The Biggest Issue – What Is Damaging American Education?

Posted on August 12, 2008


In light of the Wendy Kopp interview at the Leadership Summit, and more specifically the Gallup 20 poll that was referenced, I thought I’d post this article by David Brooks which suggests a completely opposite suggestion from Kopp’s. That is, falling school quality is not to blame for declining graduation rates. Rather it is family environments.

Using Claudia Gouldin and Lawrence Katz’s book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” and James Heckman’s abstract “Schools, Skills, and Synapses,” Brooks (the Op-Ed writer) argues that,

the skills slowdown is the biggest issue facing the country…this slow-moving problem, more than any other, will shape the destiny of the nation.

I’ll look forward to reading the abstract, and perusing the other research. I offer this post as a resource towards discovering and discerning better the plight of American youth and the kind of education and environments we are raising them in.

A few things emerge immediately that are commonalities in all the research.

EARLY DEVELOPMENT. Consistently we find that investing early in the life of a child is critical. Guiding a life is always more effective than correcting one. And especially when it comes to developmental theory. Much of what is determined happens early on.

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 won’t.

ENVIRONMENTS AND EXPERIENCES. Didactic pedagogy is continually insufficient. We must continually look at development and education holistically, and take care of as many of the elements in a child’s life, not just the classroom.

[As I write this, I’m reminded of the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets (for Early Childhood, Middle Childhood, and Adolescents ages 12-18). This has been widely known, and we must continually act clearly and intentionally with this knowledge.]