Inequality for All

For a detailed look at variations in mathematics and science content across the country, see Inequality for All: The Challenge of Unequal Opportunity in American Schools, by William H. Schmidt and Curtis C. McKnight. Schmidt and McKnight have been working for more than two decades to identify and understand differences in mathematics and science achievement across developed countries and in the United States. From standards to textbooks to classroom-level content, they have tracked the many ways that students do not receive equal opportunities to learn the core content that is essential to thriving in modern society.

These scholars not only provide overwhelming evidence of inequities, they also offer a thoughtful look at how the Common Core State Standards could be the beginning of a more equitable education system. Implemented well, these standards will provide teachers with sound guidance on essential content and flexibility in how to support students as they learn that content. Schmidt and McKnight emphasize equitable—not identical—learning opportunities. As they write, "educational contexts differ, and providing the same content in the same way would not necessarily secure equal opportunities to learn for different students."

Schmidt and McKnight are fine writers, so we leave it to them to invite you to read more. Here are the first two paragraphs of their important book:

This is a story about schooling in America and, thus, a story about children—the nation's greatest resource. It is also, at a more personal level, a story about our own children. We know that the content, skills, reasoning ability, and problem solving children develop in school are important both to their future and to the nation's; every country in the world understands this. However, in the United States, one of the wealthiest and most democratic nations on earth, the reality is that the opportunities many children have to acquire such knowledge—especially in mathematics and science—are not guaranteed. As they walk into school, children become players in a game of chance, one that is dangerously invisible to both child and parent, and one with very high stakes. Sadly, therefore, this story has no fairy-tale ending.

The opportunities of too many students are arbitrarily determined by factors outside of their control, such as the state and local community where they live, the school they attend, the teacher they have, the textbooks the school has purchased, and the tests they must take. There are no villains in this story; everyone acts with the best of intentions, if not always with the greatest of wisdom. All of these factors conspire to create a very inconsistent and uneven system, one in which chance plays a major role and, as other countries have demonstrated, chance has no place in the education of children. The telling of this as a story is not just a literary device to make a more abstract point; it is, at its most basic level, a real story about real children.


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Inequality for All

Download the Article (208.94 KB)
American Educator, Spring 2013