November 28, 2006
We Don't Need No (Traditional) Education
The New York Times Magazine's education feature is getting some buzz today. Well worth a read, though the point is relatively simple: Poor and immigrant parents employ different parenting strategies that tend to result in worse developmental, academic, and professional outcomes (conversely, their children tend to be happier, but who cares about that?), and you can't fix that through traditional education techniques.So far as the different parenting strategies go, the author makes a point of noting that the poor and immigrant families raise their kids much as middle class Americans did a generation ago. That implies an interesting causal question of whether these strategies actually make kids better off, or just make them better suited to assimilation in a world where the educated set the standards. I've really no idea. On the other hand, I've read some arguments that the inordinate success of Jews in this country came because they deployed this hyper-verbal, negotiation-based parenting style before it was cool, so that might be evidence that it's legitimately helpful.
Lastly, one thing the author doesn't go into is the success of Asian and Indian children, who, in my experience, come from far more authoritarian homes than the yuppie parents being lauded in the article, and end up doing quite a bit better in school -- though their success appears to center in technical rather than verbal subjects. I don't know how you replicate that style of parenting, or even whether you'd want to, but it certainly appears to offer an alternative, and effective, template to the time-consuming "New School" parenting.
The piece does profiles an apparently effective school, which works to replicate the effects of "New School" parenting through really long hours and an intense concentration on socialization techniques. It's interesting and hopeful stuff, though I'm slightly doubtful these schools could workably be replicated on a large scale: It's not the capital that concerns me, but the human talent. There are only so many effective crusaders willing to work 14-hour days for moderate wages in an inner-city environment, and even they're only willing to do it for so long. If we paid these teachers much better, though, maybe this could be an alternative to law school for smart social science students.
That last may sound facetious, but it's not. There are certain professions we may want to heavily subsidize in order to attract excess talent. Society can place a higher value on top-flight graduates turning to inner-city teaching than the market does, and given the intense interest students have shown in Teach For America, it probably wouldn't even cost that much. I'd happily cut some deal in which we expand charter schools while eliminating funding inequities and putting real money towards fixing problems like these:
nationwide, the best and most experienced teachers are allowed to choose where they teach. And since most state contracts offer teachers no bonus or incentive for teaching in a school with a high population of needy children, the best teachers tend to go where they are needed the least. A study that the Education Trust issued in June used data from Illinois to demonstrate the point. Illinois measures the quality of its teachers and divides their scores into four quartiles, and those numbers show glaring racial inequities. In majority-white schools, bad teachers are rare: just 11 percent of the teachers are in the lowest quartile. But in schools with practically no white students, 88 percent of the teachers are in the worst quartile. The same disturbing pattern holds true in terms of poverty. At schools where more than 90 percent of the students are poor — where excellent teachers are needed the most — just 1 percent of teachers are in the highest quartile.
Government spending on education does not tend to compensate for these inequities; in fact, it often makes them worse. Goodwin Liu, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, has compiled persuasive evidence for what he calls the country’s “education apartheid.” In states with more poor children, spending per pupil is lower. In Mississippi, for instance, it is $5,391 a year; in Connecticut, it is $9,588. Most education financing comes from state and local governments, but the federal supplement for poor children, Title 1, is “regressive,” Liu points out, because it is tied to the amount each state spends. So the federal government gives Arkansas $964 to help educate each poor child in the state, and it gives Massachusetts $2,048 for each poor child there.
Reducing educational inequality and drawing talent out of our inner cities strikes me as a perfectly acceptable social priority. I may have my problems with No Child Left Behind -- you're not going to make every single student proficient, you're just not -- but if George W. Bush has done anything positive since entering office, it's restoring momentum and attention to educational equality and advancement.
As Yglesias likes to point out, successful education inherently requires investment of time and resources that aren't very susceptible to the kinds of productivity increases that affect the rest of the economy. So as time goes on, we should expect to have to spend a greater and greater percentage of GDP on education, even just to keep quality the same.
Posted by: Christopher M | Nov 28, 2006 1:53:44 PM
I don't think that that article boils down to that single point at all. The Article places equal importance to 'parenting strategies' and 'parental vocabulary' for example. And of course the article goes in to a lot more than that.
