Americans’ commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom — rooted in “a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives” — made the U.S. the world’s economic superpower, writes David Brooks in the New York Times.
Starting in 1870, more Americans spent more years in school, far outpacing our European rivals.
In 1950, no European country enrolled 30 percent of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70 percent of older teens were in school.
But America’s educational progress slowed and then stagnated from 1970 to 1990. Our foreign competitors caught up and some passed us by.
The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.
High school graduation rates peaked in the U.S. in the late 1960s, at about 80 percent, writes James Heckman of the University of Chicago. Heckman blames weak families.
Heckman points out that big gaps in educational attainment are present at age 5. Some children are bathed in an atmosphere that promotes human capital development and, increasingly, more are not. By 5, it is possible to predict, with depressing accuracy, who will complete high school and college and who wonâ€™t.
I.Q. matters, but Heckman points to equally important traits that start and then build from those early years: motivation levels, emotional stability, self-control and sociability.
Brooks sees government-funded preschool as a human capital strategy. But if the problem is inadequate parenting, the solutions may not be found in schools.