I also read the piece by Espenshade and Walton. Their eagerness to associate academic success or failure with ancestry (Asian kids do very well while black and Hispanic kids do poorly) was striking. That kind of thinking is not useful. Students from families of Asian ancestry don’t do well because of their Asian-ness; they do well because of values imparted in the home. (Similarly, Jewish students didn’t do exceptionally well because of ancestry or religion, but because of their values.) Nor does ancestry explain the relatively poor educational fortunes of black and Hispanic students. Back in my teaching days, I had some very good, energetic black and Hispanic students — and many others who could hardly be bothered to read a page or attend class. Of course, I also had some white students who were eager to learn as well as some who were neither prepared for nor interested in college studies.
I don’t see how the proposed “Manhattan Project” would tell us much that isn’t already obvious: Early family influence is overwhelmingly important to a child’s educational path. Nor can I see that there is any solution to the problem of broken homes and bad parenting. No direct solution anyway–the sort of change that would interest politicians. If you read Charles Murray’s classic Losing Ground, you see that the welfare state is responsible for the growth of the broken-home problem Roger writes about. To get better (more “equitable”) educational results, we don’t need a new education policy; we need to dismantle welfare. How many politicians will advocate that?