I start my day in my introduction to business class. This class is open to everyone, no prerequisite or recommendation required. I take my usual seat in the middle of the room and look around.
An array of colors swirls around me: some black, some brown, some white, some yellow. Some came on boats from tropical islands, others where the cold is constantly biting. Some from places where you slept with your door unlocked, others from homes where you slept with bars on your windows. Most all have crossed many borders to get here. Here the minority is the majority.
I end my day in my AP European history class. This class is an advanced placement class and is open to everybody. I take my assigned seat on the edge of the room and look at the color surrounding me: white floors, white walls, white teacher and a bunch of white students. These are the “smart kids,” yet they’ve never seen an EBT card. These are the “smart kids,” yet this suburb of Missouri is all they know.
Here I am the only student of color. But why? I take all honors classes and two intro classes and I’ve noticed a pattern. There is an extreme racial disparity between white students and students of color in advanced placement courses and regular classes.
And when I get away from high school and go outside into the real world, I notice the same pattern. My dad is a janitor for white doctors and my mom sorts clothes under a white boss. I’ve only been in the Independence School District for 11 years and have seen thus far, but this phenomenon has been observed in public school districts all across the nation.
The achievement gap institutionalized and integrated into us by our school system is a large factor that contributes to the widening wealth gap we see in the working-class society today. The racial wealth gap has risen from $85,070 to $236,500 just over the past 30 years. This extreme gap stems from the disparity between white students students of color attending college and finishing. The root of which is the disparity of races between honors and regular classes. Studies have shown a distinct correlation between advanced math courses and college enrollment, the analyses showing that more of the former had positive effects on the latter. This study also showed the math achievement for blacks was drastically lower than for whites.
But why? This problem goes back even further than high school. The K-12 education system sets students of color and low socio-economic status at a disadvantage from the start. “Tracking” in elementary school, or the process of sorting students into different courses based on demonstrated ability, has created a detrimental mentality for the impressionable young minds of elementary schoolers. It separates students from their higher achieving peers and gives them lower expectations, leading them to believe they can’t handle harder classes and ultimately won’t succeed in a college environment.
Some educators believe this tracking is essential to keeping the “delinquents” from holding back the college-bound students. This tracking, however, is not a fair indicator of academic ability. Students of lower socioeconomic status don’t have access to the same resources as students of higher socioeconomic status.
With the new reliance on technology in school, we’re at an even greater disadvantage. I knew there were times I couldn’t rely on the internet at home to do my homework, or even a laptop to type my essays, and I knew I could never go to my parents to help me with my algebra. This disadvantage makes students feel like the whole system is against them and no matter what they do they don’t have what it takes to take harder classes, they don’t have what it takes to go to college.
My brother once confessed to me, “I wish I just had one teacher that told me I could do it.” He’d always wanted to take advanced math classes, but because he wasn’t placed in any in middle school, he didn’t think he was prepared enough to make the switch in high school.
As a teacher now, he looks back and regrets that he didn’t do more in school. If we find new methods of teaching that are more accessible and equitable for all students, then maybe students like my brother wouldn’t be regretting it.
Maybe I’d see more people similar to me in my honors classes. Maybe I’d see more colors in my classroom.