Title media by

For American students, much of high school represents a four-year-long race to join extracurriculars, gain leadership positions, get accepted into internship programs, enroll in rigorous academic courses, and study for months on end to achieve high standardized tests scores. High schoolers are expected to give four years of their lives to this race, engaging in truly backbreaking and mentally strenuous work, all to prove themselves to the nation’s universities. 

From the rising rates of depression, anxiety, stress, and slews of other mental health problems amongst America’s teenagers, it is clear that high school pressures, including the academic, social, and athletic rigors of the college application process, are taking huge tolls on the nation’s youth. 

Well, at least on most of the nation's youth. 

See, there is a way for students to make it to the front of the college admissions race and get into the nation’s top universities without having to break a sweat. How does one do this? It’s simple—be rich and lie. 

In a 2019 operation, codenamed “Varsity Blues,” federal prosecutors uncovered a years-long criminal conspiracy, carried out by the nation’s most affluent families, to bribe their kids’ ways into college. Thirty-three parents of college applicants were accused of collectively paying more than $25 million to William Rick Singer, the CEO of a former college counseling company “The Key.” In turn, Singer would bribe test administration officials to artificially inflate students’ test scores, as well as buy-off college coaches and recruiters to nominate unqualified students, many of whom never even played a sport recreationally, as “elite recruited athletes.” Thus, dozens of unqualified students are now attending the nation’s most elite universities simply because their parents were rich enough to pay their way into college, stealing spots from countless less affluent but more qualified students who spent years breaking their backs over grades, extracurriculars, and volunteering. 

The “Varsity Blues” operation does not even come close to exposing the true scale of corruption in the college admissions processes. It fails to consider, for instance, the systems of endowment fund donations and legacy admissions, all of which are widely used by affluent families to gain unfair advantages in college admissions. Ultimately, what the“Varsity Blues” operation does manage to showcase is the ugly truth of American education: it is a system that reinforces and perpetuates pre-existing wealth and social class inequalities. 

Beyond the elaborate schemes concocted by elite families to pay their children’s way into top universities, wealth and social class are truly built into the core of American schools. This permeation of wealth and social class into classrooms is particularly egregious within Massachusetts school districts. 

Like the rest of the country, one of the main sources for public school funding in Massachusetts comes from the property taxes levied against the residents of school districts. Districts with more affluent families can collect a greater quantity of property tax, given that their residents are more likely to own larger and better properties that carry more expensive property tax bills. Effectively, the funding of public schools through property taxes furthers the disparity in student funding between rich and poor districts. 

What is more shocking, however, is that the state itself has directly acted to uphold the wealth and class divides within the education system by widening the funding disparities between different school districts. In addition to property taxes, another primary source for public school funding for Massachusetts school districts comes directly from the state itself. For the 2020 school year, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education allocated $778 million in “need-blind” aid to school districts throughout the state.

Ultimately, $498 million, or 64%, of this allocated $778 million went to the wealthiest 20% of districts in the state. Most egregiously, however, it was found that all of the wealthy districts that received a portion of this $498 million were fully equipped to finance the entirety of their school district’s operations using their property tax revenues, with no need for state aid. Instead of using such valuable education funding to finance the state’s disadvantaged school districts who did need financial help, Massachusetts squandered hundreds of millions of dollars in valuable education funding on already wealthy districts. 

The disparity in property tax revenues, coupled with the state’s disproportionate financing of wealthy school districts has resulted in a nearly $5,000 disparity in education spending between students from wealthy districts and students from low-income districts within Massachusetts. Similar disparities exist throughout the rest of the nation’s public schools. 

From the United States’ universities to its high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools, we have witnessed a systematic attack on merit-based equality and the rise of wealth and social class-based divisions. Being born in a wealthy zip code to an affluent family awards students access to substantially more public education funding, compared to their less economically secure peers. Similarly, while affluent college applicants routinely skip to the front of the admissions race by paying off coaches and administrators, their less affluent peers must engage in four years of strenuous work to prove themselves to admissions officers. 

Ultimately, America’s education system, initially created to promote equity, achieve equality in opportunity, and facilitate social mobility has turned into a system that now directly opposes these commandments, instead strengthening the socioeconomic divide between the nation’s youth. Thus, while education has the power to be the greatest of equalizers amongst a nation’s people, in its current state, America’s education system drives only inequality.