Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Baltimore Public School System

Matthew Yglesias uses his addiction to "The Wire" in a constructive way: He argues that there can be no equality of opportunity for the next generation if there is not substantial equality of result in this one:

Matthew Yglesias / proudly eponymous since 2002: Achievement Gap: At last, ceaseless Wire-blogging leads to an actual policy issue as Zachary Norris recalls his days in the Baltimore City school system: "I had no formal teaching experience and no real qualifications other than a college degree and a strong desire to 'close the achievement gap.' I joined the Teach For America program and ended up teaching in Baltimore for three years. The experience was humbling."

But what would it mean -- what could it mean -- to close the achievement gap between high- and low-SES students in American schools? For a whole variety of reasons, this just doesn't seem like it's going to be possible. At the outer limit, more prosperous parents are always going to be able to re-open the gap by investing even more resources in their kids' education. An education and child development arms race to the top might not be a bad thing, but it wouldn't close any socioeconomic gaps. To do that, you actually need to tackle inequality itself. In the context of a reasonably egalitarian society, a well-functioning school system shouldn't exhibit massive achievement gaps, but in the context of a wildly inegalitarian one there's no way the school system can singlehandedly set everything back to zero. See also super-intern Conor Clarke's thought on the latest homework "debate."

But in Greg Mankiw's view, even in today's neo-Gilded Age America it is harder for more-prosperous parents to keep the gap eroding than it looks.

Greg Mankiw's Blog: Rich Dad, Poor Dad: Yesterday's Washington Post contained a story about the intergenerational transmission of inequality....

The likelihood that a child born into a poor family will make it into the top five percent is just one percent, according to "Understanding Mobility in America," a study by economist Tom Hertz from American University. By contrast, a child born rich had a 22 percent chance of being rich as an adult, he said. "In other words, the chances of getting rich are about 20 times higher if you are born rich than if you are born in a low-income family," he told an audience at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think-tank sponsoring the work.H

e also found the United States had one of the lowest levels of inter-generational mobility in the wealthy world, on a par with Britain but way behind most of Europe."Consider a rich and poor family in the United States and a similar pair of families in Denmark, and ask how much of the difference in the parents' incomes would be transmitted, on average, to their grandchildren," Hertz said."In the United States this would be 22 percent; in Denmark it would be two percent," he said....

The last number on the U.S. economy (22 percent) is consistent with other things I have seen, but one can just as easily put the point in a different light: How much does income inequality persist from generation to generation? After two generations, 78 percent of the benefit of being born into a wealthy family has dissipated. I think many people would find this to be a surprisingly small degree of persistence...

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