Family Lives and Skills Narrow the Gap

Today’s op-ed piece by David Brooks in the NY Times uses two studies to explain the widening gap between the haves and have nots.

The first study is titled “The Race Between Education and Technology” and was written by Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz. In a nutshell they detail how America’s technological advancements and change have risen steadily while educational progress began to stagnate around 1970. In addition from 1890 to 1960, the average U.S. citizen increased their education levels by an average of .8 years each decade, and America was educating more of its older teens than Europe. These two factors combine to show a possible solution for gaining American economic superiority once again.

Brooks says the following about the study’s findings,

In periods when educational progress outpaces this change [in technological advancements], inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power

The second study, “Schools, Skills and Synapses,” written by James Heckman looks at the deteriorating family unit as a primary cause of educational decline. He notes,

that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who won’t.

Heckman does admit that I.Q. has an impact but says the following factors are more important:

  • motivation levels,
  • emotional stability,
  • self-control, and
  • sociability.

I believe this gives credence to the arguments stating that more social programs are needed for young children, more home visits should be conducted by education officials when students start school, and more effort to build strong families is needed in communities at large. The social impacts on education cannot be overlooked. Schools often reflect the communities in which they reside.

In a post I wrote in June I mentioned the following:

For me, the solution is not necessarily an entirely in-school one; it’s (again) a community problem as well. These lowest level students suffer from low reading levels, poor attendance, behavioral problems, and uninvolved parents (if the parents are present at all). Until legislators and district officials provide the means to create mandatory and consistent outreach programs (home visits, daily wake-up calls, traveling tutors, and the like), I don’t see a monumental change in the near future.

As I have previously stated as well, the success of my students seems to be determined more by the involvement of their parents, the value of education instilled in students, and the structure provided at home. In a world requiring more and more skills of its workers and in a world becoming increasingly less stable, students must be provided opportunities to continue schooling and be provided places of stability and security (in their homes I’m hoping). To create these, legislators and district officials must begin to be proactive and to debate the issues more important than test scores and simply raising standards.

Changing the culture of failure in many students’ lives would be a good start.


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