Topic 12: Educational Opportunity Bias


Educational opportunity bias has long been a problem in throughout out the world, particularly for girls, minorities, and low income individuals. Education is sometimes seen as the great equalizer for opportunities in the workplace and society. Although education can be beneficial, the bias that exists in educational systems can create irreparable problems for individual students and society.

Scenario 1: Misadvised and Educational Progression

Serena is an undergraduate student in a field of study that requires a master’s degree in order to obtain sufficient employment. Serena is a first-generation college student, so she does not know much about the academic process to apply for the graduate program in her field. Serena is also the only African American student in her program. Serena struggles to complete her degree, but she does meet all the criteria to be admitted to the master’s program. Her advisor does not inform her that she must apply for the master’s degree program prior to a specific deadline because her advisor knows that there is a limit to the number of applicants who can be admitted each academic year. Serena finds out after the deadline that she will have to go to another institution or wait a year to apply for admission to her current institution.

Discussion Questions:

    1. What can Serena do to ensure that what happened to her does not happen to other students?
    2.  Where should Serena complete her master’s degree? Why?
    3. Do you think Serena was misadvised on purpose? Why or why not?

Scenario 2: No Recommendation

April has always loved math. She graduated with the highest math grade point average (GPA) in her high school and decided to pursue an advanced degree in physics. Because she likes a small school environment for learning, April decided to attend a small college and major in engineering. She wants to begin her education in a 3-2 transfer program so that she can establish a solid foundation prior to attending a major institution for her last two years. There is only one physics professor at April’s college, and he is the only person who can write April’s letter of recommendation as he manages the 3-2 program for the college. At the end of April’s second year, the physics professor tells April that he will not recommend her for the program even though her grades are just as good as the white male that he will recommend.

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What, if anything, can April do to stop this education bias?
  2. Has the physics professor violated any laws by not recommending April?

Scenario 3: Educational Tracking

Robert is a first year college student, from a rural farming community and has no idea what he wants to do in his career. He is undecided but has expressed to his advisor his interests in business and/or journalism. Robert, faithfully, meets with his advisor as required each semester. However, his advisor never informs Robert that he must meet pre-core requirements for both his fields of interest or he will not be admitted because of space limitations. When Robert realizes the situation, he is required to wait another year to potentially be enrolled in his area of interest. Robert does not want to wait an extra year to complete his degree. He meets with his advisor and is told that there is always room in a particular degree program in agriculture for students like him. Robert feels betrayed and that he has been tracked away from his desired educational goal.

Discussion Questions;

  1. Has Robert been misadvised? Why or why not?
  2. Has Robert experienced educational bias? Why or why not.

Supplemental Readings

Alba, R. D., & Lavin, D. E. (1981). Community colleges and tracking in higher education. Sociology of Education, 223-237.

Ansalone, G. (2001). Schooling, tracking, and inequality. Journal of Children and Poverty7(1), 33-47.

Ansalone, G. (2010). Tracking: Educational differentiation or defective strategy. Educational Research Quarterly34(2), 3-17.

Berger, J., & Combet, B. (2017). Late school tracking, less class bias in educational decision-making? The uncertainty reduction mechanism and its experimental testing. European Sociological Review, 33(1), 124-136.

Cooper, C. W. (2003). The detrimental impact of teacher bias: Lessons learned from the standpoint of African American mothers. Teacher Education Quarterly, 30(2), 101-116.

Kershaw, T. (1992). The effects of educational tracking on the social mobility of African Americans. Journal of Black Studies23(1), 152-169.

Moller, S., & Stearns, E. (2012). Tracking success: High school curricula and labor market outcomes by race and gender. Urban Education47(6), 1025-1054.

Ozer, M., & Perc, M. (2020). Dreams and realities of school tracking and vocational education. Palgrave Communications6(1), 1-7.

Sadker, D., & Zittleman, K. (2007). Gender bias: From colonial America to today’s classrooms. In J. E. Banks and C.A.M. Banks (Eds.) Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives, (pp. 135-169). Wiley.

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