Miss. Gov. Blames Working Moms for Bad Schools

A blog about business and economics.
June 4 2013 11:35 AM

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant Blames Working Moms for Bad Schools  

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (left) and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant leave the White House after a meeting of the National Governors Association with President Barack Obama, Feb. 27, 2012, in Washington, D.C.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell* (left) and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant leave the White House after a meeting of the National Governors Association with President Barack Obama, Feb. 27, 2012, in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Asked at a recent event to explain how American education became "so mediocre," Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said, "I think both parents started working. The mom got in the workplace."

Working moms: Is there anything they can't be blamed for?

This is especially egregious because there's a perfectly plausible—and much more obvious—linkage between the rise of feminism and issues in K-12 policy. The issue is that back when my late grandmother was working as a teacher, there were basically no other career opportunities available to college-educated women. That gave public school systems privileged access to the labor of talented women. In the contemporary United States, 23 percent of teachers come from the top third of the college admission test distribution. If we went back to a system in which women largely couldn't be doctors or lawyers or corporate executives or senators, then that share would rise. In countries with very highly rated K-12 systems, like Finland and South Korea, all teachers come from that top third. Opening up women's labor market opportunities inadvertently had the consequence of making it harder for public school systems to recruit and retain teachers. That's the connection.

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But to state the obvious, we're not going to improve public education by getting women out of the non-education workforce.

Correction, June 4, 2013: The photo caption on this post originally misspelled the surname of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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