Saturday, July 12

Lose the high schooler and lose society

This article talks about how the overall American worker is getting less educationally qualified as time goes on and the baby boomer generation retires. I realise that this assumes that having higher qualification is good in today's knowledge globalising society, but that's besides the point. I quote the main point:

A startling and profoundly important fact about the US economy has received surprisingly little attention. The educational quality of the country’s workers is starting to decline – not just relatively (because other countries are catching up and moving ahead) but also, for the first time, in absolute terms. Over the coming years, baby-boomers departing from the labour force will have better educational qualifications than the younger workers replacing them. If the ultimate source of an economy’s ability to grow and prosper is its human capital, the US is in trouble.

But what caught my eye was this bit:

Yet one key indicator suggests real cause for concern: the declining high school graduation rate, which affects the supply of those seeking to go to college. This too has been a bitterly contested statistic in the US. The country’s highly decentralised education system causes a proliferation of conflicting data sources and definitions. But a recent careful study by Nobel laureate James Heckman and Paul LaFontaine found that the high school graduation rate “has been falling for 40 years” and that this “explains part of the recent slowdown in college attendance”.

This indeed was curious and rather alarming so I went digging. This article has more information on this issue. The problem seems to be, broadly speaking, a hollowing out or hourglassing of American society (something reflected in UK as well I believe) where more people are going to university but at the same time, more people are dropping out of school. And the statistics that these chaps quote are startling:

    1. the U.S. high school graduation rate peaked at around 80 percent in the late 1960s and then declined by 4-5 percentage points;
    2. the actual high school graduation rate is substantially lower than the 88 percent official estimate;
    3. about 65 percent of blacks and Hispanics leave school with a high school diploma and minority graduation rates are still substantially below the rates for non-Hispanic whites. Contrary to claims based on the official statistics, we find no evidence of convergence in minority-majority graduation rates over the past 35 years.
    4. Exclusion of incarcerated populations from the official statistics greatly biases the reported high school graduation rate for blacks.

And their reasoning for this? It is because the changing role of the family. If you are raised in a good, presumably two parent, well off family, then you will do good in school, graduate from a good university and go and be a good egg. But if you are, as is visible increasingly, from a poor household, a single parent household or from a household where educational attainments are not high, then you are stiffed. See here for a great list of statistics on various bits on the family, unfortunately a bit old, but still very useful.

Here was a startling list. Only 56.3% of fathers ever read to their age 5 and under kids when they were resident and only 17.1% did so when they were non resident. Presumably reading is crucial to the development of a child and also having a father is also good, but surely those statistics are not good. Why wouldn't you read to your child? Its amazing to see the play of emotions on their face when you growl like a lion or bark like a puppy or cry like a baby.

Here's the statistics for divorce and marital disruption which has a huge impact on children. 1 in 5 men will no longer be married after 5 years of marriage and almost 1 in 3 will no longer be married after 10 years. Considering that you might have kids from the first marriage, that means (assuming 1-2-1 relationships between marriage breakdown, kids in marriage), that 30% of the kids are in a broken home at least by the time they are 9-10 years of age. So are we surprised that their educational attainment sucks?

So here's some random questions. If the educational attainment of American workers is so driven by family structure and demographics, what can one do? make it more difficult to get divorced or make divorce impossible for the sake of the children? make adultery punishable by making it a crime? provide tax benefits for you to remain married? give you more money to be and remain married? But if you do not graduate despite clear economic incentives that you will get more money for being a graduate than not, then will economic incentives (invectives?) work?

What can civil society do? the kids need to do something. Vocational training for those who are not academically minded was all very nice and good, but increased automation and shipping of manufacturing jobs offshore means that they do not have that route out either. Dont know, bit confused.

No comments: