Better Schools Won’t Fix America… But They Sure Would Help!

Wow, this piece by Nick Hanauer in The Atlantic is one-third correct and two-thirds completely and totally wrong. I’d be happy to see more education funders like Hanauer realize that education alone won’t fix America’s social problems, but, gosh, there’s still a lot more that schools could do to improve our society.

There’s a lot to unpack, but these sentences in particular made me want to scream:

In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow.

No, no, no! First, I don’t know of any study on the sequence that Hanauer is talking about here, while we do have research on how education leads to improvements in individual lives and in broader societies. The education route may not be as fast as Hanauer might prefer, but it’s certainly not zero.

Second, it seems like Hanauer may be defining “great schools” in terms of achievement levels, but that’s the wrong way to look at things. We should define “great schools” as schools that significantly improve the trajectories of the students in their care. Judged that way, education may not be the sole solution to all of America’s social problems, but funders shouldn’t discard it as one lever to improve the outcomes for our most disadvantaged children.

–Guest post by Chad Aldeman 

2 thoughts on “Better Schools Won’t Fix America… But They Sure Would Help!

  1. Mike G

    He writes: “Just imagine, education reforms aside, how much larger and stronger and better educated our middle class would be if the median American family enjoyed a $29,000-a-year raise.”

    I think that would make a great experiment. I wonder if Hanauer could be encouraged to undertake it.

    300 families currently earning ~76k/year get a grant to reach his proposed 105k year. So about $8 million/year total cost. Figure out a control group. Watch things for 5 years. He did sign the billionaire pledge, so this strikes me as within his range.

    Even better: get a few other billionaires to each make a pet investment, and bundle all of these under the same outside evaluators. Hanauer has a point, I think, in that most school improvement efforts do indeed fail. See who “wins” their parlor discussion…which mechanism helps people the most.

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