One thing that is interesting, if the parental strategies are determanitive, and not just an effect of some other correllation, is how do we explain the success of middle class American kids raised a generation ago? By most accounts, they have done pretty well. If that parenting strategy was so detrimental to development, it seems to me that it wouldn't have worked.
Posted by: Dave Justus | Nov 28, 2006 2:21:07 PM
Is "inordinate" really the word you were looking for?
Posted by: James B. Shearer | Nov 28, 2006 3:28:13 PM
"And since most state contracts offer teachers no bonus or incentive for teaching in a school with a high population of needy children, the best teachers tend to go where they are needed the least."
Unions being the major reason why they can't recruit them, and math teachers that actually know math. Paying people more based on skill and demand are opposed by teacher unions.
Posted by: Alex | Nov 28, 2006 3:29:07 PM
"... Society can place a higher value on top-flight graduates turning to inner-city teaching than the market does ..."
Why should it? This is a tremendous waste of resources and will only benefit a lucky few.
Posted by: James B. Shearer | Nov 28, 2006 3:33:55 PM
>Lastly, one thing the author doesn't go into is the success of Asian and Indian children, who, in my experience, come from far more authoritarian homes than the yuppie parents being lauded in the article, and end up doing quite a bit better in school
According to "the nurture assumption" parents have almost no influence on children's personality and achievement outside their genetic contributions. There are no real lasting benefits to the currently fashionable middle class childrearing techniques.
Posted by: Joe O | Nov 28, 2006 4:15:34 PM
I find it interesting that they can rate teachers abilities before they actually teach. how can we know how good a teacher will be coming out of college? And once they are in a teaching position it is difficult to compare someone teaching in a tough situation vs a teacher teaching at a top school. If you have been watching the Wire this year you could make the comparison between teaching a class with corner kids in an inner city school vs teaching in the burbs of Baltimore with stoop kids.
Posted by: jbou | Nov 28, 2006 10:23:13 PM
By most accounts, they have done pretty well.
Not if you evaluate them by the same standards children are evaluated today, that is their command of English, science, foreign languages, history, and math.
Posted by: Alon Levy | Nov 28, 2006 10:56:15 PM
Society can place a higher value on top-flight graduates turning to inner-city teaching
This is certainly true. A good friend of mine from high school, newly graduated from Harvard, is now teaching public school in the Bronx, but it's only because of his Gandhi-like personality. If it wasn't quite such a ridiculous financial sacrifice to go into, and if it was better encouraged and organized, it would be much more common to see folks go into these sorts of jobs.
Posted by: Matt F | Nov 29, 2006 12:01:39 AM
While see no problem both either teacher's unions and with merit-pay schemes of one kind or another, the fundamental problem is that pay (and other school expenditures) are essentially locally funded and controlled in most jurisdictions, usually through the property tax.
If there is anything that affects the common good and interstate commerce (post-school) more than education, I don't know what it is, with perhaps defense being on the same tier.
That funding for schools and colleges should and probably must be derived from local, state and national tax sources, doesn't mean that we can't have national standards for expenditure per pupil (with some possible adjustment for only local cost of living - not adjustable on local resources or perceived importance of education), it is time to realize that allowing the great differences in expenditure per pupil is a national disgrace, and hurts the overall economy and society.
With national standards for educational expenditure, we can make decisions that ensure that all children are given a somewhat equal chance of getting well educated. In this sense, education must be blind to personal differnces just as justice should be blind to the individual involved.
We need a Rule of Educational Equaity to accompany the Rule of Law as bedrocks of social justice and equality. Until we deal with this as a matter of right, and not a matter of local discretion, we won't achieve the educational outputs we need as a nation.
(We also need to see livelong health care as another fundamental right that calls for national standards or safety nets, along with education).
Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Nov 29, 2006 3:20:02 AM
We should also make sure that real estate doesn't cost more in one part of the country than another and that wages are exactly the same for all. A Rule of Real Estate and A Rule fo Wages.
Posted by: Alex | Nov 29, 2006 11:38:27 AM
sorry, didnt read the nyt article. anyway, whats changed is the nature of immigrant families. entry into wealthy countries has become more competitive, which has given us immigrants who are more competitive. recent immigrants are also visible minorities compared to ww2 immigrants. i think this means they have felt their differences much more (as do jews) and have compensated or sought to find security in the best way possible- through education.
Posted by: anpanman | Nov 30, 2006 12:53:19 AM
The comments to this entry are closed.