According to Diamond, one need look no further than Detroit and Boston to see the reality of spatial skill sorting and its impact on local economies. Historians might easily look back on the past 20 years of these two communities and exclaim: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”[9]

Once touted as a “model for the nation in urban education in the early 20th century when manufacturing was booming,”[10] Detroit’s public school system is now a disaster zone. In 2009, Detroit public schools had the lowest scores ever recorded in the 21- year history of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading tests.[11] Therefore, it is not surprising that enrollment decline in the Detroit Public Schools has been precipitous, with the school district losing 42,576 students between 2005 and 2010, which was the greatest percentage enrollment decrease (32.1%) of the 100 largest school districts in America during that period.[12] Due to these problems, combined with terrible mismanagement, an emergency financial manager was appointed by the state in 2009 to address the district’s financial deficit of $259 million,[13] dozens of schools have closed, and a new state entity, the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan, was created to take control of Detroit’s most distressed schools.[14]

Such neglect, together with the departure of auto assembly and other low skill, high wage manufacturing jobs, has led to what some observers now describe as a “post-apocalyptic collapse,”[15] and with good reason, given the huge sections of the community that have simply disappeared. “Of Detroit’s 380,000 properties, some 114,000 have been razed, with 80,000 more considered blighted and most likely in need of demolition.”[16] In December 2013, Detroit became the largest American city ever to file for bankruptcy.[17] Clearly the worst of times.

Exactly the opposite occurred in Boston during the same two decades (1990-2010), with the city experiencing rapid economic prosperity due in large part to the strategic planning and investments that the city and the state of Massachusetts made in both K-12 and higher education. Back in the 1970s, “Boston public schools were declining in quality, driven by racial tensions from integrating the schools.”[18] In addition, Massachusetts had an inequitable system of education funding that led to prolonged litigation, and ultimately a Massachusetts Supreme Court decision declaring the funding framework unconstitutional.[19]

In response, the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1993 passed the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA), which infused billions of dollars of new state education funding into public schools; implemented new, internationally benchmarked standards; and required schools to be accountable for student performance on rigorous assessments aligned to the standards.[20]

As a consequence of this focus and investment, the Boston Public Schools in 2006 won the Broad Prize for the most improved urban school system in America, and public schools across Massachusetts became known as the best in the nation.

Massachusetts fourth and eighth graders have earned the highest scores in the nation in reading and mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) five consecutive times (2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013)[21] On the 2012 administration of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), a test administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which measures the academic performance of 15-year-old students in 65 educational systems across the world, Massachusetts students scored significantly higher than U.S. students, and better than most other industrialized countries.[22] Massachusetts students did particularly well in reading, with only three school systems (Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Singapore) doing better.[23]

Over the past twenty years, Massachusetts also achieved major gains in college attainment rates. In 1990, only 27% of adults in Massachusetts age 25 and older held a bachelor’s or higher degree.[24] By 2010, 39% of the state’s adults held a bachelor’s or higher degree, significantly higher than the national average of 28.4%[25]

Moreover, 50.5% of Massachusetts’ working age population of 25-64 now holds an associate’s or higher degree, again significantly higher than the U.S. average of 38.3%.[26] Among the top 20 largest American cities by population, the Boston metro area is ranked second in the percentage of adult residents with an associate’s or higher degree, with 54.29%, trailing only Washington, D.C. at 55.02% [27] Such educational outcomes have helped Boston become one of the most vibrant cities in the country. As opposed to the mass exodus of people leaving Detroit, Boston has been steadily growing, with total population increasing from 574,283 in 1990 to 617,594 in 2010,[28] and housing stock growing 8.2% from 2000 to 2010.[29]

