (Souther). This means that a majority of white people in the city left and went to nearby suburbs, leaving Bedford Heights almost entirely black. The phenomenon of 'white flight' happened all over the city. Since this phenomenon was so widely spread throughout the Cleveland area, it left many middle-class towns with poor black citizens causing many towns to lose popularity and to experience an increase in poverty. An increase in poverty means an increase in price per student for a district. An increase in price per student without the necessary funds to care for each student causes kids to do worse academically. Data shows that economically disadvantaged students tend to score lower than their non-economically disadvantaged peers. And since, people of color tend to be in higher poverty and more urban areas, it causes them to do much worse on state tests. In fact, black students in the 4th grade receive an average 42 points lower on state tests than white students, and 8th graders follow a similar structure with black students receiving an average of 36 points lower on their state tests. (Ohio Education by the Numbers)

The solution to the disparities in education particularly in the Cleveland area is mitigating hyper-segregation in schools. Hyper-segregation is the original cause for the unequal funding that ultimately leads to young children of color receiving worse grades than their white peers. Mitigating hyper-segregation is not an easy task because it starts with speaking to middle-class (usually white) families. The Harvard Gazette wrote an article on making schools less segregated. In this article, it says "the average Black and Latino student in the United States attends a school in which 60 percent of the students are from low-income backgrounds. Forty percent of Black and Latino students attend hyper-segregated schools, with 90 to 100 percent of Black and Latino peers. White students, meanwhile, are more likely to be surrounded by white and affluent peers and are the least likely to attend schools with children from other racial groups" (Mineo). Most children attend public schools, and therefore they can only attend the school in their city. Does that mean the solution to hyper-segregation is to force middle-class families to move to poorer districts with high black and Latino populations? No, the solution is to educate those middle-class white parents on the benefits integration brings not only to black and Latino children, but also their own. There needs to be a shift in the thought of integration. Many white parents think of integration as almost charity work that only helps other children, but integration can broaden perspectives and improve gratitude and empathy for all children. White students in particular gain a larger understanding and feel more committed to improving social justice (Mineo). Not only do parents need to shift their thinking, but districts must also do a better job of educating parents about all the advantages of integration. Ending hyper-segregation does not require people to move to poor neighborhoods. It simply takes a few parents to throw away their biases and really think about what integration can do for their kids.

The second solution to lowering the disparities in education is the differentiation in funding for schools. "In 1997, in DeRolph v. State, the Ohio Supreme Court declared the State's school funding system unconstitutional, specifically citing four major flaws in the system, including insufficient state funding for school facilities. The Court wrote: "A system without basic instructional materials and supplies can hardly constitute a thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state as mandated by our Constitution."" (Education Law Center). For nearly 20 years education in Ohio was being funded by an extremely unconstitutional system that did not allow every child to receive the same education. The key to ending disparities in education is fixing the system that has wronged so many young minds. Luckily, the solution to this problem is already in the works. In 2021, people in Columbus began to take action into abolishing this toxic system. This led to the first teacher strike in nearly 50 years. Teachers finally decided that it was not fair that students and teachers were expected to work and learn in places where that were understaffed and without many necessities required for education. After a few days, lawmakers finally decided to redesign the way we fund public education with the Fair School Funding Plan. The Fair School Funding Plan allows for every child to receive the same education (Sico). The Fair School Funding Plan is the first step to putting kids first when it comes to education. Putting an emphasis on each child is an important way it does that. The plan increases the amount of money districts can spend on each student. This will help districts like Cleveland who need to spend more on each kid, by allowing them to allocate enough money so every child can thrive. Along with many other benefits this plan is an amazing step in the right direction, but that doesn't mean it's perfect. This plan sadly has an extremely short lifespan, because the Ohio legislature would only fund this plan for two years. It is hard for districts to make changes when the plan could be gone by 2023. Parents, teachers, and politicians must continue to put pressure on Ohio's board of education in order to keep this plan in affect ("4 Things You Should Know About Ohio's Fair School Funding Plan")

Young children of color, specifically those in poverty are at a severe advantage from such a young age. At the young age of 5 children are affected by unequal funding, and hyper-segregation that have been harming impoverished kids for decades. Solving those problems involves informing middle class families on the benefits of integration and improving the way Ohio schools are funded. It is our duty as a society to make sure that every child can start their education on an even playing field. How is a child supposed to learn when their school may be overheated because of a lack of air conditioning? How is a teacher supposed to teach when half of their students are living in poverty? These are problems that effect so many schools in northeast Ohio every day. The vast majority of Ohio will never understand the struggles that those students and teachers go through but that does not mean that their struggles can go unnoticed. It does not take that long to make a difference that could help improve the lives of hundreds of kids. Informing people about the benefits of integration, and if you're a parent taking the time to get informed about what integration has to offer for children of color and even you're own kid can really go a long way. You can also help by joining the hundreds of parents, teachers, and district leaders in the continuous pressure on the Ohio Legislature to make the Fair Funding Plan a permanent solution for impoverished kids.