School Quality, Funding, and Neighborhoods
Both funding and demographic factors influence school quality. In the United States, schools are mostly funded through local taxes. Cities and school districts that include more high-income areas collect more taxes, meaning those schools have more funding. Housing patterns also impact schools significantly. Most neighborhoods are relatively homogenous, populated by families of similar income levels and similar socioeconomic status (a combination of income level, education, and occupation). Income levels can impact whether a neighborhood is ordered or disordered. An ordered neighborhood is characterized by high levels of upkeep and good infrastructure. A disordered neighborhood is characterized by greater poverty, less upkeep, and greater decay of the environment. Schools in ordered and disordered neighborhoods serve different student populations, whose families have different economic and social resources.
Schools reflect the demographic composition of the neighborhoods they serve. In neighborhoods where most adults are highly educated and earn high incomes, schools tend to serve children who have higher levels of economic, social, and cultural capital (knowledge, resources, and opportunities). Furthermore, schools in wealthy areas often have more parent volunteers, in part because of greater numbers of mothers who do not work outside the home. Wealthy schools often have parent associations that are able to raise significant amounts of money to supplement the public funding their schools receive. Schools in lower-income areas are less likely to have parents that can volunteer during the day or contribute large amounts of money to the school. Schools with low-income student populations are sometimes eligible to receive additional state or federal funding. However, this funding is often not adequate to meet the needs of the school and frequently is not sufficient to create equity with wealthy schools.
Education, Socioeconomic Status, and Inequality
In the United States, multiple factors—including socioeconomic status, income, race, and ethnicity—are linked to educational opportunity and educational attainment. Socioeconomic status (SES), a combined measure of income, education, and occupation, is a predictor of educational success. Children whose parents have a higher SES are more likely to do well in school, to graduate from high school, and to go to college. Children's success in school is linked to family income level, one element of SES. The link between family income and children's educational success is complex and has multiple causes. One issue is that children from high-income families tend to live in neighborhoods that have high-quality schools. Children from low-income families are more likely to attend schools of lower quality and to have less experienced teachers.
Other factors in the link between family income and success in school include parents' levels of stress, available time to support children's education, and money to invest in enrichment activities. Low-income parents experience higher levels of stress. They often work multiple jobs and thus have less time to oversee their children's education. They have little or no disposable income to invest in their children's education. High-income parents can buy educational goods, including books and games. They can pay for services such as tutoring, preschools with highly qualified teachers and low student-teacher ratios, and enrichment experiences such as art and music lessons. Students from low-income families have less access to these kinds of resources. Family income level is also a strong indicator of college attendance. Data from 2016 shows that in the United States nearly 80 percent of students from the highest-income families go to college directly following high school, compared to less than 60 percent for the lowest-income families. Another issue is that low-income families often forego after-school childcare when children are old enough to be on their own once school lets out. Children who are on their own after school have fewer opportunities to interact with adults who can help with homework or provide them with learning outside of school. Yet another factor in the link between income, SES, and children's achievement in school is that parents of low-income students often do not have a college education. All these factors combine to provide less opportunity for intergenerational transmission of knowledge, the passing on to children the necessary skills and cultural capital to succeed in school and society.
Race and ethnicity also play a role in education. In the United States, race and ethnicity are strongly correlated to high school dropout rate. Hispanics and African Americans have a higher dropout rate than Asian Americans and white students. Researchers note that these differences are linked the socioeconomic status, the quality of schools each group has to attend, school discipline policies that often treat students of color harshly, and the amount of social and cultural capital possessed by members of these groups. Another factor is that most public school teachers in the United States are white, although over half of public school students are nonwhite. A 2018 review of research concluded that students often benefit from having teachers who share their racial or ethnic background. A 2017 study found this effect is particularly strong for African American children. Black boys who had at least one black teacher at some point between third and fifth grade were less likely to drop out of high school. Black boys and girls who had at least one black teacher during this period were both more likely to attend college.