Just in time for Christmas, new data finds good news on education: Average graduation rates nationwide are up two percentage points.
Graduation rates may not represent what they once did, so what happens after students finish high school matters at least as much as what happens in school.
When state legislatures go back into session in the new year, lawmakers should listen to social science researchers’ idea for quality course content that points to success after graduation and is backed by strong evidence. Educators and policymakers should be ready to listen.
These researchers study an oft-overlooked topic: family formation. Some have charted a course with their findings that could lead K-12 educators to lesson plans designed to promote student success in school and in life.
Researchers from the Brookings Institution, the American Enterprise Institute, the University of Virginia, and elsewhere consistently have found that married couples who have children have “higher family incomes and lower poverty rates” than unmarried couples who have children together. Students raised in two-parent, married families also do better in school and are twice as likely to graduate from college than peers who don’t live with married parents.
In fact, the outcomes for individuals who grow up in intact, married homes are consistently positive across key indicators, including incarceration (lower), poverty rates (lower), and education (higher).
All of this evidence supports what is known as the “success sequence,” a set of decisions and behaviors that lead young people to better life outcomes into early adulthood. If a student obtains a high school diploma, works after graduation or pursues a college degree, and gets married before having children, he or she is less likely to live in poverty as an adult.
And the numbers aren’t even close. A report on millennials (those born in the early 1980s to the mid-1990s) finds that 97% of those who followed this sequence “did not live in poverty when they reached adulthood.” The strong findings are nearly identical across racial lines, and some 80% of black and Hispanic adults who followed the success sequence “reached the middle class or higher by their mid-30s.”
The Heritage Foundation has designed a blueprint that school boards and educators may use to integrate the success sequence into classrooms. (The Daily Signal is the news outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)
Heritage’s new model resolution includes evidence of positive outcomes from the success sequence and provisions that call on educators to teach students the benefits of each behavior.
The lessons are badly needed. The share of children living with married parents has declined by 12 percentage points over the past half-century, and nearly 1 in 4 children don’t live with married parents today. Marriage rates, in general, have fallen in recent years.
These data have serious implications for children. For example, 42% of federal prison inmates reported living with only one parent while growing up, while 47% of state inmates reported growing up with only one parent.
Boys from low-income homes who grow up without fathers “are particularly likely to be floundering at school and to be suspended at school,” Institute for Family Studies senior fellow Brad Wilcox said at a Heritage Foundation event in 2018.
The model policy doesn’t mandate that educators tell students to go to college after high school. It does, however, describe the evidence supporting the benefits of work or educational activity after high school and says educators should teach students the benefits of doing these things.
The policy also doesn’t require that teachers tell students to get married, just that students should know the positive outcomes that are more likely for themselves and their children if they marry before children are born.
Heading into 2024, school district boards and local educators may use Heritage’s resolution on the success sequence to give students and families hope in the present and for the future.
Evidence of the importance of finishing school, heading to the workforce or college, and getting married before having children is too strong to ignore. This is the kind of evidence that should be behind more classroom content.
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