Opinion
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

Events

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.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

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 Should Schools Tell Parents When Students Change Pronouns? California Says No
The law bans schools from passing policies that require notifying parents if their child asks to change their gender identification.
5 min read
Parents, students, and staff of Chino Valley Unified School District hold up signs in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ policies at Don Antonio Lugo High School, in Chino, Calif., June 15, 2023. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Monday, July 15, 2024, barring school districts from passing policies that require schools to notify parents if their child asks to change their gender identification.
Parents, students, and staff of Chino Valley Unified School District hold up signs in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ policies at Don Antonio Lugo High School, in Chino, Calif., June 15, 2023. California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Monday, July 15, 2024, barring school districts from passing policies that require schools to notify parents if their child asks to change their gender identification.
Anjali Sharif-Paul/The Orange County Register via AP
Equity & Diversity Which Students Are Most Likely to Be Arrested in School?
A student’s race, gender, and disability status all heavily factor into which students are arrested.
3 min read
A sign outside the United States Government Accountability Office in central
iStock/Getty Images
Equity & Diversity Opinion Are Your Students the Protagonists of Their Own Educations?
A veteran educator spells out three ways student agency can deepen learning and increase equity.
Jennifer D. Klein
5 min read
Conceptual illustration of opening the magic book on dark background.
GrandFailure/iStock/Getty
Equity & Diversity Opinion Enrollment Down. Achievement Lackluster. Should This School Close?
An equity researcher describes how coming district-reorganization decisions can help preserve Black communities in central cities.
Francis A. Pearman
5 min read
Illustration: Sorry we are closed sign hanging outside a glass door.
iStock/Getty