Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Two and a Half Cheers for Education"

I've only had a chance to briefly skim this paper by Lane Kenworthy, so I can only give it a so-far-so-good recommendation, but what I've seen definitely looks interesting.

Here's a taste:
Some home environments are less helpful to children's development than we would like them to be. Schools tend to do better. Evidence on this in the U.S. context comes from the natural experiment that is summer vacation. During those three months out of school, the cognitive skills of children in lower socioeconomic status (SES) households tend to stall or actually regress. Kids in high-SES households fare much better during the summer, as they are more likely to spend it engaged in stimulating activities. Cognitive psychologist Robert Nisbett concludes that "much, if not most, of the gap in academic achievement between lower- and higher-SES children, in fact, is due to the greater summer slump for lower-SES children."

This is relevant also for inequality of opportunity. Some argue that
schools actually worsen inequality, because children from high-income households benefit more than their less advantaged counterparts, thereby widening the disparity. As the evidence from summer breaks attests, that is wrong. Without schools the gap in cognitive and noncognitive abilities almost certainly would be greater. Though they can't possibly produce full equalization, schools do help to equalize.
To get a fuller picture of this phenomena, listen to this segment on the Harlem Children Zone's Baby College from This American Life.

Thanks to Mark Thoma for the link.

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