Over at Businessweek Charles Kenny argues that the reason Americans score lower on tests than their international peers is because parents just aren’t as involved. There’s this fascinating paragraph:
Around the world, the catch-all measure used to proxy for parental commitment to education is the number of books in a child‘s household. This measure predicts student educational outcomes better than class sizes, or expenditures per student, the length of the school day or better class monitoring. Hanushek and Woessman have found that among 27 rich countries, the United States sees one of the strongest relationships between parental book ownership and child learning outcomes. In the U.S., kids from homes where there are more than two full bookcases score two and a half grade levels higher than kids from homes with very few books.
I can think of many reasons why having books around is so important to educational outcomes. One is that the mere presence of books creates an impression of the home being a place where education and knowledge is valued. Another is the happenstance of education where a child may be leafing through a book and come across some fascinating story or bit of knowledge that sparks their curiosity. One fact may lead to another and another and a lifetime of curiosity is sparked.
So many lifetime outcomes track investment in education that we need to encourage it as much as possible. Katz and Goldin in “The Race Between Education and Technology” show how educational expectations and promotion lead to the current prosperity enjoyed in America. Externality effects mean that increasing education can create multipliers so that the social and economic benefits are increased by more than just the personal gains to each individual. An educated citizenry is also a necessary virtue for a Republic.
I find the suggested policy prescriptions less helpful but trying to encourage the culture to shift to one where parents value education is a point vital to America.