Research Report What Evidence Could Help Schools Put Students on a Path to Economic Mobility?
Matthew Chingos, Karishma Furtado
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Upward mobility is core to the American dream yet remains unobtainable for many Americans. And although education is widely viewed as a key lever to support students’ upward mobility, there is too little actionable information about how schools promote lifelong success. As a result, PK–12 education tends to focus on conventional indicators of success, such as standardized test scores, that—though important—are unlikely to capture the full set of skills that drive upward mobility.

This report reviews the available evidence on the direct links between PK–12 education and economic mobility. We find that the current research offers little guidance about which skills and competencies in PK–12 education are most important for economic success. In part, this is because few studies connect students’ PK–12 experiences to their economic success as adults. Additionally, the existing research defines success narrowly in terms of wages, ignoring other dimensions like finding dignity in one’s work and a sense of autonomy and belonging in one’s community.

Furthermore, current research does not adequately address the relationship between individual and contextual factors that affect children’s readiness to learn, how school systems function, and how success in school translates into longer-term success. Some research examines how students across different groups (e.g., by race or ethnicity and gender) experience the PK–12 education system, but few explore why patterns differ through a lens that considers historical and contemporary forms of oppression such as racism and sexism.

We argue that for schools and education policymakers to best equip all students to attain lifelong success, a new generation of research at the intersection of PK–12 education and economic mobility is necessary. This research should seek to understand how the PK–12 environment can foster skill development that drives upward mobility, how measures of those skills function across different people and places, and how student-, school-, and system-level measures are all shaped by broader factors both in and beyond schools.

Learn more about the Student Upward Mobility Initiative here.

Research Areas Education
Tags K-12 education
Policy Centers Center on Education Data and Policy