According to the structural-functionalist perspective, educational institutions must provide their students with effective instructions, socialization opportunities, custodial care, sort individuals into statuses based on their academic achievements and fields of study (Mooney, Know & Schacht, 2014, p. 243-244). The failure of educational institutions to successfully perform its functions is determine by various social issues such as poverty, unemployment, and delinquency. However, an ineffective education system can also cause those issues by promoting inequality among students based on their social status or family background, gender, and race and ethnicity.
Social status and family background are the most important predictors of academic success and level of educational attainment because parents with low income and low educational attainment have few resources that can be used for educational purposes, and they are usually less involved in their children’s learning activities (Mooney et al., 2014, p. 248). In addition, money from local districts accounts for approximately 43% of school funding, so areas with wealthier citizens are going to provide a higher quality of education to students compared to impoverished areas.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2012) reports that White students account for account for more than 70% of degrees obtained in higher education, so it is possible to assume that racial and ethnic inequalities determine educational outcomes. Mooney et al. (2014, p. 249) point out that race and ethnicity are associated with poor academic performance and achievements because they are also associated with poor socioeconomic status. However, gender and ethnicity are not just moderating factors of poor socioeconomic status because they can have a direct impact on the quality of education because of discrimination possibilities and other disadvantages.
Racial inequality starts as early as kindergarten and continues through primary education and higher levels of education. Specifically, Hispanic and Black students show lower scores in subjects like reading and mathematics compared to all other racial and ethnic groups. In the United States, the public schools are still segregated despite the efforts of racial integration, and only diverse schools can ensure that everybody receives the same quality of education without discrimination (Mooney et al., 2014, p. 251). For some minority ethnic groups, the inequality in education may be associated with the fact that they are English language learners (Mooney et al., 2014, p. 250). Therefore, bilingual education opportunities and increasing racial diversity in schools are necessary to improve equality in education.
According to the NCES (2012), the percentage of higher education degrees earned by females is between 50% and 65%, so there appears to be no inequality in education based on gender. However, Mooney et al. (2014, p. 251) point out that gender inequality in education remains a serious issue in primary and secondary schools despite the efforts to end sexism in education during the 1960s.
The inequality of education in contemporary society supports the statements of conflict theory. Mooney et al. (2014) state that the conflict theory perspective defined education as a method of “indoctrination into a capitalist ideology” (p. 244) and a “mechanism for cultural imperialism” (p. 245). Therefore, if the purpose of education is to indoctrinate students to maintain the current capitalist system, socioeconomic inequalities cannot be solved. Cultural imperialism refers to the indoctrination of students with the norms and values of the dominant culture, which would explain the racial, ethnic, and gender inequalities in education.
Mooney, L. A., Know, D., & Schacht, C. (2014). Understanding social problems (9th ed.). Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
National Center for Education Statistics. (2012). Degrees conferred by sex and race. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=72