Close the education gap to promote economic growth

The American Dream: A fair start — then work hard and play by the rules, and you’ll have a chance to live a better life. But today, a widening education gap threatens the Dream, and with it our nation’s long-term economic success.

From David Brooks:

America’s educational progress was amazingly steady [between 1870-1950], and the U.S. opened up a gigantic global lead. [Since 1970], America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment…

It’s not falling school quality…nor is it primarily a shortage of funding or rising college tuition costs…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. He uses common sense to intuit what these traits are, but on this subject economists have a lot to learn from developmental psychologists.

In other words, early childhood development is a lynchpin not only for economic development, but also crime prevention, health, and school success. So how can we keep the Dream alive for the future?

First, by giving kids more time with their first and best teachers: their parents. New work-life standards (like paid family leave and paid sick leave) will mean parents won’t have to choose between their work and their families.

Second, by making sure every child has access to a local, high-quality pre-school a full-day kindergarten. Washington is taking steps in that direction, but every year we put it off, the more it costs us in the long run.

Speaking of costs – the money for these ideas is definitely out there. Here are three ways to pay that would provide new tax cuts or credits for businesses and homeowners, while broadening our tax base to generate the revenue we need for these critical investments.

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