Furthermore, Boston is attracting, and retaining, high-wage jobs in the clusters of high technology, financial services, “knowledge industries” (including higher education, consulting, and research firms), health care, and visitor industries (hotels, restaurants, retail, arts, etc.).[30] As noted in one report: “Between 1997 and 2000, employment in these five industry groups grew by 8.4%, to a total of 769,000. Other industries that serve as major suppliers to these five growth sectors—such as engineering, legal services, accounting and advertising—accounted for an additional 220,000 jobs in 2000. Thus, the five major growth sectors and the industries that support them directly account for roughly 48 % of all employment in the Boston metropolitan area.”[31] Indeed, the Boston metro area is experiencing the best of times as “one of the world’s leading examples of a regional economy built on intellectual capital, defined by Thomas Stewart as: Intellectual material—knowledge, information, intellectual property, experience—that can be used to create wealth.”[32]

Diamond emphasizes that this pattern of “spatial sorting by skill” is not limited to Detroit and Boston; it is happening all over the country. Given this reality, the long term viability of Utah’s economy, as well as its quality of life for families, depends on it becoming a major center for the college educated and highly skilled. If Utah does not take the budget and policy steps necessary to substantially increase the number of college-educated, highly skilled adults in the state, its economic development will ultimately stall, and families will suffer. Immediate action must be taken to create the educational conditions and outcomes sufficient to attract high paying jobs, as well as community lifestyle amenities, that are crucial to sustainable economic health.

[9] Dickens, C. (1859). A Tale of Two Cities. London: Chapman and Hall.

[10] Diamond, R. (2014).

[11] Ibid.

[12] Greatest declines in enrollment. (2012, July 24). New York Times. Retrieved from enrollment.html?ref=education&_r=0

[13] Aarons, D.I. (2012, April 4). Decline and fall. Education Week. Retrieved from http://

[14] Dawsey, C.P. (2013, January 24). Detroit to lose 28 more schools by 2016, Roy Roberts says. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved from article/20130124/NEWS01/130124047/Detroit-Public-Schools-deficit- eliminationenrollment-decline-Roy-Roberts

[15] Austen, B. (2014, July 11). Buy low. New York Times Magazine, 26. Retrieved from

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 25.

[18] Diamond, R. (2014).

[19] Achieve, Inc. (2009). Taking root: Massachusetts’ lessons for sustaining the college- and career-ready agenda, 2. Retrieved from Massachusetts- SustainabilityCaseStudy.pdf

[20] Mass Insight Education. (2013). Education reform in Massachusetts 1993-2013: 20 year anniversary report. Boston: Mass Insight Education. Retrieved from http://www. rt.pdf

[21] Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2013, November 7). Massachusetts 4th and 8th graders lead the nation in reading and mathematics performance for the fifth consecutive time. Boston: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Retrieved from http://www.doe.

[22] Heitin, L. (2013, December 3). U.S. achievement stalls as other nations make gains. Education Week. Retrieved from articles/2013/12/03/14pisa.h33.html

[23] Vaznis, J. (2013, December 3). Mass. Students excel on global examinations. Boston Globe. Retrieved from international-test/kK0GesOEWGhseEwrnay09L/story.html

[24] Sum, A., Khatiwada, I., & McHugh, W. (2013). The college educated population and labor force of Massachusetts and the U.S., their employment behavior and labor market problems, the numbers and occupational characteristics of college labor market jobs, and the success of college graduates in obtaining access to such jobs. Northeastern University: Center for Labor Market Studies, 5. Retrieved from http://images. df

[25] Ibid.

[26] Lumina Foundation. (2014, March). A stronger nation through higher education, 93. Retrieved from through_higher_education- 2014.pdf

[27] Ibid., 8.

[28] Melnik, M. (2011, November 29). Demographic and socio-economic trends in Boston: What we’ve learned from the latest Census data. Boston: Boston Redevelopment Authority. Retrieved from getattachment/83972a7a-c454-4aac- b3eb-02e1fddd71e3/

[29] Ibid.

[30] McSweeney, D.M. & Marshall, W.J. (2009, June). The prominence of Boston area colleges and universities. Monthly Labor Review, 64. Retrieved from http://www.bls. gov/opub/mlr/2009/06/regrep.pdf

[31] Engines of economic growth: The economic impact of Boston’s eight research universities on the metropolitan Boston area. (2003). New York: Appleseed, 17. Retrieved from

[32] Ibid., 16.