Here's David Brooks in the NYT (hat tip: Linda Christiansen)...
Brooks serves up an interesting mix on education as human capital-- and concerns both institutionally (how can a govt monopoly be expected to deliver the goods?) and given the vital role of family structure/function (or lack thereof). The latter is more important but more difficult to change, especially for GOP'ers (who will be seen/sold as mean). The former is within reach, but Dems are captive to the teachers’ union and the Reps lack the will/zeal/empathy &/or knowledge to run with a difficult political ball.
It's interesting that Brooks takes a big poke at the GOP here. But consistent with what I’ve observed and said/written: GOP’ers generally have good families and good/decent schools (suburbs, rural). From there, the lack of political response is some combo of ignorance and apathy about educational quality for others—and largely ignoring the impact of divorce on “destroying family” (vs. an ironic, recent focus/obsession on so-called “gay marriage”).
Why did the United States become the leading economic power of the 20th century? The best short answer is that a ferocious belief that people have the power to transform their own lives gave Americans an unparalleled commitment to education, hard work and economic freedom.
Between 1870 and 1950, the average American’s level of education rose by 0.8 years per decade. In 1890, the average adult had completed about 8 years of schooling. By 1900, the average American had 8.8 years. By 1910, it was 9.6 years, and by 1960, it was nearly 14 years.
As Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz describe in their book, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” America’s educational progress was amazingly steady over those decades, and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead. Educational levels were rising across the industrialized world, but the U.S. had at least a 35-year advantage on most of Europe. 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.
America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. But the happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl. Between 1975 and 1990, educational attainments stagnated completely. Since then, progress has been modest. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.
This threatens the country’s long-term prospects. It also widens the gap between rich and poor....
The meticulous research of Goldin and Katz is complemented by a report from James Heckman of the University of Chicago. Using his own research, Heckman also concludes that high school graduation rates peaked in the U.S. in the late 1960s, at about 80 percent. Since then they have declined....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.
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....
[I]t’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research....There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies.