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The American educator Horace Mann once declared that education is “a great equalizer of the conditions of men — the balance wheel of the social machinery.” Ideologically, this is a pleasant perspective. Why shouldn’t this be? What keeps lower-income Johnny from downtown from achieving the same career success as well-to-do Jane uptown if their schools offer equal opportunity?

As the case is, equal opportunity is often no more than an ideal, and Professor Kimberly A. Goyette of Temple University evaluates the condition of public education in America in her comprehensive overview aptly named Education in America.

In eight well-researched chapters with information supported by reliable data, Goyette assesses the public opinion on the role of education, the question of who education should serve, the competing paradigms of education, and how inequality manifests in public schools through socioeconomic background, race and ethnicity, language, gender, and disability. She also discusses educational inequality in other nations as well as reforms in America that have attempted to close the education inequality gap.

education inequality
Image from the New York Times

Views on the effect of education fall along a continuum from functional to conflict. In the functional paradigm, schools teach students useful skills and separate students according to their achieved characteristics (talent, effort, etc.) rather than ascribed characteristics (family income, race, etc.). In the conflict paradigm, education serves to “maintain the status quo relations of power in a society” (Goyette 34).

Through Education in America, Goyette compares the educational outcomes and expectations for students from different walks in life. A leading question is whether education exacerbates, reduces, or has no influence on the inequalities realized, such as the underperformance of black students compared to white or Asian students or the higher GPAs and rate of college attendance of girls compared to boys.

What can schools do to close these gaps? More than that, can schools close these gaps?

In Education in America, you discover with Goyette proposed answers to these questions in light of statistical data, history, and sociology.

Goyette, Kimberly A. Education in America. The Regents of the University of California, 2017.