Long-Term Orientation and Educational Performance

If there’s one common thread between Robin Lake relating The Boys in the Boat to schools, Neerav Kingsland on a recent charter study, and Robert Pondiscio on Hillbilly Elegy, it’s that culture plays a huge role in education. A new NBER Working Paper provides powerful evidence that it may be even more critical than was previously understood.

The authors examine the performance of first and second generation immigrant students in Florida to understand the relationship between the “long-term orientation” of the cultures they come from to their educational outcomes. They find that students from families from countries with a high degree of long-term orientation score higher and grow more over time than similar students from countries with lower long-term orientation. They also are more likely to have better attendance, fewer disciplinary incidents, and enroll in more advanced classes.

To put the size of the “long-term orientation” effect into context, the authors note that their data showed that a student of a mother holding a college degree scored 40% higher in math than the child of a high school dropout. The same data shows that holding everything else equal, moving from the lowest long-term orientation measure (Puerto Rico) to the highest (South Korea) translates to a 73% higher math score, almost twice the impact of a parent with a college education compared to a high school dropout.

Education reform is often focused on factors that can be addressed via policy change, like human capital management, standards/curriculum, and school governance/accountability. Yet as challenging as those issues are, we can’t ignore the power of culture, and more specifically, values that support delayed gratification. Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference is a start, but given the power of culture to impact educational outcomes, this conversation deserves a more prominent place within the ed reform community.