Not So Prepped: Education Gaps in the U.S.

Every day, I feel grateful to attend a school where diversity plays so great a role in campus life. And when I say diversity, I am not just talking about the racial, ethnic, gender and sexual diversity that comprises our student body. I am also talking about the fascinating life stories and cultural experiences that students have grown with and brought here with them. These differences oftentimes lead to exciting and fruitful discussions in the classroom, as well as honest and illuminating conversations elsewhere.

Different backgrounds, however, also result in preparation gaps—differences in how much or how little each student has been readied for Andover. This disparity is especially felt in our classrooms, where students who have had experience with small, discussion-based classes are generally more comfortable than those who have never had the experience.
When I first arrived to the United States from South Korea, I was barely passable in English. But attending a junior boarding school in Deerfield, Mass., afforded me the chance to learn in an academy characterized by a myriad of extracurricular activities and a one to nine teacher to student ratio all of which gave me more confidence to pursue a high school education here in the United States. More crucially, it made my transition to Andover quite straightforward. And while there will always be some students who have the ability to adapt quickly to new environs and excel regardless of their prior experiences, we cannot deny the significant role the middle school experience plays in determining one’s transition to high school.

It is difficult for many students, especially those who are unfamiliar with a discussion-based classroom experience, to adjust to the fast-paced and rigorous environment of Andover. They may lose confidence compared to some of their peers when given unfamiliar material in Andover classrooms. This phenomenon parallels the schooling disparities in various school districts across the nation, a discrepancy that allows certain students access to a higher rung on the education ladder than others.
This article is meant to foster the understanding that students here simply do not start at the same place, and this difference can greatly alter one’s learning experience. Of course, these differences can come from what a particular student makes out of their Andover experience, or how motivated they are while attending this school. Nonetheless, these differences greatly affect students’ ability to succeed both at Andover and for the rest of their lives.

In an article for “Non Sibi Journal” this past winter, Theo Perez ’16 stated that the incredible generosity of Andover’s financial aid program alone could not make up for what he described as a “14-year head start that more affluent students have in acquiring social capital and experience in their respective fields.” What Perez did not mention, however, is that even wealthy students who did not attend private school have generally had access to a better public education. The local nature of public school funding leads to an inevitable correlation between local income and schools’ resources.

At Andover, as Perez observed, kids coming from poorer backgrounds are at a severe disadvantage in terms of preparation. According to an article published in the “Huffington Post” by Peter Dreier, “While 82 percent of affluent students who had SAT scores over 1200 graduate from college, only 44 percent of low-income students with the same high SAT scores graduate from college.” This statistic suggests that one’s ability to succeed in school depends more so on one’s family’s socioeconomic status and prior level of learning han one’s intelligence.

Both at Andover and throughout the nation, I believe the discrepancy between the success of wealthy students and their lower socieconomic counterparts is stark. There is no reason, however, for any of us to feel helpless and to remain bystanders as these inequalities continue to pervade our communities. As Andover students, we must strive to fully understand this preparation gap so that one day we may eradicate this inequality.