Socioeconomic Gap in the American Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

A particular set of achievements or test results needs to be arrived at in order to objectively compare two different bodies of information. Data relative to graduation and dropout rates among students as well as their parents would be relevant in showing the potential correlation between traditional education and the poverty cycle. Once a set of standards is established and norms set for both the standard education system as well as an alternative education system, data sets can be accurately compared and analyzed according to socioeconomic class, economic advantage or disadvantage, and as ethnicity.

First of all, this approach will take the form of statistical research intended to show that the specified minority groups currently do not perform as well on standardized testing as other groups. It is quite easy to find data to support this premise, and this data comes from sources within the current American educational system. Secondly, alternative schools and educational facilities will be identified and the types and methods of testing that takes place at these locations will be discussed and analyzed. Lastly, the results of these tests will be combined with same population college enrollment data and employment information to prove whether or not these populations are benefiting from alternatives to standardized testing. The research needs to be objective and hard numbers based.

While it will be relatively difficult to completely synthesize the test score disparities between socioeconomic classes, due to the fact that the data is fundamentally flawed because it comes from a flawed system itself, an attempt must be made to reconcile the statistical information obtained from within the flawed system with information obtained from alternative schools and educational facilities. A consideration must be made for the bias of the results due to the structure. When these biased results are compared, a clearer picture of just how extensive the cultural and socioeconomic bias is can emerge. The quantitative research methodology will also help to show, on a macro scale, the prevalence of the educational bias against economically disadvantaged students that currently exists.

Proposed Findings

The proposed findings will show that alternative testing approaches outside of the world of standardized testing will produce better results for minority populations. Also, the education received in these facilities will be better suited and more culturally sensitive than that of traditional education facilities. The analysis of this information and the synthesis of theory and fact will help to paint a picture of a better way forward. Once successful alternatives are identified and analyzed, the first step in changing the face of education in hopes of eliminating the current socioeconomic gap will be complete. The data will likely suggest that a complete evaluation and restructuring of the American education system as well as the popular understanding of educational opportunities and the disadvantages of low socioeconomic status is necessary.

From the perspective of structural functionalism, the only way this restructuring can be successful is through the eventual revaluation of what it means to be educationally successful in America. Schools must be held accountable for their lack of cultural sensitivity and consideration, and new standards must be adopted that reflect the changing needs and gaps in the education system. The data from the traditional education system will, at some level, likely be irreconcilable with the data obtained from the alternative schools. It is impossible to compare the test scores and means of educational development between the two different types of educational approaches and facilities, but this impossibility illustrates just how far the American education system needs to come in order to serve the entire population more fairly.

The findings will also likely suggest that many ethnic and socioeconomic minority populations have been under challenged and under funded from an educational standpoint. The disparity between schools will also be highlighted, relative to location and specific socioeconomic population centers. The findings will support the idea that a complete structural overhaul is necessary to include those students who are economically disadvantaged. The findings will also offer a road map of troubled schools and populations from which an adequate and comprehensive plan can be created to combat this disparity within the American education system.

Application of Theoretical Perspective

Structural functionalism stresses the idea that a society functions within its own predefine values, norms, and traditions (Spencer, 2005, pp. 246). The socioeconomic gap in
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education in America can be explained using this theoretical perspective quite readily, since the cycle of poverty and lack of educational opportunities is perpetuated by the system itself. The structure of the educational system does not allow for the fair and adequate measurement of learning and skills within certain populations and minority groups. This system functions for the majority of the American population, and has for years. But just a structural functionalism stresses the idea that the status quo is so because the majority accepts it as a valuable and traditional means of living life, the socioeconomic gap between classes and ethnicities can go away until the structure of the education system itself is altered. The people who create the system are the same ones who benefit from its structure (Spencer, 2005, pp. 246). This is evidenced in the education world by the fact that the majority of students are able to adequately perform well on standardized testing and respond rather well to the type of education currently available. It's not just about race however, as discussed previously, access to financial resources has also historically played a large role in defining or limiting the educational opportunities of many Americans.

The "organs" of society, as popularized by sociologist Herbert Spencer's work function to propagate themselves and their systems. These organs, as in the case of the American education system, represent the need for students and citizens to conform to the norms and values of the society as a whole. This conformity creates cultural conflict, as evidenced by consistently poor standardized test scores among certain minority populations as well as the perpetuation of this cycle. Many minorities are completely unable to conform to the American educational norms and values and so suffer because of this (Fish, 2001). It is unfair for any group to be treated as such, and in order to enact change, from a structural functionalist standpoint, the complex system of equilibriums needs to be challenged and updated to reflect the needs and values of other cultures, not just the majority. At the very least an adaptive educational cycle needs to be implemented in order to better suit the minorities that are disadvantaged by traditional American models of education.

The Structural Functionalist perspective is also about consequences (Spencer, 2005, pp. 165). The current consequences for not being able to thrive or adapt to the status quo are the same consequences seen in the populations who have low standardized test scores and school performance. Unfortunately these consequences serve, at a structural level, to weed out those with the least resources and cultural adaptivity from those who can afford better educations or who can or are better suited to conform to the current educational system. Just as Zwick and Greif-Green wrote in their article, the functionality of the current American education system is put into question when data is presented showing that students whose parents did not graduate from high school had far lower graduation rates than their counterparts whose parents did graduate high school, the argument that a systemic functionality and pattern exists cannot be denied. Even the current grading system could be argued to be flawed for many students with less financial resources. The Owings, McMillen, and Burkett paper presents data showing that economically disadvantaged students represented only 10% of those students graduating high school with GPA's of at least 3.5. When compared to their non-disadvantaged counterparts, which made up around 25% of those students graduating with GPA's of 3.5 or higher; the disparity is highlighted further and in different ways. Even students' SAT scores, according to the same paper, fell under the same pattern. The way in which student progress is measured greatly favors those economically advantaged students. This data is compelling and lends validity to the argument that there is a real problem with the way the American education system is set up and is currently operating.


The American education system is fundamentally and systemically flawed and biased against students of lower socioeconomic statuses. This bias comes, from a structural functionalist perspective, from those who have designed the system to function the way it currently does. This population holds value in the current system, and molds the entire educational system around their own needs. Consistently high standardized test scores as well as school performance can be directly linked to economic advantage in student populations. In order to enact true change, the system must be retooled and revalued with the idea that what works for one population does not always work for others. Ethnic differences are also illustrated relative to test performance, which is…

Sources Used in Documents:


Boyd-Zaharias, Jayne, and Helen Pate-Bain. "Class Matters in and Out of School:

Closing gaps requires attention to issues of race and poverty." Phi Delta Kppan Sept. (2008): 40-44. Print.

"Federal Role in Education." U.S. Department of Education. 29, Jan. 2010. Web.

02 April, 2010.

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