Search
  • Robert MacCulloch

On the limits of schools

The winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2000, James Heckman, has given an interview with the Archbridge Institute on the topic of how much schools affect life outcomes:


Interviewer: In your research you discuss the key importance of family structure for social mobility. Why do you feel so strongly about this issue?


Heckman: The family is the source of life and growth. Families build values, encourage (or discourage) their children in school and out. Families, far more than schools, create or inhibit life opportunities. A huge body of evidence shows the powerful role of families in shaping the lives of their children. Dysfunctional families produce dysfunctional children. Schools can only partially compensate for the damage done to the children by dysfunctional families.


Interviewer: Your work on early childhood education is constantly cited as a justification for universal preschool education. Is that a policy you have recommended or what is your main focus and potential solution when you promote the importance of early childhood education?


Heckman: I have never supported universal pre-school. The benefits of public preschool programs are greatest for the most disadvantaged children. More advantaged children generally have encouraging early family lives. The “intervention” that a loving, resourceful family gives to its children has huge benefits that, unfortunately, have never been measured well. Public preschool programs can potentially compensate for the home environments of disadvantaged children. No public preschool program can provide the environments and the parental love and care of a functioning family and the lifetime benefits that ensue.