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Inequity in Education: 3 Key Insights

These three studies that dig into the "who", "what", "why", and "how" of educational inequity over the past decade.


This is the first post in our Equity Focus series. To learn more about our Equity Focus and how DonorsChoose directly addresses inequity in education, go here.

Recently, The New York Times ran an article about the communities and students most effected by the coronavirus outbreak in the United States: “​The Pandemic Hurt These Students the Most”. They concluded that “an education system plagued by racial and socioeconomic inequities [has] only gotten worse during the coronavirus pandemic”.

While the COVID-19 pandemic made learning disparities more glaring, inequity in education is hardly a new phenomenon. As students return back to the classroom this fall and disparities are laid ever more bare, we thought this would be the right moment to share three studies that dig into the who, what, why, and how of educational inequity over the past decade — and how funding classroom resources is one avenue for change.

#1. The $23 billion resource gap

The Headline: “School districts serving mostly students of color get $23 billion less than districts serving mostly White students, despite serving the same number of students.”

The Story: EdBuild points to racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries and overallocation of resources to smaller districts as two of the variables leading to this constant: “Financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly White than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color.”

The Data:

  • For every student enrolled, the average school district serving students of color receives $2,226 less than a majority White school district. 
  • Low-income, mostly White school districts receive over $1,400 more per student than school districts that serve low-income students of color.
  • In the United States, 20% of students are enrolled in districts that are both low-income and mostly students of color, but just 5% of students live in low-income districts with mostly White students.

The Source: EdBuild, $23 Billion
By design, EdBuild was a limited-term (2015–2020), nonprofit organization that developed key reports and tools in three key areas: The School Funding System is Broken; There are Ways to Fix It; and There are Tools to Guide You.

#2. Teachers are trying to meet student needs with their own money

The Headline: Teacher out-of-pocket spending might be a key indication of student need.

What’s the story? Of the many ways to identify areas of educational imbalance, this study proposes that higher teacher out-of-pocket spending may be a useful barometer of student need otherwise going unmet in classrooms. Another key aspect of the story: “As the share of racial/ethnic minority students in a school increases, teacher out-of-pocket spending also increases...”

The Data:

  • Student demographics — both student race/ethnicity and student household economic level — are important predictors of teacher spending.
  • Teachers in schools with 75–100% racial & ethnic minority students spend about $130 more per year than peer teachers in schools with 0–24% racial & ethnic minority students (a 31% difference).
  • More teacher control over purchasing classroom supplies (within school-based budgets) means less out-of-pocket spending. Teachers who said they had more autonomy over their classroom spending budget said they spend on average $135 less of their own money than teachers who reported not having much say in what they spend funds on.

The Source: University of Virginia, EdPolicyWorks, Supporting Students at Any Cost?
This study comes from Brian H. Kim at the University of Virginia’s Center on Education Policy and Workforce Competitiveness (EdPolicyWorks) with research partner DonorsChoose.

#3. Teachers know their students best

The Headline: ”Crowdfunding the Front Lines: An Empirical Study of Teacher-Driven School Improvement”

What’s the story? The preK–12 system is filled with wide inequities, operational inefficiencies, and now COVID-related learning disruptions. This University of Michigan study analyzed student test scores in Pennsylvania to determine the educational impact of teachers selecting resources based on their students' individual needs and context.

The Data:

  • Overall, the study’s results indicate that, despite overwhelming obstacles within the existing ecosystem, crowdfunding platforms that empower teachers have the potential to be an equalizing tool.
  • At low-income schools, each teacher-driven funded resource request on average moves between 4 and 10 additional students to at least a basic level of proficiency in tested subjects.
  • By analyzing 20,000+ teacher-submitted impact reports, the study found that teachers selecting their own resources led to four areas of consistent improvement: Knowledge Retention, Repeated or Shared Use of Resources, Differentiated Learning, and Streamline Work Processes.

The Source: University of Michigan, Crowdfunding the Front Lines | Stop The Revolving Door
This study came from the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan (specifically, Samantha M. Keppler, Jun Li, and Di (Andrew) Wu) with research partner DonorsChoose.

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