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Thu August 22, 2013

Why Convergence Is Important To Improving Public Education

For decades now, public education has been in “crisis.”  And since the founding of the U.S. Department of Education, we’ve searched for ways to promote student achievement and prepare for global competitiveness.

There is little question as to why. As the workforce becomes more educated, and increasingly globalized, an educated workforce becomes increasingly important. And study after study proves that educational attainment leads to economic mobility.

Most recently, The National Center for Education Statistics found that young adults with a bachelor's degree earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma.

Americans with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to marry, stay married and have a two-parent household.
Americans with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to marry, stay married and have a two-parent household.

And now a new study conducted by The University of Virginia and Harvard University found that a college education even impacts family life.

The study, called "Intimate Inequalities: Love and Work in a Post-Industrial Landscape," indicates that people with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to marry, stay married and have children only after marriage.

“Marriage is becoming a distinctive social institution marking middle-class status,” said Sarah Corse, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study.

Her co-investigator, Harvard sociologist Jennifer Silva, also noted that people without a college degree are more likely to have parents without degrees, and more likely to have lived in unstable homes. And people living in an insecure and unstable situation have a tough time trusting possible partners.

Economic Security

The growing gap between those with and without a college education can affect a person's future economic security. The median salary for married adults was about $77,000 in 2008, while single adults earned $54,000 a year, according to a 2010 Pew report.

This study confirmed anecdotal evidence often mentioned by educators, sociologists and psychologists.  Children raised in more affluent homes are more likely to live with both of their parents, with degrees and stable jobs; they are more likely to have books in the home, and their parents read to them and have more time and money to spend on their education.

According to Corse and Silva, wages for the non-college-educated have fallen dramatically in the United States as manufacturing work has been outsourced to other countries.

“These are foundational changes in the labor market for the working class and they broadly affect people’s lives,” said Corse and Silva.

So although we have worked for years to improve our public education system, each day it becomes clearer that our economy’s health is inexorably tied to the well-being of the American family.

The evidence proves that an education is not simply a tool to rise through the ranks in the workplace, but is the way to help bridge the gap between socioeconomic strata.

As I thought of all this and considered the implications and the ways in which society can work together for the good of our children, I recently attended Miami-Dade County Public Schools’ Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s opening address to an auditorium full of principals, administrators, teachers and parents. 

Theme Of Convergence

The opening of schools address is a time to reflect on where we’ve been, discuss where we’re going and how we’ll get there. It’s part cheerleading and celebration, part press conference and part vision for the present and future.

As the Superintendent celebrated MDCPS’ many accomplishments -- BROAD Prize recipients, rising student achievement, record high graduation rates – he also conceded that there was still far to go. His goal is to improve our 80% high school graduation rate to 90% by 2015.

“Together, we will close the opportunity gaps which still exist in our community so that we may move closer to eliminating the achievement gaps we know still exist in our schools,” he said.

“Marriage is becoming a distinctive social institution marking middle-class status,” said Sarah Corse, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia and lead author of the study.

In South Florida, and throughout America, the most successful public schools are in wealthier zip codes, and the worst public schools are in the poorest neighborhoods. In Miami-Dade County, 73% of students live at or below poverty.

These are students with fewer opportunities.  They have less access to computers and the Internet, less access to information, less support systems in place – both at home and in their community -- to help them succeed.

And, “Just as much as poverty can’t be an excuse, the exclusion of poverty as a factor is immoral,” said Carvalho.

I was reminded of the old proverb, “It takes a village.” The phrase is uttered so often, that it’s become trite and cliché. But, it is no less true. In fact, it may be truer today – when our economic success is tied to our workforce skill and education level -- than ever before.

And then I thought of the word convergence, the merging of distinct technologies, industries or devices into a unified whole. I thought of convergence and what it has meant to journalism and mass communication, the emergence of new forms of storytelling, of the necessity – especially in our global economy-- to become more innovative and more collaborative.

It may seem too idealized, too much of a utopian fantasy, but the best way to reform education is to converge, to involve teachers, parents, the business community. We are all stakeholders. 

For decades politicians have cried that both education and family values are in crisis.  The evidence increasingly shows that the only way to fix either is to work together to fix both.  If we can help today’s kindergartner learn how to read, give him the tools and the support that he needs to continue achieving, to continue making learning gains that will carry him through high school and college, he is much more likely to grow up to be both a professional and an involved father. 

Is there any better way to solve the crises?