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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