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Universal Preschool: Lessons from Great Britain

February 14, 2013

child poverty in BritainIn May 1997, the New Labour government in Britain announced plans to provide universal and free preschool for all four-year-olds within two years. The new entitlement, expanded to include three-year-olds in 2004, dramatically raised preschool enrollment rates (previously among the lowest in Europe) and narrowed gaps in enrollment between richer and poorer families. In her book, Britain's War on Poverty, Jane Waldfogel reviews Britain's preschool experiment and suggests lessons for the United States, an instructive exercise as President Obama now begins his own push to expand access to preschool education. An excerpt from the Waldfogel's book is published below:

A large body of evidence documents that high-quality preschool programs increase children’s school readiness, with particularly large effects for the most-disadvantaged children. Hence, expanding quality preschool programs can raise overall school readiness as well as close gaps between low-income children and their more-affluent peers. However, not all preschool programs are alike; the evidence suggests that higher-quality programs yield larger gains. Research in Britain, for example, strongly suggests that children learn more in preschool when they are in school- or center-based settings (as opposed to less formal types of child care settings) and when those programs are led by staff who have a university degree.

Yet, as I highlighted in my discussion of the reforms, some of the programs that British three- and four-year-olds attend are not formal school- or center-based programs, and relatively few are led by university-educated staff. In this regard, the British experience offers a cautionary note for the United States, which, like Britain, has a heavily privatized child care system and one in which the type and quality of provision is highly variable. If the United States follows the British example and provides subsidies that parents can take to a wide range of child care programs, the quality of that provision will vary widely, and the gains that have been seen from the best-quality preschool programs will not be realized. Fortunately, there are many other models to draw on, including the universal pre-kindergarten programs in the United States itself, which are now operating in several states, with programs located in the public schools or in approved preschool settings that meet standards set by the public schools. These universal pre-kindergarten programs have a strong track record of promoting children’s school readiness and have been well received by parents, who view them as part of the public education system. Thus my recommendation: The United States should draw inspiration from how quickly and decisively Britain moved to universal preschool provision, but should draw on the best evidence on U.S. preschool and pre-kindergarten programs in deciding what type of provision to support.

The Impact of Raising the Minimum Wage

February 13, 2013

In his State of the Union address, President Obama voiced support for raising the federal minimum wage, a deeply controversial move that has often divided economists and policymakers. Conventional economic theory suggests that raising the minimum wage will lead firms to cut production costs and jobs. Over the past decade or so, the Russell Sage Foundation has funded several studies that assessed the actual impact of minimum wage increases in cities and states across the country. Links are included below:

  • Schmitt, John and David Rosnick. 2011. "The Wage and Employment Impact of Minimum‐Wage Laws in Three Cities," Center for Economic Policy and Research.
  • This report analyzes the wage and employment effects of the first three city-specific minimum wages in the United States –San Francisco (2004), Santa Fe (2004), and Washington, DC (1993). The authors use data from a virtual census of employment in each of the three cities, surrounding suburbs, and nearby metropolitan areas, to estimate the impact of minimum-wage laws on wages and employment in fast food restaurants, food services, retail trade, and other low-wage and small establishments.

  • Powers, Elizabeth T. 2009. "The Impact of Minimum-Wage Increases: Evidence from Fast-Food Establishments in Illinois and Indiana," Journal of Labor Research Vol. 30 (4), pp. 365-394. (Gated)
  • Fast-food establishments in Illinois and Indiana were surveyed during a period of state-mandated minimum-wage increases in Illinois. While entry-level wages of Illinois establishments rose substantially in response to the mandated increases, there is little evidence that Illinois establishments ameliorated wage increases by delaying scheduled raises or reducing fringe benefit offerings. There is little evidence of ‘labor-labor’ substitution in favor of women, better educated, or teenaged workers, or increased worker tenure at the new wage, but weak evidence of increased food prices. In contrast, there are large declines in part-time positions and workers’ hours in Illinois relative to Indiana. Aggregate figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics support relative declines in total fast-food employment in ‘downstate’ Illinois counties, as hypothesized. However, establishments’ responses do not appear proportionate to the strength of the minimum wage change.

Are "Boy-Friendly" Schools The Answer for Underachieving Male Students?

