Kevin Drum’s Education Manifesto: Open Thread

Image: Celine Nadeau

Kevin Drum’s fiery missive this morning has me thinking about evidence-based education reform. Is it true, as he writes, that we’d likely get more bang for the buck by spending $50 billion less on K-12 education and $50 billion more on early intervention programs? Here’s Kevin on a rather depressing chart linking maternal/child education levels for life:

[James] Heckman argues that these achievement gaps—between black and white, between rich and poor—are today less the result of overt discrimination than they are of skill gaps that open up very early in life and persist in the face of a wide variety of both good and bad schools. What’s more, these gaps aren’t purely, or even mainly, the result of differences in cognitive ability. At least equally important are soft skills: “motivation, sociability (the ability to work with and cooperate with others), attention, self regulation, self esteem, the ability to defer gratification and the like.”

In the face of this evidence, Heckman recommends that we abandon a scattershot approach toward education and instead focus far more of our resources on intensive, early interventions.

I dunno. Wouldn’t it be far preferable to take $50 billion from, say, the defense budget, and turn it over to early intervention programs, rather than weakening existing K-12 reforms that might help kids like Pedro, Eman, and Natalie—but aren’t scalable? Or lack good metrics to measure success?

What does a truly effective early intervention program look like, anyway?

Brilliant readers, over to you.