Multiple dynamics and aspects of educational disparities and inequality exist along with multiple sociological explanations. These inequalities are not new, as racism has historically existed in educational systems impacting African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans.
Schooling has been an oppressive force in the United States from the instillation of Native American boarding schools to the segregation of schooling systems and the unequal schooling systems for children of color. This oppression continues into the present. Children of color and Native American children do not, to this day, have equal access to education.
The United States has a long history of educational inequality for all nonwhite groups. Native American boarding schools separated children from cultural settings, language, and families. After segregation, African American schools tried to function with only in-group resources. Mexican Americans worked hard to push for their children to be able to attend white schools. From 1896 to 1954, children of color and Native American students could not attend white-dominated schools, which had superior schooling, resources, and afforded more opportunities.
Several court cases centered on school segregation. The Mendez v. Westminster case of 1945 ruled it unconstitutional to segregate students with Spanish last names. This opened doors for the Brown v. Board of Education case in 1954. Despite the court cases, segregation has continued, with one in five school populations being over 90 percent nonwhite in 2013. This is due to the release of schools from court-mandated desegregation and economic inequalities in school districts wherein the majority families are people of color. Higher education has struggled with the practice of using race in the admissions process. The Bakke decision indicated that race can be used as one admission criteria but not the sole one. A recent case in June 2016, Fisher v. University of Texas, challenged race as even one criteria of admission but failed to change this policy. Disparities in educational outcomes continue with some improvements for some groups. Fourteen percent in the Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian communities have graduated from college compared to half of the adult population from the Chinese, Filipino, and Pakistani communities. Disparities in college attendance continue. For example, in 2012, 56 percent of Latinos were attending a four-year institution compared to 72 percent of white students. For Native American students, having resources to aid in college retention is helpful, such as keeping in close touch with family and community, helping students with family life challenges, and offering peer mentors for academic tutoring.
In sociological terms, the presence of housing inequities translates into school inequities. Sociological studies on the achievement gap—the differential outcomes related to education by racial groups—show that higher incomes and parental education also aid in higher college completion rates.
The oppositional culture theory for black students was an early explanatory frame for lower achievement rates, but recent studies show that this does not apply to all black students. Internal tracks of study in schools that divide students into certain study trajectories and harsher punishments for youth of color are also impediments to equitable education. Different levels of cultural and social capital are also contributing factors to educational success. The symbolic violence against families of color is an additional contributing trend as a barrier to educational attainment. The school-to-prison pipeline is a negative dynamic in which harsher punishment of students sets them up for arrests, incarceration, and lack of school completion.