February 12, 2013

Last week, Christina Hoff Sommers published an op-ed in The New York Times that called attention to the growing gender gap in educational achievement, a difference that emerges as early as elementary school. While Sommers mentions a number of factors that could explain this trend, she emphasizes "boy friendly" policies as her preferred solution:

What might we do to help boys improve? For one thing, we can follow the example of the British, the Canadians and the Australians. They have openly addressed the problem of male underachievement. They are not indulging boys’ tendency to be inattentive. Instead, they are experimenting with programs to help them become more organized, focused and engaged. These include more boy-friendly reading assignments (science fiction, fantasy, sports, espionage, battles); more recess (where boys can engage in rough-and-tumble as a respite from classroom routine); campaigns to encourage male literacy; more single-sex classes; and more male teachers (and female teachers interested in the pedagogical challenges boys pose).

Claudia Buchmann, co-author our new book, The Rise of Women, published a letter to the editor in the Times responding to Sommers:

The way to deal with boys’ underachievement in school is not through "boy friendly" policies like more recess, single-sex classrooms and male teachers but through strong academic climates and clear, consistent information about occupations and the educational pathways that lead to them.

After years of research for our forthcoming book, "The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools,” Thomas A. DiPrete and I found that in schools where academic effort is expected and valued, boys compete for high grades and more often achieve them. Such schools reduce gender gaps and promote healthy, multifaceted gender identities for both boys and girls.

Boys also perform better when teachers and parents help them understand how their future success is linked to their efforts in middle and high school.

Rather than remaking schools in ways that reinforce gender stereotypes, we need schools that set high expectations for student achievement and treat students as individuals.

Praise for RSF's book Who Gets Represented?

February 11, 2013

In the latest Public Opinion Quarterly, Christopher Faricy reviews RSF volume Who Gets Represented?, which investigates whether and how differences in group opinion matter with regard to political representation. Faricy writes:

This book presents an excellent collection of scholarship on public opinion and equal representation that I would recommend for upperlevel undergraduate and graduate courses in public opinion, public policy, or sociology.[...]This volume makes an important contribution to understanding who gets what from government and the politics of income inequality in America.

American Attitudes Toward Counterterrorism Policies

February 8, 2013

Between 2007 and 2010, sociologists Jeff Manza and Clem Brooks conducted three nationally representative surveys to systematically examine Americans' attitudes toward counterterrorism policies. Their data, published in our new book, Whose Rights? Counterterrorism and the Dark Side of American Public Opinion, offer an interesting empirical perspective on American attitudes at a time when the debate over the use of drones, extrajudicial killings and extraordinary rendition has re-emerged. Here is an excerpt from the volume:

Figure 3.1 presents our analysis of these data, and symbols indicate the mean level of support for a specific counterterrorism policy or practice. [The survey's] counterterrorism items have a range of 0 through 1, higher scores indicating greater support. Of the ten policies and practices at hand, it is NSA surveillance of American citizens and suspected terrorists that elicits the highest level of support. With a score of 0.76, the NSA surveillance item’s score is well above levels of support for the next three counterterrorism items, all of which cluster together: airport security (0.67), the Patriot Act (0.66), and the Military Commissions Act (0.65). Next is assassination, where the targeting of “individuals suspected of being al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders” receives a score of 0.60.

counterterrorism support

These first five counterterrorism items show what amounts to a fair amount of support. All scores are well above the 0.50 scale midpoint. The right panel of figure 3.1 presents data for the remaining five items. The rights violation item leads the way, 0.57 indicating that respondents’ average opinion is shaded toward agreement with the position of taking “all steps necessary to prevent additional acts of terrorism.” Not far behind are opinions on detention, the mean for which is 0.54. In the 2010 SAPA survey, the detention and ethnic profiling items have the same item score of 0.54. The waterboarding item is next with a score of 0.45. With an even lower score of 0.34, the practice of torture easily elicits the highest level of public opposition. Given that waterboarding is best understood as a subset of torture, the contrast between opinions on these two counterterrorism practices merits a note in passing because it anticipates the cognitively induced framing effects we probe more systematically in chapters 4 through 6.

