April 2, 2008
Educating a Quality Workforce Begins at Home
One thing that virtually every bit of serious research on education has revealed is that parents play the biggest role in educational outcomes. My own work in this area found that more than 90 percent of the differences in regional educational attainment can be attributed solely to the educational history of parents. Families play a far bigger role in educational success than any differences that occur across schools. So, what then does this mean for public policy?
Last week I described the fate of ten Indiana high school students. Whether this was viewed as good or bad news depends wholly upon what levels of economic self-sufficiency are appropriate in a mature, free and prosperous society. As a reminder, I revealed that more than a third of our current high school kids won’t be economically self sufficient throughout their life (and by this I don’t mean childhood or old age, I mean throughout a life). The rest of us support them in a big alphabet soup of programs and myriad private sector initiatives. Low educational attainment causes economic dependency. How is it that we spend over $100,000 on each kid to get a high school degree, and it only pays off for a little more than half the kids?
Government cannot fix families. It can hold schools accountable for high teaching standards, end social promotion and force an effective curriculum. But, it isn’t clear that this will help the kids with families that don’t care and the cost to the rest of us might be too high. The best solutions are also some of the toughest.
About half our kids go to college. Despite all the rhetoric about skyrocketing college costs, a world class education can be had anywhere in America for about the price of cell phone service and cable TV each year. Further, when viewed as the investment it is, college education pays at almost any price. There are plenty policy options to be aimed at higher education, but fixing what is already best in the world is only a policy priority for those trying to buy upper middle class votes.
There is precious little that state and federal policy can do to end high school drop-outs. We cannot fix the drug and pregnancy epidemics with legislation. The remedies for these problems happen in homes, sports fields and churches, not the general assembly.
The kids we can really affect most easily are those between the college- ound and the drop-outs. The 20 to 30 percent who finish high school but do not pursue additional education or training offer the biggest bang for the buck in education spending. Focusing investment on low productivity students with potential for growth makes sense. Too many kids breeze through their last high school years without being challenged. Better focused high school curriculum on math, science and communication is critical. Prepared students can then be encouraged to take advantage of a robust system of technical and community colleges in Indiana. These are the gateways to a quality 21st century workforce in Indiana.
About the Author
Educational Attainment, the 21st Century Fund and the Future of SchoolingIndiana ranks 42nd in educational attainment.
Big Savings for Ending Prevailing WageMy statistical models show that repealing state prevailing wage laws save taxpayers money.
Re-Thinking Economic Development A large share of the most mobile families—perhaps half—no longer need to live near where they work.
Money Illusion and InflationPrice fluctuation could cause inflation to last longer, but it didn’t cause the inflation, it simply extends the pain.View archives