Can education be the great equalizer?

October 14, 2013

By Amy Yuen

The Workshop on Poverty, Inequality and Education examines the challenges to closing the growing opportunity gap

The widening income gap in the last three decades has led to a deepening academic divide between rich children and everyone else. But how exactly do the forces of rising inequality affect the educational opportunities and pathways of low-income and minority children? And can schooling still be the great American equalizer ensuring that all students can learn, develop and thrive?

The Workshop on Poverty, Inequality and Education seeks to find answers to these big questions. A new initiative of the Graduate School of Education, PIE is helping people understand how poverty and inequality influence one’s chances for academic success and the attainment of the American dream — and how families, schools and society can expand opportunity for all students.

“Although poverty and inequality play a powerful role in shaping our children’s educational opportunities, inequality is not inevitable, and poverty is not destiny,” said Sean Reardon, a professor of education who helped to establish the workshop. “Stanford is committed to building knowledge about how to reduce inequality and ensure that all children have an equal chance to succeed in school and lead productive, fulfilling lives.”

PIE will offer a broad introduction to issues concerning poverty, inequality and education through public lectures, panel discussions, film screenings and conferences. In addition, undergraduate and graduate students can enroll in a course offered throughout the 2013-14 academic year: the Poverty, Inequality and Education Workshop (EDUC 157x).

Taught jointly by GSE professors and initiative co-conveners Reardon, Prudence Carter, Jelena Obradović and Rachel Lotan, EDUC 157x will take on a different emphasis for each quarter. While the fall workshop examines social, economic and cultural factors, students enrolled in the winter course will consider developmental and psychological issues, and in the spring, they will study whether and how schooling can reduce the effects of poverty and inequality. Members of the general public are invited to attend any or all of the weekly sessions, and can access the course syllabus and readings online. (A login user-name and password are required to access the course readings.)

“Our goal is to facilitate a campus-wide conversation about these issues,” said Reardon, an expert in the causes and consequences of social and educational inequality. “We are bringing in speakers and events to focus that conversation on some of the best new research and the big ideas, challenges and controversies regarding how to address them.”