In Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, two education experts, Paul Peterson and Eric Hanushek, write about “The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity”. They point out, for example, that only 32% of U.S. high school students are proficient in mathematics based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Comparable scores for other countries are 45% in Germany and 49% in Canada.
The authors demonstrate a close correlation between academic achievement and economic growth of many countries around the world. The highest academic achievers, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, also have the highest growth rates.
Over the past 50 years, from 1960 – 2009, the U.S. economy has grown 2/3 of a percent faster than would be predicted by our mediocre test scores. But our relative economic advantages, such as open markets, secure property rights, universal K-12 education and favorable immigration policy, are now declining as other countries adopt these same successful social and economic practices. In other words, we need to do better if we want to remain on top.
The authors make a good case that America’s GDP growth rate would be boosted by ¾ of a percent per year if we were able to match the educational attainment level of Canadian students (49% math proficiency vs 32%).
In their recent book, “Endangering Prosperity, a Global View of the American School,” the authors break down the overall math proficiency score by racial group: the white proficiency rate is 41.8%, the African American rate is 11.0% and the Hispanic rate is 15.4%. In other words, almost 2/3 of the American-Canadian math proficiency gap can be explained by the poor performance of American minority groups.
Conclusion: let’s definitely try to improve American K-12 education overall. But in working on this difficult problem, we should concentrate on measures which will have the most impact on minority groups where the problem is greatest. For example, providing early childhood education for all low income families will do more to raise academic achievement overall than adopting the Common Core curriculum (which will mostly benefit already high achieving students).