kitchen table math, the sequel: kitchen table math, election edition

Monday, November 3, 2008

kitchen table math, election edition

Economist Edward Glaeser on the campaign I wish we'd had:
[I]n this hopeful season of presidential change, even economists need to be for something. Some of my colleagues labor to improve healthcare; others fight for tax reform. My dream is that one, or both, candidates will make human capital the centerpiece of their campaign.

More than 70 percent of Americans routinely tell pollsters that the country is headed in the wrong direction. America will not change course just by electing a new president, no matter how much charisma or character that leader might have. America's future will instead depend on the skills of its citizens. In a remarkable new book, my colleagues Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz make a compelling case that America's 20th-century achievements owed much to our nation's once-robust investment in education, and that since the 1970s the growth in that investment has slowed dramatically.


Education increases the ability to deal with innovation, so that investing in skills today will make Americans better able to weather the storms of future technological changes.


The case for governmental investment in education reflects the fact all of us become more productive when our neighbors know more. The success of cities like Boston reflects the magic that occurs when knowledgeable people work and live around each other. As the share of adults in a metropolitan area with college degrees increases by 10 percent, the wages of a worker with a fixed education level increases by 8 percent. Area level education also seems to increase the production of innovations and speed economic growth.

American education is not just another arrow in a quiver of policy proposals, but it is the primary weapon, the great claymore, to fight a host of public ills. One can make a plausible case that improving American education would do as much to improve health outcomes as either candidate's health plans. People with more years of schooling are less obese, smoke less, and live longer. Better-educated people are also more likely to vote and to build social capital by investing in civic organizations.
Alas, a presidential campaign in which human capital figured prominently was not to be.

Meanwhile, here is Gene Expression discovering that more people should be attending college, not fewer:
The first observation here is that educational degrees, whether they confer skills or credentials, are more important to income than IQ when minimum thresholds are met.....Higher IQ generates the biggest pay-off differences between those with advanced degrees, which is consistent with IQ increasing in importance as jobs become more complex. Third, merely earning a Bachelor's degree is a golden ticket. People with average and below average IQs are getting just as much of a financial return out of their 4-year degree as those above the 85th percentile. This suggests many more people of marginal ability should be seeking a Bachelor's degree, not less. Fourth, the two lines for junior college and trade occupations overlap substantially, as we would expect if most people in trade occupations went to trade school. Fifth, and most directly related to Murray's argument, people with 4-year degrees earn much more than people with 2-year degrees and trade jobs at every level of IQ. Average IQ people will get a much, much larger monetary reward from completing a 4 year school than a 2 year school. So the BA is far from being a "meaningless credential" when it comes to "chances of making a good living".

It's possible people with average IQs who complete college are exceptional in other ways. But there is no other empirical evidence that vocational school is better at generating income for those <85th>Again we find that IQ shows no relationship to income for those with a BA, and, in fact, those with lower IQs might profit the most.
the future

Since I'm amongst those who think it's going to get worse before it gets better, it strikes me that it may be possible to make some predictions.

I believe education -- especially a liberal education -- makes you "smarter." Ed has always said that an education in the liberal arts disciplines teaches you how to think, so I'm going to go with that as a working hypothesis as to what it is a liberal education does for a person, regardless of IQ.

U.S. public schools
in my neck of the woods are doing everything in their power to abandon the liberal arts in favor of the 21st century skills. I assume our national "progress" in this direction will accelerate under the next president regardless of which candidate wins office.

What does that mean in terms of real children and what becomes of them?

I think the answer can be found in the population of children being pulled out of the public schools for homeschooling or for enrollment in private, parochial, or charter schools.

For instance, Ed and I were trying to figure out, the other day, whether future presidents will be more likely to have attended private schools, as Obama and McCain both did, than they were in the recent past.

Another possibility: Ed suspects there may be, now, an increase in the percentage of private school students being accepted by highly selective colleges as compared to twenty years ago.

Or take Catholics and evangelical Christians, groups with fairly large numbers of children attending parochial schools or being homeschooled, comparatively speaking. Will we see these children moving ahead of their public school peers in terms of educational attainment and income? (Do we see it now?)

Another group: professors' kids. Professors are one unhappy group where public schools are concerned. Thinking back, we've known very few professors who've sent their kids to public school. We were the last holdouts in our circle, and now we're gone, too.

Last but not least: glancing through a couple of parents' lists, it struck me that political conservatives may be leaving the public schools in larger numbers than centrists or liberals. It's just an impression, but it would make sense. Centrists and liberals can put up with a certain amount of global awareness and environmental stewardship in lieu of college preparation on the district Strategic Plan.* But political conservatives, it seems to me, are going to get their fill of this stuff sooner rather than later.

Many -- perhaps most -- students being pulled out of 21st century public schools for private, parochial, charter, or home schools are going to be better prepared for college, which means they'll be accepted by more competitive colleges, which means they'll be in line for acceptance by more competitive graduate programs. And that's where the action is. **

Point is: it's a safe bet within-group inequality will continue to rise. The question is: who's in the groups within the groups?

Which students will leave the public schools in the coming years, and which will stay?

* Tomorrow, Election Day, my school board will vote to adopt a 20-page Strategic Plan that sets goals for environmental stewardship, global awareness, media literacy, 21st century skills, and wellness, but does not mention college preparation.

** "Demand for those who graduated from more selective institutions as well as those with post-B.A. degrees is still soaring and they are doing spectacularly well." p. 302 The Race Between Technology and Education

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences
Pushy parents raise more successful kids

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been


Ben Calvin said...

I do think opting out is the next trend, as certain segments of the population decide they need to take their kids’ education into their own hands.

Along with that, I think the trend of using charters to dip into the public school revenue stream will increase in velocity. Have you seen the percentage of students in New Orleans and D.C. who are now in charters?

Assuming Obama is elected today, it will be an interesting to see if he lets the charter trend accelerate unabated, or if he finds some mechanisms to arrest it, at the behest of teacher unions and state education officials.

Catherine Johnson said...

Obama is hard to read, but I'm going to guess he'll stick with charters. I'm thinking "that ship has sailed."

My fear with charters is that the schools won't be any good. They're starved for money and they're required to hire people who've attended ed school.

On the other hand, schools like KIPP are breaking the mold in spite of all that, and are starting to create their own teacher training programs...