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Social class refers to the hierarchical categorization of individuals within a society based on a number of variables including wealth, income, education, occupation, and social network. While there are a number of models describing social class, the most commonly known model includes the upper-class, the middle-class, and the lower-class. The higher one’s position within the social hierarchy, the more advantages and opportunities they will receive. On the other hand, the lower an individual falls within the social hierarchy, the more disadvantages or consequences they will experience. Although social class can affect many aspects of an individual’s life, inequality when it comes to access to education is the one that stands out the most.
This clear form of inequality starts out at the preschool level. By age three, most children are old enough to attend an early-education program or preschool. However, many preschools charge tuition and the ones that are publicly funded typically have long wait-lists and are located in middle-class neighborhoods. This leaves lower-class children unable to access the necessary early education that can prepare them for elementary school. According to research done by Stanford University, children that do not experience formal education until the kindergarten level start off a year behind in math and verbal skills and, they will likely never catch up to their preschooled peers. Lack of access to preschool also creates a problem for the parents due to the cost of private childcare. While middle and upper-class parents can send their children to preschool while they go to work, lower-class families either have to come up with the cash to pay for childcare while they work or, one parent must stay home. Either way, there is a substantial cost or loss of income associated with children who cannot attend a preschool, making it nearly impossible for families to save money and potentially move up the class hierarchy.
The educational consequence of being in a lower-social class comes from the typical K-12 system in America. In kindergarten, students are “tracked” which refers to being placed in a specific type of learning program based on perceived skills and potential. The tracking is done based on the opinion of a teacher and not necessarily a student’s true intellectual ability. Students that are perceived to have higher potential are placed in more rigorous programs while students that are perceived to have less potential are placed in less challenging courses of study. This leaves lower-income students at a great disadvantage because, many of them were unable to attend preschool thus, leaving them with lower math and verbal skills. Additionally, because tracking is susceptible to bias from the teachers, black and brown students are more likely to be “tracked down”, or placed in a path that is less rigorous than what they are capable of, while white students are more likely to be “tracked up”. Finally, once placed in a track, a student is generally held in that track for the entirety of their K-12 career. Higher tracks offer more advanced courses that better prepare students for college while lower tracks lack these sorts of courses, leaving lower-class students disadvantaged and undereducated.
A second educational consequence of being in a lower class comes from the quality of education one receives throughout the K-12 levels. While upper-class families can place their children in prestigious private schools, lower-class students are subjected to poorly funded public education. In these less-funded schools, students often face overcrowded classrooms which in result allow the teachers less time with each student to address their unique educational needs. Additionally, due to improper staffing, low-income public schools often cannot provide school counselors to address behavioral issues or other problems that a student may face at home, causing many students to face educational discipline such as suspension and expulsion at higher rates than those who attend wealthier schools. School libraries have few books and many of them are outdated and, students often have to share computers for research and other assignments. Because of this, many students suffer from low grades affecting their overall chances of getting into college. Honors or AP classes that prepare students for college are often unavailable and so are skill-building elective classes such as home economics or auto-shop. Low-income schools additionally fail to provide extracurriculars such as clubs or sports. Furthermore, the high-school dropout rate is significantly higher in low-income areas than it is to middle or upper-class neighborhoods. All of these factors severely limit the opportunities available to children that come from lower-class families and overall disadvantage them for the rest of their lives.
Lastly, the consequence of being in a lower social class is seen at the college level. Because of the undereducation low-income students face in the K-12 system, many of them are turned away from universities, if they even apply. For those that do get accepted into university, their options are limited due to the astronomical cost of higher education. While wealthier students can afford the high tuition of prestigious private universities, lower-class individuals do not have this privilege.
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