Fishtown slides

While college-educated professionals are thriving, the white working-class is sliding into underclass behavior, writes Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.  In affluent “Belmont,” most people marry before having children, work and obey the law. In working-class “Fishtown,” the “founding virtues” have eroded.

Belmont and Fishtown are parting ways, writes sociologist Nathan Glazer in Education Next.

A 10 percent difference between Belmont and Fishtown in marriage rates in 1960 expanded to a 35 percent difference in 2010. In the census that year, only  “48 percent of prime-age whites in Fishtown were married, compared to 84 percent in 1969.” Related disparities arose in births out of marriage and in children living with a single parent—not much change in Belmont, a great change in Fishtown: almost 30 percent of white births are now nonmarital, up from just a few percent in 1960.

On work, Murray notes the great increase in the percentage of the population on disability payments, from under 1 to more than 5 percent of the labor force, and the growth in the number of prime-age males who are not in the labor force, contrasted with almost all in the labor force in 1960. On chart after chart reporting work behavior, we find stability in Belmont, with almost all males at work, a striking contrast to the large absence from the labor force, willed or unwilled, in Fishtown.

Fishtowners are much more likely to do prison time and less likely to go to church than in 1960.

While 90 percent of Belmont residents vote in a presidential election, only 51 percent in Fishtown voted in 1988, down from 70 percent in 1968, with a modest rise in 2008.

“People can generally be trusted” believed more than 75 percent in Belmont in 1970, contrasted with 45 percent in Fishtown. In 2010, 60 percent in Belmont still concurred, but Fishtown was down to 20 percent, Glazer writes.

Is it a decline in virtue or in good union-wage-paying manufacturing jobs? Murray says virtue. Glazer isn’t so sure.

Public schools should “resist the prevailing nonjudgmentalism and try to restore some of the moral authoritativeness practiced in the past and that we see today in many successful charter schools,” writes Glazer.

Can schools raise social mobility?

Can schools spur social mobility? asks Mike Petrilli on Flypaper.

No way, says Charles Murray, who visited Fordham to promote his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray sees a growing division between well-educated elites, who marry college classmates, and a semi-educated class who are less likely to marry at all.


New York Times columnist David Brooks worries about “the opportunity gap.” College-educated parents spend more time with their children — “reading “Goodnight Moon,” talking to their kids about their day and cheering them on from the sidelines” — than working-class parents. Affluent kids are more active in sports, theater, yearbook, scouting, etc. They’re more likely to go to church and to volunteer. It all adds up.

What to do? asks Petrilli

Our argument, as it goes, is that we’ve never really tried. Because of low expectations, mediocre teachers, a lack of options, ill-designed curricula—name your poison—poor kids have never had a chance to see their talents flourish. Put them into the right educational environment, surround them with supportive adults, and (if you’re of the broader/bolder persuasion) provide them with all kinds of social supports too, and we’ll see our elite college campuses—gateways to the new Upper Class—democratize before our eyes.

But academic ability isn’t evenly distributed. Whether by nature or nurture, successful parents are raising successful children.

“We’ve gotten really, really good” at identifying talented children from low-income and working-class communities and providing scholarships to good colleges, Murray says. Petrilli thinks online learning could provide more access, but there are limits to how many diamonds will be found in the rough.

 The second strategy is to be more realistic about the kind of social mobility we hope to spur. Getting a big chunk of America’s poor kids into the New Elite in one generation might be a fool’s errand—our meritocracy has put them at too great a disadvantage. But getting them into working -class or middle-class jobs isn’t so impossible. Here’s a question for the KIPPs and YES Preps of the world: Would you be happy if, ten years from now, your middle schoolers were working as cops, firefighters, teachers, plumbers, electricians, and nurses? This would be a huge accomplishment, it seems to me, as most poor kids will go on to work in low-paid service jobs a decade hence.

Rewarding people based on “real merit” — skills and performance — rather than credentials — SATs and degrees — would mean less social equality, writes Mickey Kaus. “Web-schooled winners” who rise without a university degree are likely to be smart people who have smart children who do well in school and out. “The social centrifuge separating the meritorious from the less meritorious won’t have stopped spinning. In some ways it will be spinning faster, with greater precision. Sorry.”

 

Can good schools help poor kids?

Cato’s Andrew Coulson believes better schools produce better outcomes for disadvantaged students, citing the success of Ben Chavis’ American Indian Public Charter Schools.

IQ expert and Bell Curve author Charles Murray disagrees,, responding that “such a huge proportion of a child’s educational prospects are determined by things other than school (genes and the non-school environment) that reforms of the schools can never do more than produce score improvements at the margin.”

The throwdown continues with Coulson citing international and U.S. research:

. . . moving from our current monopoly school system to a free and competitive education marketplace would shift the bell curve of academic achievement significantly to the right, raising the mean achievement substantially above its current level.

I can’t believe this is the best we can do.

Public Forum profiles five bad schools that got much, much better after restructuring in Breaking the Habit of Low Performance.


Help wanted: BA not required

Jobseekers shouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree, writes Charles Murray in the New York Times.

Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Murray wants to see tests of vocational skills replace years in college.

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.

Students should be encouraged to seek a liberal education for its own sake, not as a job qualification, he writes.

Of course, Murray thinks that most people aren’t smart enough to earn a meaningful bachelor’s degree. I think it’s more a question of preparation than brainpower.  But it’s certainly true that years of schooling — lower or higher — are a very imperfect indicator of competence. Years ago, I worked with a smart, literate woman who turned out to be a high school drop-out. (She listed her high school on her resume, but never claimed to have earned a diploma.) She read books.