There’s a new paper, Lessons from Denmark about Inequality and Social Mobility, by James J Heckman and Rasmus Landerso. Here’s the abstract:
Many American policy analysts point to Denmark as a model welfare state with low levels of
income inequality and high levels of income mobility across generations. It has in place many
social policies now advocated for adoption in the U.S. Despite generous Danish social policies,
family influence on important child outcomes in Denmark is about as strong as it is in the United
States. More advantaged families are better able to access, utilize, and influence universally
available programs. Purposive sorting by levels of family advantage create neighborhood effects.
Powerful forces not easily mitigated by Danish-style welfare state programs operate in both
What I find interesting is the framing of their analysis around neighborhoods. They find that even though teachers in Denmark are paid the same salaries, there are still different outcomes for children which appear to be a result of families sorting themselves by neighborhood.
One good example of this phenomenon is the quality of schoolteachers by clusters of parental
characteristics. In Denmark, teacher salaries by neighborhood are mandated to be equal. That is
a force for uniform quality of schools across neighborhoods. However, uniform quality is not the
actual outcome in Denmark.
The sorting continues down through to the teachers.
There is a strong positive association between the characteristics of parents, on the one hand, and the characteristics of teachers on the other, despite equality in wages.
Even with an equalization of monetary compensation to the educators, the more established families gain the preferred access to education. And thus equal opportunity to education is not being realized.
But is this one of those everything-should-be-equal that makes sense or is counter productive? Are the measures and classifications and groupings done in a way that divvies up into a state of balance?
I don’t think it is a controversial notion that those on the lower rung of academic performance are more likely to be motivated by seeing themselves in their teachers and mentors. And until those teachers and mentors are brought along into this higher level of academic delivery, the system that looks for those mentors will have unbalanced delivery systems. By choice. And this may very well be the best delivery for that moment in time.
Here is a scenario where fine tuning and focusing in on what is thought to be an issue of equality maybe sabotaging the path for greatest progress. By drilling down to the tier of the individual, one dismisses the group. To bring along the child can only be done by bringing along their larger group, including their parents and teachers.