Thirty Years of Prospect Theory

February 6, 2013

Nicholas Barberis, a member of RSF's Behavioral Economics Roundtable, has published a new paper that examines how researchers have tried to apply prospect theory in economic settings. Here is the abstract:

In 1979, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, published a paper in Econometrica titled "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk." The paper presented a new model of risk attitudes called "prospect theory," which elegantly captured the experimental evidence on risk taking, including the documented violations of expected utility. More than 30 years later, prospect theory is still widely viewed as the best available description of how people evaluate risk in experimental settings. However, there are still relatively few well-known and broadly accepted applications of prospect theory in economics. One might be tempted to conclude that, even if prospect theory is an excellent description of behavior in experimental settings, it is less relevant outside the laboratory. In my view, this lesson would be incorrect. Over the past decade, researchers in the field of behavioral economics have put a lot of thought into how prospect theory should be applied in economic settings. This effort is bearing fruit. A significant body of theoretical work now incorporates the ideas in prospect theory into more traditional models of economic behavior, and a growing body of empirical work tests the predictions of these new theories. I am optimistic that some insights of prospect theory will eventually find a permanent and significant place in mainstream economic analysis.

Sheldon H. Danziger Named New President of the Russell Sage Foundation

February 4, 2013

sheldon-danzigerThe Russell Sage Foundation, the principal American foundation devoted exclusively to research in the social sciences, announced today the appointment of Sheldon H. Danziger, the Henry J. Meyer Distinguished University Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan, as the tenth president of the Foundation. Professor Danziger will join the Foundation on September 1, 2013. He will succeed Eric Wanner, who has led the Foundation since 1986.

In making the announcement today, Robert E. Denham, Esq., partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson, LLP, and Chairman of the Russell Sage Foundation Board of Trustees, said “Professor Danziger’s appointment will continue the Russell Sage Foundation’s great tradition of distinguished and groundbreaking social science research that addresses important policy issues and contributes to improving the human condition. The Foundation has benefitted from 26 years of strong leadership by its current president, Eric Wanner. When Professor Danziger becomes president upon Eric’s retirement, we are assured of continued strong leadership in setting and executing our research agenda.”

Professor Danziger is a nationally recognized expert on the effects of economic, demographic, and public policy changes on trends in poverty and economic inequality, and on social welfare policies in the United States. He has published widely on the effectiveness of federal anti-poverty programs and did important early work on the rise in inequality in the United States, long before it was recognized as a national problem. In addition to his professorship at the University of Michigan, Danziger is Director of the National Poverty Center, Director of the Research and Training Program on Poverty and Public Policy, Research Professor at the Population Studies Center, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received his B.A. from Columbia University and his Ph.D. in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Commenting on the appointment of Professor Danziger as his successor, RSF president Eric Wanner said, “I’m delighted that Sheldon Danziger has agreed to take over the reins at Russell Sage. Sheldon’s strong commitment to rigorous social science research and its implications for policy will make him an excellent steward of the Foundation’s long tradition of working to strengthen social science and apply it more effectively to the analysis of social problems and the design of social policy.”

In accepting the appointment, Danziger said, “I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the Russell Sage Foundation. My goal is to advance the Foundation’s stellar accomplishments in the social sciences and continue to focus on the key economic, political, and social challenges facing the nation. I look forward to working with the trustees, the staff, and the many scholars whose research is the basis for the Foundation’s success.”

Equal Opportunity in the Private Sector

February 1, 2013

segregated-workforceFiredoglake's Book Salon hosted an online conversation earlier this week with Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a co-author of the RSF book Documenting Desegregation. Using data that analyzes over 5 million private sector workplaces between 1966 and 2005, the volume shows the American private-sector workplace remains highly segregated. The Firedoglake forum compiled some of the book's main findings:

  • The legal changes prohibiting employment discrimination have certainly had an impact, with the biggest declines in racial segregation coming in the sixties before enforcement of the new civil rights laws but during the period of maximum political struggle and corporate uncertainty over what equal opportunity would mean;
  • Black women, far from benefiting from their “two-fer” status, have benefited less than black men and white women from more integrated workforces;
  • As firms hire a lower proportion of white men, white men’s access to the best jobs, such as higher level managerial positions, increases;
  • The pace of racial desegregation has slowed considerably with lesser enforcement after 1980, and since 1990, considerable resegregation has occurred, particularly in high-wage industries, with a third of all industries showing greater resegregation between white men and black men during the 2001-2005 period.
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