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The Puzzle of Poor White Boys

This is a fascinating issue, and one that can be seen mostly clearly in the U.K., where they collect data on that subgroup. In this country, the accountability system is geared more for minorities and poverty.

Again, we have the national test in the U.K., the GCSE, as a data guide. In this story in the Telegraph, a British think tanker takes apart the numbers:

At the very bottom of the pile are poor white boys, a result that some people might find surprising. That's partly because we are looking at GCSE results here. At the start of school children from most of Britain's ethnic minorities are behind their white peers - particularly if they start with English as a second language. But they have caught up and overtaken by the time they sit GCSEs.

The upside of this data is that Britain is, ever more, a country where people from all racial backgrounds can get ahead.

But it poses some uncomfortable questions too. Questions about the culture of poor white communities. About the widening differences in aspirations between different parts of the country. And about whether we are prepared to change our education culture enough to cope in the hungry, competitive world of the 21st century.

Culture, the writer argues, is behind the problem:

The anti-education, anti-aspiration culture that dominates most schools in Britain has much more pronounced effects on boys. The ideas that it isn't cool to learn, that real men work with their hands, not their minds, and that school doesn't matter, are all pretty deeply ingrained in our culture.

The plight of poor white boys in the country is almost entire overlooked. But it's there if you look hard enough. The most intriguing clue is the (non) marriage rates we see within that group. These men are less educated at a time when the job market has swung against men with a high school degree or less. Not a good place to be, as I wrote in this USA Today commentary.

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