In the 1930s, the Federal Housing Administration and other government agencies evaluated neighborhoods across the United States, grading them on their level of stability and prospects for future investment. This practice, known as redlining, was used to isolate and discriminate against black and other minority communities throughout the country. As a result, families in “redlined” areas were labeled economic risks, which dissuaded banks and mortgage lenders from making loans available. Among the devastating effects of this policy was the polarization of the racial wealth gap--at the present day, the average black American family is worth ten times less than their white counterparts. However, the consequences of redlining reach far beyond wealth. In fact, this nearly century-old policy is arguably the most direct cause of educational disparities in the United States and the racial achievement gap.
By concentrating minority communities together and then depriving them of access to investment, the US government effectively shuttered educational opportunities by ensuring unequal access to schooling. American public schools are funded by a mix of state, local, and federal dollars. However, local property taxes account for almost half of the funding for most public schools, which leaves institutions in minority communities severely disadvantaged. Because of redlining, housing in primarily black neighborhoods is undervalued and has never benefited from government investment. This produces direct consequences for area public schools, which cannot afford to hire the best teachers or provide extracurricular opportunities. As a result, students, who come from unstable backgrounds--stemming from poor, opportunity-scare neighborhoods, lack access to the educational resources they need to succeed.
Redlining’s impact on school systems is cyclical and undermining, with each passing generation creating more problems and feeding disparity. In redlined school districts, students are less focused on learning, which gradually changes the teacher’s role from that of an educator to that of a counselor and discipline provider. Oftentimes, teachers in these areas are under-paid and forced to provide a wide range of social services for which they are ill-equipped. Eventually, this turns the most qualified educators away from the areas they are desperately needed, further undermining the quality of education that most students receive. Another key issue is that students lack successful educational role models, both among their peers and their parents. Many of the students in redlined districts and schools have come from families who have spent generations locked into this same cycle. Therefore, these students are less likely to believe that education is the way to a path out--simply because they have not seen it in their communities and families.
Even in areas where schools have benefited from federal funds, many of the problems endemic within redlined districts still prevent students from taking advantage of quality schools. For example, redlined areas typically lack reliable health and medical care, which creates greater rates of absenteeism in schools and disrupts students’ academic records. Furthermore, without readily available environments that enable good study habits--such as local libraries and adequate housing, students can rarely meet their academic potential and lose interest in school.
To make US education more equitable and accessible for all, improvements must start with those communities left behind for generations. Although there is no easy, one-size-fits all solution, the only way to break this cycle of poverty and educational injustice is to finally begin investing in the people deemed “undesirable” nearly one century ago.
Givology Staff's Blog
Must be logged in to comment.