"At virtually every level, education in America tends to perpetuate rather than compensate for existing inequalities."
Anyone who believes that opportunity -- the ability of children to have a future that isn't defined by their parents' socio-economic position -- is an important value should read Isabel Sawhill's issue brief on Opportunity in America: The Role of Education. The whole volume of The Future of Children on Opportunity is worth reading, but the issue brief is only 5 1/2 pages, so there's no excuse for not reading it.
Sawhill begins by discussing how, contrary to the public image, the US does not have particularly more intergenerational mobility than other industrialized countries, and how such mobility is declining over time. She notes that Americans are quite resistant to more progressive schemes of taxation and benefits, but -- in theory -- are highly supportive of the role of education in creating equality of opportunity. And then she makes the statement I quoted above: "At virtually every level, education in America tends to perpetuate rather than compensate for existing inequalities."
First, she argues that the K-12 system is generally weak, and "a society with a weak educational system will, by definition, be one in which the advantages of class or family background loom large." Then she notes that because of the ways that public schools are funded, poor kids go to worse schools than well-off kids. And finally, she notes that "access both to a quality preschool experience and to higher education continues to depend quite directly on family resources."
Sawhill goes on to mention some possible ways to address these deficiencies. This part of the essay is not as convincing. I'm not sure I think all of the proposals are good ideas, and I'm fairly confident that they don't add up to enough to eliminate the systemic problems that Sawhill has identified.
But go read the brief, because the description of the problem is spot-on. And then come back and we can discuss whether it's possible to change any of this.