Equity & Diversity Opinion

Chat Wrap-Up: Schools and Economic Mobility

January 09, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

On Dec. 15, readers’ questions centered on recent research showing that economic mobility through education is more difficult to attain in the United States than previously, and what schools can do to reverse this trend. They were answered by Cecilia Elena Rouse, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, and Isabel V. Sawhill, a co-director of the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution. Below are excerpts from the discussion:

Question: I teach in a poverty-ridden area. What is the key to having students believe that education is the way out? Either many of my kids don’t fully comprehend this message, or they don’t want to get out of the cycle of poverty (which I can’t believe is true).

Sawhill: One thing that might help is exposing these students to people like them who have been successful. Another key is parents: If they don’t value education, it’s hard to get their children to be more motivated.

Read the full transcript of this chat.

Read more from our list of chat transcripts.

I don’t know what grade level you teach, but would it be possible to ask your students to think about what kinds of jobs they want to have when they are adults, and then ask them to do research on what type of education and experience these jobs require? They could do research online or interview people with the kinds of jobs they aspire to hold. If their job aspirations are low, then it might be worth asking them what they expect to have in the way of income—and what they are going to want to be able to buy—when they finish school.

I imagine you have thought of all these things already, and I hope you don’t get discouraged. Education is indeed the way out of poverty.

Question: How can U.S. corporations play a positive role in the education arena relative to increasing economic opportunity?

Rouse: That is an interesting question, because in this country the private sector can be so powerful. Some companies have partnered with schools, providing revenue and other inputs—essentially, they have “adopted” schools. In addition, there are successful high school school-to-work programs in which students combine work and school (the work making the school more relevant). I imagine that participating in these programs would make a difference, such that students who might otherwise drop out of school could become more successful students.

Question: One of the key indicators for educational success in children is the education level of their parents. Adult literacy rates are so low it is shocking. We as a country continue to allocate billions of dollars to K-12, yet spend a very small fraction of that on educating adults. As part of a plan to help educate our children so they can have access to economic opportunity, doesn’t it make sense to put more focus on adult education?

Rouse: I agree that we should spend more on adult education, but not everyone agrees with us! The reason is that the evidence on the effectiveness of adult education programs is, at best, mixed. Most would agree that the very best programs improve the welfare of participants. However, the quality of such programs is extremely uneven. In addition, adult learners do not have the time to devote to the kind of intensive study necessary to generate tangible economic gains. There is some evidence that workplace education programs can be effective, however, likely because they address the time issue while also making the curriculum relevant.

Question: Why do you think it is that Scandinavian countries have higher proportions of poor children moving out of poverty than in the United States?

Rouse: Scandinavian countries have much stronger social safety nets than we do here, and a greater redistribution of wealth. With broader and more-generous social assistance, more-equal distribution of educational quality, and the like in Scandinavia, the penalty for being born to a poor family there is much smaller than it is in the United States. As to why the Scandinavians have pursued these policies more vigorously than Americans have, that has been the focus of much academic discussion.

Question: What needs to change in the U.S. education system to enhance opportunity for low-income students?

Sawhill: The most important thing that needs to change, in my view, is the number of qualified teachers in the schools these children attend. We need to recruit differently, pay teachers more, and measure their performance over time.

Related Tags:

A version of this article appeared in the January 10, 2007 edition of Education Week as Chat Wrap-Up: Schools and Economic Mobility


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Equity & Diversity How Carefully Tailored PD Can Help Principals Become Equity Leaders
A partnership involving several districts suggests smart professional development can help principals improve equitable practices.
5 min read
Image of a staff meeting.
Equity & Diversity What One State's Transgender Student Policy Could Mean for Students
Experts fear Virginia's model policy could endanger the mental health and safety of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming students.
6 min read
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin wants districts to adopt a model policy that restricts how schools and teachers deal with transgender students.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks with reporters after touring a Loudoun County elections facility at the County Office of Elections, in Leesburg, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022. Youngkin inspected ballot scanning machines undergoing logic and accuracy testing.
Cliff Owen/AP
Equity & Diversity Who's Behind the Escalating Push to Ban Books? A New Report Has Answers
Right-wing activist organizations and Republican lawmakers are pushing to get books about LGBTQ people and racism removed, says PEN America.
5 min read
Image of books piled in a locked cell.
erhui1979/DigitalVision Vectors
Equity & Diversity Virginia Governor Seeks to Roll Back Accommodations for Transgender Students
The policies say students' participation in certain school programming and use of school facilities should be based on their biological sex.
3 min read
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin works at his desk inside his private office at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Jan. 18, 2022. Youngkin has used his first two weeks in office to push Virginia firmly to the right, attempting a dramatic political shift in a state once considered reliably Democratic that's being closely watched by others in the GOP.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin works at his desk inside his private office at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va.
Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP