More evidence that better education elevates economic opportunity, promotes upward mobility

A recent paper by economists Raj Chetty of Stanford and Nathaniel Hendren of Harvard examines the effects of neighborhoods on children’s lives. From the abstract (paper available for purchase):

We estimate the causal effect of each county in the U.S. on children’s earnings and other outcomes in adulthood using a fixed effects model that is identified by analyzing families who move across counties with children of different ages…

There is substantial local area variation in children’s outcomes: for example, growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago (DuPage county) would increase a given child’s earnings by 30% relative to growing up in Cook county. Counties with less concentrated poverty, less income inequality, better schools, a larger share of two-parent families, and lower crime rates tend to produce greater upward mobility. Boys’ outcomes vary more across areas than girls, and boys have especially poor outcomes in highly segregated areas. One-fifth of the black-white earnings gap can be explained by differences in the counties in which black and white children grow up. Areas that generate better outcomes tend to have higher house prices, but our approach uncovers many “opportunity bargains” – places that generate good outcomes but are not very expensive.

Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton reports on the study. 

The paper is very wonkish. But once again, Seattle scores well. Seattle came in second for the income opportunity as adults for children of below-median-income families (Salt Lake City was No. 1). The average predicted increase for the Seattle “commuting zone” (roughly including King, Pierce, Snohomish and a few chunks of other counties) was tops in the country. By some other metrics, Seattle was still in the top 10. Among counties, King ranked No. 9 nationally. Even a year’s exposure here increases potential above the national average.

The downside is that many of the best places to raise a child in a poor household are very expensive. 

Talton points out that being in a region with a strong economy and good schools is an obvious plus.

The research helps explain concerns with state and national education accountability. If place matters – and it does – then it’s in everyone’s interest to make sure that students everywhere have access to good schools. And it’s also necessary, then, to have a way to measure academic performance, to set standards and work to make certain standards are met. 

Just where and how to address standards and accountability has, of course, been a challenge in recent years. We written about the transition from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds Act and the state’s response

The discussion continues. In the other Washington, Congressional Republicans are seeking to repeal regulations adopted to implement the ESSA.

Leaders of the Republican majority claim that the rules, written during the Obama administration, represent an executive overreach. Democrats argue that rescinding the rules will open loopholes to hide or ignore schools that fail to adequately serve poor children, minorities, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

…GOP lawmakers say that in this case they are targeting actions under Obama’s Education Department that contradict legislative intent when the school accountability law was passed in 2015.

“We said to the department, ‘You can’t tell states exactly what to do about fixing low-performing schools. That’s their decision.’ This rule does that,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said in a statement last week. “And we said to the department, ‘You can’t tell states exactly how to rate the public schools in your state,’ but this rule does that.”

In Olympia this year there are also efforts to reconsider accountability requirements and assessments. 

These are important discussions. As we wrote in our foundation report

With estimates that 70 percent of jobs in Washington in the coming years will require some level of postsecondary education, it is critically important that students graduate from high school prepared for further study or training…

It’s imperative that the state continue to make improvements focused on better outcomes for students, particularly as it assumes the responsibility for providing a much higher than typical proportion of funding for the K-12 system.

The most effective – the best – way to expand life and career opportunities for today’s students is to make sure they have access to the highest quality education wherever they live.