Socio-Economic Divergence in Schools

During the 1900s, the pillars which characterized social life, such as the church, extended family, and village community broke down. These were replaced by new practices such as capitalist economy, the suburban family, mass communication and scientific progress. Within the last decade, these practices are in conflict with the modern structures of global free markets, individualization, consumer lifestyle, and digital networks.

Today, the individual, as a freely choosing agent, has evolved beyond the need for social structures, and is no longer represented by social institutions, conventions and traditions. Individuals have begun to increasingly take responsibility for all aspects of their life while the ideals of social cohesion, welfare, and community are crumbling.

The implication of this sociological narrative within the discussion of education is that parents and students are becoming more accountable for their own learning and development, and perhaps not rely on public institutions. Parents have already begun investing heavily into out-of-school enrichment programs for their children, a trend that has slowly increased over the last few decades.

Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane’s analysis of consumer expenditure below indicates that upper income households’ expenditures on enrichment activities have nearly tripled from the years since 1972 and 2006, while those in the bottom income quartile have remained relatively constant. Covay and Carbonaro’s analysis of extracurricular activities confirms higher levels of participation by upper income families, and suggests that this participation contributes to some advantages in non-cognitive and cognitive skills.

The enrichment activities mentioned above mostly refer to digital tools and programs that allow students to personalize their learning within more engaging and relevant contexts. The implication here is that the current structure of public education will be even more inequitable, creating a greater disparity between those who have access to out-of-school resources and those who don't.

It’s not clear if the debate between standardization of content-based curriculum and development of skills for the knowledge economy is going to resolve itself in the near future. If anything, the history of curriculum focus shows that as long as society is not at a political and cultural equilibrium, the focus is going to shift again. While schools have to adhere to fluctuations in curricula, they can control the approach to teaching. By integrating elements from out-of-school tools and programs like digital tools and diverse learning experiences, schools can restore their relevance in the community and promote equity.