Timely Interventions

From the Editor: About This Special Report

Next America explores challenges in educating a nation where racial and ethnic minorities soon will comprise a majority of the workforce. Poor and minority youths can often use a helping hand. The question is when.

A child's successful education starts in preschool -- or even before. 
National Journal
Burt Solomon
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Burt Solomon
Dec. 3, 2013, 7:36 a.m.

Ours is a na­tion of out­siders, in­vig­or­ated by waves of people who be­gin with noth­ing and scrape their way to suc­cess. This has al­ways been the grand­est source of na­tion­al strength and — since the days of the Know Noth­ing Party — of polit­ic­al ire. The prob­lem now, as al­ways, is one of as­sim­il­a­tion: How can we bring dis­ad­vant­aged young Amer­ic­ans in­to the eco­nom­ic main­stream?

In this edi­tion of The Next Amer­ica, a spe­cial sup­ple­ment to Na­tion­al Journ­al, co­sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Found­a­tion and the Amer­ic­an Fed­er­a­tion of Teach­ers, we ex­plore the dif­fi­culties of pre­par­ing for an eco­nom­ic fu­ture in which ra­cial and eth­nic minor­it­ies will make up a ma­jor­ity of the work­force a scant quarter-cen­tury hence.

In re­port­ing the cov­er story, Jan­ell Ross traveled to San Ant­o­nio, a van­guard of the na­tion’s demo­graph­ic fu­ture. The Latino-dom­in­ated city is try­ing its damnd­est to help its young’uns suc­ceed as adults, start­ing be­fore they’re born and con­tinu­ing through to high school. The life cycle of young Amer­ic­ans who are dis­ad­vant­aged by poverty, race, or eth­ni­city of­fers mul­tiple op­por­tun­it­ies for someone to step in and change their lives. 

The prob­lem is this: In the real world, with the avail­able re­sources so con­strained, choices must be made. When is it most cost-ef­fect­ive to in­ter­vene? There’s an an­swer: Early is bet­ter.

One path that no longer as­sures a middle-class life is re­ly­ing on a high school dip­loma, and the edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem is re­spond­ing. Soph­ie Quin­ton looks at a high school in Geor­gia where vo­ca­tion­al edu­ca­tion has been re­defined. Wood shop has giv­en way to rig­or­ous courses — the lines between tra­di­tion­al aca­dem­ics and vo­ca­tion­al train­ing have blurred — that are meant to help any stu­dent find a place in a fright­en­ingly soph­ist­ic­ated work­force.

Life is hard: No news there. But Peter Bell and Stephanie Stamm show (in the cen­ter­spread graph­ic) how much harder it is if things go badly from birth. This pro­pels an in­equal­ity that our sys­tem of high­er edu­ca­tion is mak­ing worse, as Ron­ald Brown­stein finds. For gen­er­a­tions the driver of up­ward mo­bil­ity, col­lege has be­come a force for stul­ti­fic­a­tion. The chil­dren of the pros­per­ous re­ceive an elite edu­ca­tion and an easi­er life, while most oth­ers — uh, too bad.

So, is high­er edu­ca­tion the prob­lem or the cure? Click on the links at the box above right.

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