Schools and income inequality

This Freakonomics post talks about and links to Education and technology: Supply, demand, and income inequality, a post at Vox.

The upshot is that income inequality has increased and the cause of the increase is poor education.

Although I am liberal on most things, I tend to be conservative on education.  It just seems to me that the more education is “new and improved” the worse it gets.  Schools (and school districts) get larger and larger and teachers are more and more constrained in what they can do.

Sometimes it seems to me that the schools are designed to squeeze the joy of learning right out of kids.   Kindergartners that are eager to learn turn into middle schoolers that just have no interest.

Of course, I overstate the case a bit.  There are plenty of kids getting a good education.  But not enough.

Personally, I think the answer is small classes with good teachers that are left alone to teach as they see fit. (Yeah, I know.  What’s a good teacher? Details, details.)  Everything that has been done to try and improve the schools is just trying to find a cheat around small classes and unencumbered teachers.  I heard a story on NPR the other day that talked about computers in the classroom.  A teacher was talking about how she could ask a question of the class and the students could answer on the computers (each student had one) and the teacher would get the results on her computer and know how many students were right and how many wrong and who.  Sounds cool, but also sounds like a cheat around a small class.

Education is expensive.  And that is the problem.  But if we pay for good education, then tomorrow’s workforce would be more productive and it would be easier to pay for good education (and your social security, maybe even mine).

9 thoughts on “Schools and income inequality”

  1. Rich,
    Have you read the book Freakonomics? Just curious, verifying data, etc. There are some interesting writings in the book regarding teachers, indicators of education, etc. One indication of a child that has a chance is a home that has access to books, and that said books are read.

    I noticed you avoided (or to be fair, just didn’t write about) writing about discipline in the classroom. Is that because discipline at home less and less as we move forward “progressively?”

    Some sort of theme there, involving the home, yet again.

  2. Bart,

    No, I have not read the book. I have read about the positive effects of access to books at home. I’m not clear how well this works independent of whether anyone else in the house is reading or not. Still, I would be supportive of efforts to get books into the homes.

    There is no question that discipline is a problem. Insofar as the discipline problem has its roots in bad parenting I have no answer for it. What should the school/government do about mediocre parents?

    I did some subbing once and one day I was subbing for a phys ed teacher. A couple of kids starting fighting in the locker room and I grabbed them both by the arm and pulled them apart, sitting one of them down on a bench. All the kids starting talking about how much trouble I was going to get in for touching them. I never heard anything about it.

    The Indiana governor has talked about passing a law to at least somewhat shield teachers from lawsuits when they are instituting discipline. I’m not sure how this might apply to physical discipline, of which I’m not much of a fan. Physical discipline seems like another cheat around small classes. If the kid is that bad, maybe some one on one work to find out what the child would be motivated to learn and let them at it.

    I think one mistake we make is our insistence that every child know all of this wide ranging knowledge. Despite the insistence, success is never achieved, and other education suffers. Some kids are not going to learn the details of how many generals Lincoln went through before finding Grant. But maybe those kids can learn a whole lot about some specialized field. There are plenty of people contributing positively to society due to thorough knowledge of a field that no one would ever have guessed to be something one could earn a living at. With the internet, this is easier than ever.

  3. How have I never heard of this?

    It was just one year (half year?) maybe fifteen years ago or so. I’m sure there is much about my life you don’t know. Heck, I don’t know as much of your life that I wish.

    I expect that to be one of the pleasures of this blog…you and I getting to know one another better (not that we don’t know each other now).

  4. Rich,
    You are right on! My eager Kindergatrner has turned into a bored Middle Schooler! One of my big concerns is that is is very bright, but not challenged. Our school system seems to worry so much about helping kids that have trouble get caught up they don’t let anyone go ahead.

    Also want to let you know what a nice man I think your son is…not really trying to suck up to him, just enjoy his company and conversation. I, like you, tend to be more liberal and he helps me see the other side of things. Doesn’t mean he changes my mind, but the talk is nice :)

    (BTW Rick, think you owe me a couple of blog posts!)

    I also agree that parenting and the home are not what they used to be and this makes a big difference, but like Rich commented “What should the school/government do about mediocre parents?”

  5. @Sandi;

    What should the school/government do about mediocre parents?

    Here is an example:
    I know of one large high school that keeps a sheriff’s deputy on the premises. This school has a zero tolerance level for violence, etc. When a child is brought to the office and found to be guilty of breaking those rules the deputy logs the childs name and contacts the parent that makes the most money. The parent is to take the child home and then THAT parent takes the child to a specific school for a pre-determined amount of time (a week, whatever).

    The key here is the major income producer must drop off and pick up the child at this special school, which is limited in it’s free time and freedom, everyday. Furthermore, the child has a curfew, early in the evening, and the assigned deputy calls the house at whatever time they want and speaks to the child, not a parent or sibling, the offending child, in order to determine that they are in fact at home.

    So it hits the parents where it hurts – the pocketbook, their time, that sort of thing. The child does not end up with a suspension or juvenile time. They simply have themselves escorted by a parent that now must be involved, to and from school. I imagine that conversations are intense for a while. You can just imagine all of the ramifications.

    So while there is government involvement, they rely on societal pressures to make the parent responsible and involved.

  6. Bart,

    I have no problem with that high schools approach to the problem. But I wonder how long it takes before the kid has only one parent, and that parent can’t drive the kid to school without missing work, and he or she can’t miss work without losing their job.

    I would hope there are options to work around that kind of situation.

  7. Our school system seems to worry so much about helping kids that have trouble get caught up they don’t let anyone go ahead.


    That’s another big problem. Everyone has to stay on the same page. Makes for efficiency but not for education. Just another cheat for not having small classes.

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