The Role of Education Through the Lens
of Government-Sponsored Social Programs
This paper was prepared for WP 700, taught by Professor Hall.
Education is arguably one of the most important entities when looking through the lens of government-sponsored programs like public assistance, social insurance, and citizenship. Education plays a vital role in providing the opportunity to acquire all the essential skills to become a productive member of a civilized society. Furthermore, education expands our vision and creates awareness to build a solid foundation while increasing economic growth and stability on both a personal and national level.
Without access to education, children suffer from an early age and become trapped in a vicious cycle that fails to prepare them for a successful life later on.
The Role of Education Through Government-Sponsored Social Programs
When considering the role of education in the United States, one is asked to consider the many ways in which it is being accessed and by whom.
While there are various advantages and disadvantages to each framework, there is much to be said about how programs like Head Start, the GI Bill, and the United States’ framework both benefit and harm individuals. The United States focuses on three major frameworks including public assistance, social insurance, and citizenship and the ways in which the education system plays a fundamental role within each.
The public assistance framework provides selective, means tested, and non-contributory eligibility. This form of assistance refers to various programs that provide cash assistance or in-kind benefits to individuals and families from any governmental entity (United States Census Bureau, 2019).
Head Start is a prime example of a public assistance program that supports children from birth to the age of five from low-income families and promotes school readiness as well as the development of the whole child (OHS, 2019). Furthermore, The Office of Head Start manages supervision and grant funding to the 1,600 public and private nonprofit and for-profit agencies that offer Head Start services. OHS also provides federal policy direction and a training and technical assistance (T/TA) system to aid grantees in providing comprehensive services to eligible children and their families (2019). According to the OHS (2019), Head Start has served over 30 million children and their families in urban and rural areas in every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. territories. With access to programs like these, millions of children and their families can begin to build a brighter future.
There are many benefits to programs like Head Start that provide early learning opportunities to children of low-income families. While not everyone agrees on the importance of these programs, a survey was conducted to determine both family and child experiences nationwide. The testing scores for Head Start preschool graduates revealed normal levels for early writing and reading while remaining close to national normal levels for vocabulary and early math. It has been proven that children from low-income or otherwise disadvantaged families normally test well below the normal national average in those areas (“The 4 Primary Benefits,” 2014). Along with improved testing scores, “One startling survey revealed that the mortality rate for children between the ages of five and nine-years old was 33-50 percent lower for children who attended Head Start preschool than children who were not enrolled” (“The 4 Primary Benefits,” 2014). It is abundantly clear that programs like Head Start provide a variety of advantages within the public assistance framework.
There are also arguments against public assistance programs like Head Start in the realm of education. Many argue that the public preschool initiatives only target and benefit the poor and low-income families. Adding to this, Chen (2019) explained, “Critics say the state should not expand education when so many of the country’s public schools are failing. Taxpayers should not pay for services they may not be using.” Still the argument continues that public preschool programs are not proving to be worth the overall costs and investments. Given the perspective that the public school system educating children currently enrolled is failing, one can then question if public preschool is seemingly irresponsible. Darcy Ann Olsen argued, “the lack of research, support, and success for these programs makes the universal requirements unnecessary” (Chen, 2019). The argument against public assistance programs continues to be a controversial topic within the field of education.
The second framework that we examine is social insurance which provides universal, contributory, and non-means tested eligibility. Created in 1944, the GI Bill refers to the benefits earned by members of Active Duty, Selected Reserve, and National Guard Armed Forces and their families through any department of Veteran Affairs. The benefit was designed to help service members and eligible veterans cover the costs associated with getting an education or training. The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides education benefits to those who have served on active duty for 90 or more days after September 10, 2001. The member’s payment rate is determined by the amount of active duty time. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can help pay full tuition and fees at school, provide a monthly housing allowance while an individual is going to school, and provide up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies (“Post-9/11,” 2019).
While the GI Bill provides many benefits, there are many disadvantages that accompany the benefit as well. Michael McNerney, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force and former Pentagon official, discusses various issues within the system that prevent veterans from taking full advantage of the benefits. Many veterans are required to pay for their educational benefits before coming qualified. Several of the benefits require a four-year degree track which causes problems for veterans who graduate early along with those who graduate late. Often times, veterans are forced to rely on untrained school administrators for assistance which results in delays. McNerney (2013) goes on to explain, “Finally, many veterans qualify for the GI Bill but have already completed their degrees, putting them in the unfortunate position of qualifying for educational benefits but unable to use them.” The transition into civilian life is hard enough after returning home from war. Educational benefits should not add to the burden that many veterans face on a daily basis.
The third framework is citizenship which provides children the right to a free public education by virtue of citizenship. The United States Constitution requires that all children be given equal educational opportunity no matter their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex. Underwood (2018), a professor of Education Law, Policy, and Practice at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, argued the sheer significance of education by stating:
Education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments·In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.
Why then does the U.S. Constitution mention no such right nor has the U.S. Supreme Court recognized one? Many Americans assume the federal law protects the right to education. Technically speaking, education is not a recognized civil right. Black (2017) further explained that the word “education” fails to appear in the Constitution and federal courts have rejected the idea that education is important enough to be protected. If we are not living up to the constitutional mandate, we are failing our students.
Which Framework is the Most Beneficial
Based on the information provided, public assistance is the most beneficial framework in the realm of education. It is essential to provide equal opportunities for every child, especially those from low-income families, to set them up for success. Programs like Head Start, foster children’s growth and development in a positive learning environment through services like early learning, health, and family well-being. By promoting individualized learning experiences through planned and spontaneous instruction, children progress in social skills and emotional well-being along with language and literacy learning, and concept development (OHS, 2019). Education is the foundation to success in the United States and there is still much work to be done to ensure that each child is receiving the necessary opportunities to thrive.
The public assistance framework is most in line with social work values for a variety of reasons. Public assistance is a primary example of the core value of dignity and worth of the individual. Every child is worthy of a good education in an effort to create a strong future. Additionally, the importance and centrality of human relationships is demonstrated by public assistance through the ways in which children are exposed to thoughtful and dedicated caregivers and teachers from a young age. Programs like Head Start also work to create a level playing field for children from low-income families. Finally, public assistance aids in the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges to maintain social justice within our society.
There is much to consider when looking at the advantages and disadvantages to the three frameworks of public assistance, social insurance, and citizenship in the United States and the ways in which education plays a role within each. Without access to education, children suffer from a young age and are faced with a variety of problems later on in life. Children fail to make progress in social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development without the opportunity to grow in an enriching and stimulating environment. Education, especially early education, is the foundation for academic learning and children who are denied access are less likely to graduate from high school, go to college, or land higher-paying jobs. It is vital to provide our youth with a fair chance to succeed and ultimately become productive members of society.
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