When “Equal Access” Leads To Inequality In American Classrooms

A big believer in the power of communication. If not writing, out exploring the city.

When all schools are not created equal, it’s common sense to invest in college and career readiness programs. Schools might not be able to match the resources of the school down the street, but they most certainly can do their best to ensure that their students are given the same opportunities to succeed in the future as any other. Classes labeled AP, IB, AICE, and extracurriculars such as MUN, FIRST, Science Bowl, number in the hundreds and are all ways schools can commit to their mission of providing students a road to success.

At North Hollywood High School, the academic opportunities provided to its students has to lead to numerous academic teams having success on a national level. Located in the San Fernando Valley as part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, it has been a prime example of how Title I schools can compete with the best of the best with the right dedication and effort in their mission to educate. The following story comprises of a collection of comments from students of North Hollywood High School as well as a collected narrative stemming from a discussion on the impact these activities have had on them.

Participating in quite a couple of activities myself, I can testify that these are worthwhile experiences. The chance to meet people with the same interests as you, plan and host fun events for the student body, participating in competitions to win gold and perhaps money, these are all things that make going to school fun. It’s not just for my own amusement, however.

These experiences are creating the next generation of political leaders, rocket scientists, entrepreneurs, ultimately the next generation of problem-solvers for problems yet to be. To be in a position to be those difference makers, however, is a different story.

My dream career would be a politician or political analyst. I have always possessed a strong interest in the strategy behind elections and how their outcomes can have a very tangible effect on real people. Sadly, the financial burden of any out-of-state and/or private college has limited the scope of where I may realistically be able to obtain a political science degree, dampening my efforts to strive for the very best.-EB

Meritocracy is the goal for any country looking towards a brighter future, but the existence of class and the connections that come with it can hinder the most qualified candidates from not only the positions themselves but also being in a position to be the most qualified in the first place. Connections and funds are just some of the many requirements that are required to get these opportunities, but these are the very things that less-resourced students don’t have. It’s scary to think about the prospects of eventually going into the job market, but to know that the odds can be decided before you’re even born is something on an entirely different level. To those willing to grind out the norm, they have faith that these programs are one of the few and possibly only ways that they can get out of a destined fate.

As a senior, the one distinction that I wished I had earned was the title of being a National Merit Scholar. Going through the college admissions process as of the moment, I have come to recognize the limitations that my current financial situation can bring me. If I was named such a scholar, I would be guranteed an education that it seems at this moment I fell too short to reach.-NL

Money exists within every grade, activity, and test scores that students have, and that fact only increases in magnitude when every penny counts towards the long term goal that is a student’s future. When given the choice to succeed, students take it, even if it means balancing ever-growing school life with an already difficult life at home.

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This is the life of many students who need the additional resources that come with these programs, but some students undertake the same challenges without necessarily the same “need” that comes with their lives. Like the world we live in today, people of all different classes can be found all within one classroom. With the same goal of learning in mind, all students do their part in contributing to their success through their work. Just because they may have the additional hours to spend does not mean that they put it to waste, however.

Even though I may have more resources available to me to be used on extracurriculars and the such, I still put in as much effort as everyone else in the club. I do my work and participate and just because i have this outside of school advantage it should not be used against me when looking at the opportunities I receive. Equal treatment is important, and to me part of equal treatment is equal opportunity, my access to reasources outside of school should not be considered in anyway if I contribute to the club.-OL

There is nothing wrong with the act of trying your best, but rather the problem appears in a system that pits students against one another for limited opportunities. More affluent students can take greater advantage of having a school that can provide programs, while students with more humble resources are left scrambling for the programs that they can take part in. When told that these programs are going to be the pushing step towards putting them out of their circle, it leaves students divided.

Personally, I think that our school does not advertise expensive clubs as much as more affordable clubs. The advertising for expensive clubs is usually done privately by representatives of the club (i.e. Duke Moot Court, which is advertised by an entity entirely unaffiliated with the school). On the other hand, cheaper clubs like CyberPatriots and the athletics program are advertised much more often.-MC

Expensive extracurriculars manifest how even public schools favor wealthier students over the poor. Our entire educational system is geared not to value those who work hard so much as those who have the time to work on extracurricular activities that are deemed important, and the money to pay for these. The unfortunate truth is that few people are given these opportunities, and that wealthier students who can participate are thereby taking advantage of an unbalanced system to rank themselves above their less fortunate counterparts, thus continuing a cycle of poverty.-EF

The tough part of trying to do good things is that they might result in worse results. The tougher part is recognizing the impact in and of itself and trying to fix it. Opportunities are opportunities for the fact that they can change your life. Regardless of who you are, there is nothing bad about doing right by you. When we say that everyone should be in an equal position to get the position they are qualified for, we have to remember that this goes both ways. Many of the opportunities are indeed held back from less-resourced individuals, but that does not necessarily mean that upper-class kids should be shut out from opportunities that they truly are qualified for. Instead of stepping one foot forward, and the other back, we need to move in unison towards a society that works for all.

In that sense, there are indeed people being promised false hope. These programs were meant to provide equal opportunity, but seeing it in my school proves that it is not the case. Sacrifices are being made in areas that these programs were supposed to solve, and it is uncomfortable to think about the impact it has on the youth of today. People want to succeed to find a way out of their problems, not entrench themselves deeper into the rabbit hole than they already are.

It just feels terrible to be criticized or see a corrupt system play against you for a factor that you had no control over. The growing class disdain in the country is dangerous, but if it keeps up with the generation of tomorrow there may never be an end to a problem nipping at the heels of getting work done when it comes to making this country a true land of opportunity. It may not be as easy of a task to solve today, but it certainly is easy to see the changes schools can make to make this issue a non-issue for the future.

The problem is not necessarily that students just don’t have the resources available to them to succeed, but rather their biggest difficulty is finding the time to go pursue those opportunities. If schools want to make sure students succeed, give them the chance.

Not by producing a plentiful plethora of options, but provide social services that make their lives at home easier to deal with. Reviewing the problems held by many students, it is less of what they are given, but more of what they are responsible for that keeps them back. If these opportunities are meant to bring students up the social ladder, they must account for the life that comes with that need in the first place. There is no doubt that with the pressure of life at home, life at school will be a breeze for them to bring their best. So if we want to truly help these students, give them what they need rather than what we think they need.