Framing matters, especially when it comes to news. And today we witnessed a very interesting framing strategy on the education front. A national organization called Fight Crime: Invest in Kids is pushing a new study showing that a ten percent increase in the number of high schoolers earning their degrees will cut 3,000 murders and 175,000 murders in the United States. And how do we spike those graduation rates? Bigger investments in pre-K programs, of course. There isn't much news here - except perhaps the sophisticated political tactics which yielded "local" coverage of the story in Philly, Knoxville, Birmingham, and Lansing, among other places. (The organization seems to have a state-by-state approach to both research and advocacy.)
We've suspected for a while that preschools are a reasonably effective way of helping kids become more successful in school - but this study doesn't seem to shed any new light on that issue. And it can't be a surprise that high school grads commit fewer crimes - though the chicken - egg issue is inevitably a confounding question. (Are offenders simply less inclined to finish school?)
What's worth a closer look, however, is both the framing strategy, and the organization's success in enlisting law enforcement officials as advocates for preschool education funding. The framing of crime as a education issue, and education as a crime issue, are both intriguing.
Too frequently we see crime framed as a matter of individual flaws and failures. Admittedly, progressives are less inclined to view matters this way, but law enforcement officials - who are often battling for tougher criminal laws - often invoke this individualistic rhetoric to justify their support for harsh punishments. Whatever the empirical basis for believing that harsh punishment will deter crime, it's clear that the public cottons to more retributive explanations for tougher criminal law. And retributive explanations are grounded in some notion that crime is caused by moral depravity - rather than a lack of school funding.
On the flip side, we usually see education funding justified either as a fairness issue ("no child left behind") or a macroeconomic concern (we need educated citizens to compete in the world market.) Framing education as a crime issue is savvy, because it does a better job of tapping into voter self interest. Fairness arguments are largely altruistic and these macroeconomic claims are a cross between unbelievable (I need someone to get educated so I can get work??) and untenable (I'll always fare better in the job market if there are fewer educated competitors.)
This crime control frame, however, suggests that education money will pay off for us. Pay for a poor kid to go to pre-K and you can avoid being assaulted! The fifteen year time horizon might seem too distant, too unbelievable, if it weren't for the messengers.
I hope the local roll-out strategy works, and pre-K education gets the money it deserves. And equally, I hope that concerned citizens, voters, jurors increasingly understand the inextricable relationship between social circumstances and crime. There are plenty of bad actors out there. Bad people? In my experience, not so much.