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Making Education Work for the PoorThe Potential of Children's Savings Accounts$
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Willliam Elliott and Melinda Lewis

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190621568

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190621568.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 27 July 2021

Going to School in Unequal America

Going to School in Unequal America

1 (p.1) Going to School in Unequal America
Making Education Work for the Poor

Willliam Elliott

Melinda Lewis

Oxford University Press

In the United States, the education system is more than just a mechanism for transmitting knowledge. It is the nation’s most powerful tool for creating economic opportunities and helping individuals secure a good quality of life and parents’ primary plan for securing the well-being of their children. As such, educational attainment is often touted as the proverbial “key to the kingdom” that puts those who hold it on the path to prosperity. This link between economic mobility and education sets the United States apart from much of the rest of the developed world, where most countries have strong welfare systems that allow individuals to succeed routinely without postsecondary education. This international contrast provides an important framework for understanding how the role of education aligns with how Americans see themselves and their futures. More specifically, Americans vest their hopes in education as a means of getting ahead instead of relying on a generous welfare state that ensures that “nobody is in need”—the predominant view, for example, among Europeans. Crucially, the institution of education is supposed to work equally for all Americans, regardless of their starting point. This belief in education as a force for equity as well as opportunity was ensconced in its foundations, as articulated by Horace Mann in 1848, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men—the balance wheel of the social machinery.” It persists, extolled by Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration, “In America, education is still the great equalizer” and National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, “Education is the great equalizer … opening doors of opportunity for all.” However, there are signs that Americans increasingly doubt the viability of these egalitarian ideals and question whether education can truly realize the promise of a better future. In 2014, only 64% of Americans reported that they still believe in the American dream.

Keywords:   Pell Grants, college, engagement gap, higher education, housing conditions, on college success, merit financial aid, upward mobility

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