Data Reveal Deep Inequities in Schools

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How close does the public education system come to the principles of equity: providing all students the resources they need to meet their highest potential?

A growing number of organizations are using data to answer that question. And those same organizations are also creating tools that allow anyone with a computer to compare their district, state, or even their school to similar entities across the country.

Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit, used 2015-16 federal data on all schools and measured how many high schools offer positive benefits such as teachers who are fully certified by the state, access to Advanced Placement courses, or low levels of chronic absenteeism among students and teachers.

Overall, white, Asian, and affluent students had greater access to schools with signs of quality, the organization found. Black students, Hispanic students, and students from low-income backgrounds had less access to schools with quality educators and a positive school climate, as defined by the Research for Action. The organization released a data dashboard that allows users to compare states to one another.

This analysis is useful because it answers a basic question, said David Lapp, the organization's director of policy research: are students offered the same ingredients for success no matter where they attend school?

"Whether a school even offers that opportunity isn't really a function of a student's, or a parent's, or even a teacher's decision. It's a function of policymakers," Lapp said.

The Education Trust, a group that advocates for students of color students living in poverty, used the same data set to look more closely at students' access to advanced coursework: gifted classes, Algebra 1 in 8th grade, and Advanced Placement courses. It found that nationally, black and Hispanic students are less likely to attend schools where rigorous coursework is offered, but when they do, they are less likely to be enrolled in those courses. Individual states, however, vary on how easily black and Hispanic students can access these courses.


Explore the Data: Digging Into Data on Equity


"What the data does is really lend support to what we've known anecdotally, to really make the point that changes need to be made," said Kayla Patrick, a policy analyst on the P-12 Policy team.

The Education Trust has also created a tool that allows users to compare states.

Ivy Smith-Morgan, the associate director of P-12 analytics for The Education Trust, said a growing interest in educational equity has coincided with the release of federal data on every school. That data offers a valuable perspective on state efforts, and she believes more organizations will continue to use data to inform their advocacy.

"It's almost impossible to find the solution if you don't know it exists, and you don't know what the drivers of the problems are," Smith-Morgan said.

Vol. 39, Issue 24, Pages s2, s3

Published in Print: March 4, 2020, as A Clear-Eyed View of the Inequities in Schools
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