BYU professors and students fight public education inequality

BYU professor Scott Ferrin, lecturing about the inequality of students in the public education system whose second language is English.(Photo Courtesy Chris Bunker)
BYU professor Scott Ferrin lectured about the inequality of students in the public education system whose second language is English. (Photo courtesy Chris Bunker)

Timmy might have gone to college, but his parents are poor and didn’t graduate from high school. His parents never talked to him about school, homework or college, and he fell far behind his classmates in school.

Jane was born into a wealthy, well-educated family. Her parents believed the public school in the neighborhood provided a substandard education and instead chose to homeschool her.

Although Jane benefited from homeschooling, other kids like Timmy suffered greatly from the influential role Jane’s parents could have played in Timmy’s education.

The opportunity gap represented by these extreme scenarios represent an ever-growing problem: public education inequality.

According to BYU professors and students that shared their research about public education in America in April, schools need dedicated teachers inside the classroom, and more importantly, dedicated parents outside the classroom.

Kristie Phillips, a BYU sociology professor, lectured about the opportunity gap in America. She said the overall poverty rate is high and also noticed a correlation between income levels and the quality of education.

“The U.S. is a land of wealth and opportunity,” Phillips said. “Our wealth and opportunity is not available to everyone. There’s much more to it than choice. Some people are set up to succeed.”

Hinckley Jones-Sanpei, a Ph.D in public policy and adjunct faculty at BYU, talked about how public policy, school choice and parental involvement all play a factor in either increasing or decreasing public education inequality.

“Ideology, not research, drives policy,” Jones-Sanpei said.

She also recognized the harm that occurs when parent educational advocates leave public schools. She said parents advocate for other children, not just their own.

BYU students also help fight and defend America’s social issue of public education inequality.

Many BYU clubs and community organizations ask for student mentors and educators who want to help solve public education inequality.

One organization is Teach for America. The club believes that one day all children will have access to an equal education. As teachers with a passion for education, they act as role models for their students and help excite them about their education.

Alex Chandler, an accepted corps member for Teach for America this fall, believes BYU students should care about public education inequality because they have been blessed with a great education.

“It seems to me that education is the great equalizer,” Chandler said. “I think the fact that God’s children are shut out of education should be important to us.”

Team leader of Teach for America’s on-campus internships, Grant Russell, believes that Teach for America is an attractive program for BYU students and provides a great segue into graduate school.

“In recent years, Teach for America and BYU have similar goals,” Russell said. “Teach for America looks to hire people who have high achievement academically, leadership experience and passion for overcoming public education inequality.”

BYU on-campus organizations that strive to fight this issue include Seeds of Success, South Franklin Center, Speech and Debate, Social Innovation Leadership Council, TOPS and Non-Profit Management Organization. Visit for more information about each specific organization.

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