This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Waiting for Superman, or Should it be Superwoman?

The movie "Waiting for Superman" has stirred up the debate about how to improve the quality of education. Almost completely lost in the discussion has been the impact of the changing demographics of both teachers and students on the American educational system. For several decades in the twentieth century--up until about the 1970s--school districts were able to hire the best and the brightest among women because there were relatively few other really attractive career options (one of the other being nursing--which as also been dramatically affected by changing demographics). As labor force discrimination eased (even if we still have a long way to go), many of those women who previously would have become teachers have gone on to be physicians, lawyers, college professors, and CEOs. But, because we had it in our collective minds that we could get good teachers without having to pay them much, the public has not stepped up to change the system in order to recruit those highest quality people in the face of stiff competition from other jobs.

At quite literally the same time, the demographics of the "public" have changed. Beginning with the loosening in the mid-1960s of the restrictive immigration laws, we have witnessed an increasing fraction of students who are children of immigrants and whose parents are not in a good position to help their children with school because they themselves do not know much about the US educational system and are unaware of how important the role of parents is in the educational success of children. This is compounded by the increasing family and household diversity which has raised the fraction of young Americans who are not growing up in a two-parent family and for that reason may have a diminished support system for their schooling.

Unless we own up to the demographically more complex society that now exists--a complexity that almost certainly raises the overall cost of education--we stand no chance anytime soon of improving our educational system.

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