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We Win When We Educate

By Barry Elias   |   Friday, 22 Apr 2011 08:14 AM

In recent years, the highly selective U.S. universities are admitting a greater percentage of foreign students than ever before.

This assessment came from my son’s college adviser at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, recognized as one of the nation’s strongest MIT feeder schools.

While speaking at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Management, Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, suggested that our K-12 education system has seriously failed us over the past several decades, and it has negatively impacted our economic sustainability.

I couldn't agree more.

Early environmental intervention in the education process is a key driver to reform this process.

In recent communications, Dr. James Heckman, Nobel Laureate in Economics from the University of Chicago, suggests a different paradigm and methodology to deliver education that may serve society more productively and efficiently.

Dr. Heckman strongly advocates early intervention to provide a positive learning environment for the child. It is critical that caregivers empower children to develop the requisite skill sets prior to formal schooling (e.g. 0-5 years). These skills include cognitive and non-cognitive areas, such as social and emotional intelligence.

A central attribute involves perseverance. This is encouraged by accepting challenges as opportunities, which foster positive exploration, learning, and growth. Recognizing and reinforcing work effort with specific, tangible observations are also essential.

Dr. Heckman has identified a synergistic mechanism that occurs during skill development, whereby growth in one area positively effects growth in other areas. In addition to increased future productivity, early intervention reduces the demand for remediation, incarceration, and rehabilitative resources later in life.

As a result, Dr. Heckman observes the return on investment is significantly higher with earlier intervention and may approach a net present value of 10 percent per annum.

My work with Dr. S. P. Kothari, Deputy Dean at MIT Sloan School of Management, builds upon this principle. Dr. Kothari suggests our current education model lacks the sufficient quantity and mix of specific inputs. Ironically, the empirical evidence demonstrates a relatively small positive correlation between expenditures and student performance.

He believes guardian involvement is the limiting factor that can add significant value to this process. Less guardian involvement tends to be more prevalent in the lower socioeconomic strata. This may be a function of high employment demands, less experience with the education process, and less certainty of the potential long term benefits.

This model, independently developed by Dr. Kothari and myself, comports with that being studied by Dr. John List of the University of Chicago. “List may one day be rewarded with a Nobel Prize.,” said Dr. Gary Becker, also from the University of Chicago, who won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work in human behavior.

The basic premise involves financial compensation to guardians who participate in parenting coursework. These workshops will provide the requisite skills and techniques to enhance cognitive and non-cognitive development in their children.

Recently Bloomberg News reported “With $10 million from hedge-fund billionaire Kenneth Griffin, [Dr. John] List will track the results of more than 600 students — including 150 at this school [Griffin Early Childhood Center].

His goal is to find out whether investing in teachers or, alternatively, in parents, leads to more gains in kids’ educational performance. List says that his experiments will give policy makers, executives and investors much greater certainty about why students, donors and shoppers make the decisions they do.”

Dr. List created three groups:

• children and parents receive no benefits (control group);

• students attend the free, all-day Griffen pre-school;

• students are not enrolled in the Griffen School, while their guardians receive cash or scholarships valued at up to $7,000 annually.

Along with his collaborators, Steven Levitt of the University of Chicago and Roland Fryer of Harvard University, Dr. List will monitor these students for their entire life. School data such as testing results, attendance record, and graduation rates will be included with adult employment and criminal records, if any.

Embedded in this methodology is the implementation of school choice and competition.

During a recent conversation with Dick Morris, a former political adviser to President Bill Clinton, he suggests school choice is critical for the education system to function effectively and efficiently. Schools will operate more optimally when guardians can remove their children if performance is inadequate.

For the past several decades, the United States has lost sight of the true value and importance of education.

With education come knowledge, wisdom, and prudent judgment.

When this purpose is served, we all prosper.

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In recent years, the highly selective U.S. universities are admitting a greater percentage of foreign students than ever before. This assessment came from my son s college adviser at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, recognized as one of the nation s strongest MIT...
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