New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks writes about the pretty dire state of education in this country in his piece “The Biggest Issue” which ran yesterday, and it cites some interesting research about the relationship between education and technology. Namely, not so great things happen when the pace of educational progress slips behind that of technological progress, which is what is occurring right now.

The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.

Now I know that “educational progress” in this instance is being measured by how much of an education most people get, a rate that peaked (in graduation terms) in the late 1960s and continue to decline. But can we really measure educational progress on the basis of graduation rates these days?

Two other points from the essay: First, the bottom line is that family environments, “which have deteriorated over the last 40 years,” have a great deal to do with the potential success of any given student. Second, it appears, at least, that the candidate better positioned to deal with this situation is Obama, given his emphasis on early childhood education.

Here’s another nugget to chew on:

It’s not globalization or immigration or computers per se that widen inequality. It’s the skills gap. Boosting educational attainment at the bottom is more promising than trying to reorganize the global economy.

I’m still doubtful that either campaign will push these conversations to the forefront even though, as Brooks suggests, they represent “the biggest issue facing the country.”