Reposted from the Economist:
Compared to those of days past, today’s elite are by and large more talented, better schooled, harder working (and more fabulously remunerated) and more diligent in its parental duties. It is not a place where one easily gets by on birth or connections alone. At the same time it is widely seen as increasingly hard to get into. Some self-perpetuation by elites is unavoidable; the children of America’s top dogs benefit from nepotism just as those in all other societies do. But something else is now afoot. More than ever before, America’s elite is producing children who not only get ahead, but deserve to do so: they meet the standards of meritocracy better than their peers, and are thus worthy of the status they inherit.
Part of the change is due to the increased opportunities for education and employment won by American women in the twentieth century. A larger pool of women enjoying academic and professional success, or at least showing early signs of doing so, has made it easier for pairs of young adults who will both excel to get together. Between 1960 and 2005 the share of men with university degrees who married women with university degrees nearly doubled, from 25% to 48%, and the change shows no sign of going into reverse. Assortative mating of this sort seems likely, on average, to reinforce the traits that bring the couple together. Though genes play a role in the variation of intelligence from person to person, this is not a crude genetic determinism. People tend to encourage in their children what they value in themselves and their partners. Thus people bought together by their education and status will typically deem such things important and do more to bring them out in their children, both deliberately and by lived example—processes in which nature and nurture are more than likely to work hand in hand.
Not only do graduate couples tend to value education; they also tend to have money to spend on it. And though the best predictor of an American child’s success in school has long been the parents’ educational level—a factor which graduates are already ahead on, by defintition—money is an increasingly important factor. According to Sean Reardon of Stanford the past decades have seen a growing correlation between parental income and children’s test scores. Sort the students who took the SAT, a test for college applicants, in 2014 by parental income and the results get steadily better the further up the ladder you climb.
Read a related article: America’s New Aristocracy.
Reposted from USA Today:
The most racially diverse generation in American history works hard to see race as just another attribute, no more important than the cut of a friend’s clothes or the music she likes. But the real world keeps intruding, as it has the past few weeks with angry protests over the racially charged deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in nearby Staten Island, N.Y. “As a generation, we don’t acknowledge color, but we know that the race problem is still there,” says 16-year-old Nailah Richards, an African-American student at Medgar Evers College Preparatory School in Brooklyn. “We don’t really pay attention to it, but we know it’s there.” Nailah is one of the Millennials, the 87 million Americans born between 1982 and 2001. They are defined by opinion surveys as racially open-minded and struggling to be “post-racial.”
Many young people still see the USA’s intractable problems as rooted in race. In a May 2012 report, Race Forward: the Center for Racial Justice Innovation found that “a large majority” of young people in the Los Angeles area believed race and racism still mattered significantly — particularly as they relate to education, criminal justice and employment. In follow-up sessions in five cities in early 2012, the center found that “racial justice” was the most significant interest among young people. “Do I feel like I live in a post-racial society?” asks Izabelle. “Not at all. Not at all.” The borders of school districts often produce segregated schools as a byproduct of neighborhood segregation, and students are placed in classrooms and on academic tracks based on test scores that often correlate with socioeconomic status.
Social divisions, including racial divisions, “are not disappearing simply because people have access to technology,” researcher Danah Boyd says. “Tools that enable communication do not sweep away distrust, hatred and prejudice.” The mere existence of new technology “neither creates nor magically solves cultural problems. In fact, their construction typically reinforces existing social divisions.” For instance, when she sat down to look at the Facebook profile of a white 17-year-old girl at a private East Coast high school, boyd found that though her school recruited students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, most of those who had left comments on the student’s profile were white. “Teens go online to hang out with their friends,” she wrote, “and given the segregation of American society, their friends are quite likely to be of the same race, class, and cultural background.”
Reposted from Quartz:
The US became increasingly unequal in decades ahead of the Civil War in the 1860s. But at the dawn of the the 20th century it remained more egalitarian than European nations like Britain and France. Inequality rose sharply in during the Jazz Age, and collapsed in the Great Depression, staying pretty much stable until the early 1980s. Since then American inequality has climbed sharply—so much so that the US is now a more unequal society than Europe was during the last days of aristocracy ahead of World War I, according to French economist Thomas Piketty in his massive study of the topic, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
Not only is the US now less equal than Europe, it’s less mobile than many European countries. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Americans had a much easier time rising above the station into which they were born than their counterparts in Britain, according to economic historian Joseph Ferrie. Now, a poor Moroccan kid in France is much more likely to move into the middle class than a child born into a poor family in Mississippi. (The US and Britain are usually seen as having the lowest intergenerational social mobility of the countries of Europe and North America. That means our ultimate earnings are now heavily correlated with those of our parents. Here’s another study on the topic.)
Few would argue that this is a healthy development. And almost all would agree that if a change is going to be made, it must be driven in part by the American education system. But here’s the catch: the American education system is itself only an offshoot of an increasingly class-driven society.
Reposted from the New York Times:
“Alyce Barr, the principal in Brooklyn came to feel that Gates’s course was better than the existing alternative. “If you were to interview many, many progressive social-studies teachers, they would tell you that World History is a completely flawed course. It’s spotty. It’s like fact soup. Kids don’t come out of it really having a sense of global history,” she told me. “So I said, ‘Why are we doing this?’ ” Last year, Barr allowed the Big History Project to replace World History, which is known as Global Studies in New York, as a required course.
Henstrand was cautiously optimistic that it would catch on, but he also seemed to recognize how hard it is to innovate in the educational system. “I think many are driven by it, but there are also some that are like: ‘Oh, God, how do we fit this into the requirements of the day? How do we fit this and that?’ ” he said. “This course is a fundamental shift in how you deliver something. But there’s so many factors in American education that work against it.”
In many ways, education is a lousy business. Teachers are not normal economic actors; almost all of them work for less money than they might fetch in some other industry, given their skills and advanced degrees. Students are even weirder economic animals: Most of them would rather do something else with their time than sit in a room and learn algebra, even though the investment is well documented to pay off. By the same token, attempts to paint Bill Gates as a self-interested actor in his education projects don’t make much sense. Joel Klein, the former chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, who charged Microsoft with being a monopoly while a lawyer at the Justice Department, laughed off the idea that Gates had an ulterior fiscal motive. “The notion that he has an agenda other than trying to improve education is just embarrassing,” said Klein, describing how Gates continued to contribute — and even increased his contributions — to New York City public schools during Klein’s tenure. “I can’t think there is a malevolent bone in his body.”