May 28, 2008

more inherent problems with poverty

While I was home last weekend - digression: it was so great - a friend saw the post about stress causing asthma and pointed me to this Financial Times article which discusses the effects of stress via low social status on developing brains. Quick summary: it's bad. This suggests to me that if Teach for American and other education policy people are interested in eliminating the gap between rich and poor in educational attainment, they're going to have to eliminate (or at least dramatically reduce) the low social status and stress associated with poverty.

This also suggests one possible source of the Scandinavian 'bumblebee economy' (discussed, very briefly, in the Iceland article - basically, high taxes and high growth!): the Scandinavian states - with their excellent social services, low inequality, and strong safety net - more efficiently use and develop the increasingly valuable mental capacity of their citizens. This could also explain some of the findings on Sweden that Lane Kenworthy recently discussed.

As an aside, he writes about school choice in Sweden being a surprise for the left - I'd argue that Sweden in this situation doesn't hold lessons for the US, because inequality is so much lower that the risks of school choice are correspondingly lower. My concern about school choice is that it will leave low-income/low-status students stranded in schools that get worse and worse; if there is less social inequality, I would similarly expect less inequality in educational options.

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