Education , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | March 5, 2024

Experts: Schools should teach children the success sequence

Ray Carter

For years, researchers have found that people who do three basic things—graduate high school, get a full-time job or enter college, and marry before they have children—almost always avoid poverty as adults and are able to provide for themselves and their family.

Now, experts say information on that “success sequence” needs to make the leap from research papers to the classroom.

“We think schools should teach it,” said Jonathan Butcher, senior research fellow in education policy at The Heritage Foundation. “You should teach children these basic ideas.”

Butcher made those comments during a Feb. 28 panel hosted by The Heritage Foundation, “Empowering Every Child: Unveiling the Success Sequence Model for Success in Both School and Life.” Speakers at the event noted the outcomes of individuals who follow the three main “success sequence” steps have consistently better outcomes than peers who do not.

“Students should be taught the basic findings that following the success sequence leads to better life outcomes,” Butcher said. “The latest research shows that 97 percent of young people who follow these three steps are not poor as adults, 90 percent of young adults who complete the first two steps—so, graduate high school, get a full-time job—are not poor in their 30s. By comparison, half of adults in their 30s who missed all three steps—who missed all three steps—half, 52 percent, are in poverty in their 30s.”

“What you do see in research is that young adults who are following the sequence, and specifically getting married before having kids, are about 60 percent less likely to be poor compared to their peers who are having kids before or outside of marriage,” said Brad Wilcox, a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of a new book, Get Married: Why Americans Must Defy the Elites, Forge Strong Families, and Save Civilization.

Grazie Christie, a member of the Florida State Board of Education, noted her own parents, who were Cuban exiles, lived in poverty for much of her youth, but they rose up the economic ladder because they “employed the success sequence in their lives.”

“In the United States we happen to have, still, a country in which these things are rewarded with success,” Christie said. “And it’s not necessarily the success of the basketball courts or the Hollywood (dream). No one says you’re going to fly away in your private jet. But you’re going to have the kind of life where you’ll be proud to live that life, that you are putting food on the table and your children are growing up strong and healthy and you’re able to educate them in turn. That’s what I saw in my family.”

While popular culture often portrays marriage as a limitation on individual freedom, officials noted that research shows those who are married reap many benefits.

“What we do see is for most of us, becoming married and having kids is linked to more financial security and to more happiness, and I think part of the value of the success sequence is just kind of communicating to younger adults is that contra some of these new narratives out there, these false narratives out there, that marriage actually is both a kind of path to prosperity oftentimes and then also towards kind of flourishing more generally,” Wilcox said.

And following the success sequence has generational impact, he noted.

“What I am seeing in the data is that boys today in America are more likely to end up in prison or in jail than to graduate from college if they’re being raised outside of an intact, married family,” Wilcox said. “And by contrast, boys who are being raised in an intact family are about four times more likely to graduate from college than they are to spend any time in prison or in jail.”

While some individuals object to having schools teach the success sequence, viewing it as an imposition of a values system on students, Lindsey M. Burke, director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, noted that schools already teach values in one form or another.

“Schools are not values-neutral organizations,” Burke said, “so it’s a matter of which values they will be teaching.”

Christie noted that the success sequence is “basically the sequence of responsibility and industriousness and a culture of education and work,” which are “very basic concepts that everybody understood right up until yesterday.”

“Our culture right now is having this moment where we’re having to re-explain the things that we’ve all known all the time, things that are so naturally part of how we understand the world and how we interact with the world on a reality basis,” Christie said. “Now, we seem to have to re-explain it, understand it more deeply, and then be able to teach it.”

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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