Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FLG Is Confused

Matt Ygelsias raises what FLG views as a reasonable argument:
there really are sharp limits to have far you can go with addressing education policy issues in a vacuum. The rising cost of health care, the shrinking public tolerance for tax hikes on the middle class, and the hyper-empowerment of the rich in the political system are combining to create a situation where it will be impossible to finance K-12 education in the United States. Institutions committed to “education reform” as their mission sort of can’t focus on this nexus by definition and the people who fund such outfits are generally not interested in funding talk about the desirability of higher taxes. Similarly, most American cities are in a position where if they improve their school system and hold housing policies constant, the medium-term impact will be to create a new equilibrium where poor people can’t afford to live in the city, not a new equilibrium where poor people attend the new good schools.

Matt offered this argument in support of this piece in the WaPo by Kevin G. Welner, an education professor at FLG's beloved CU. One quote sticks out in that piece:
While no researcher could offer precise numbers, regression models tend to attribute a far greater role to out-of-school factors such as parental educational level and family income.

This is obviously a very complicated issue with a variety of factors at play simultaneously. However, this sentence above does call into question the ultimate effectiveness of increasing the efforts to improve educational attainment through broader social policy.

If you look at parental income and educational attainment as the proximate cause, then it makes sense that if you simply devote more resources, .i.e. equalize parental income, then educational performance equalization would follow. But what if educational attainment and income are themselves effects of something else. What if the middle class passes along bourgeois virtues to their children? Then it will be a lot of money shifting for little payout.

Now, FLG doesn't fully believe that. On an absolute level, we can greatly improve the quality of education in this country. But if you want relative improvement, then FLG isn't so sure resources are going to solve the problem. No amount government funds are going to change that Miss FLG has two parents who graduated from college, care about her education, and will make it a major priority. It's not simply that we have financial resources. It's that we have intellectual, emotional, and cultural resources and habits that we will give to her.

FLG guesses his point is that he'd like every American child to flourish to their highest potential. And we, as a nation, need to work toward that end within the constraints of our limited resources and other competing priorities. But the child of two lawyers or doctors or professors or whatever is always going to have a huge advantage over other kids.

2 comments:

The Ancient said...

...if they improve their school system and hold housing policies constant, the medium-term impact will be to create a new equilibrium where poor people can’t afford to live in the city, not a new equilibrium where poor people attend the new good schools.

1) Imagine a District of Columbia where every public school is as good as NCS and St Albans.

2) "Hold housing policies constant." (This is a big nest of snakes, but let's just pretend it means something real.)

3) At what point will DC's poor be unable to live in the city? (Take your time. Try to get it right within 300 years.)

P.S. Weiner's quote is just as bad.

Andrew Stevens said...

How significant is that advantage really, though? I actually doubt it's all that large.

 
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