The Link between Education and Prosperity, Part II: Educare

In my previous post, “The Link between Education and Prosperity”, I looked at data from Paul Peterson and Eric Hanushek which show a very close connection between high school academic achievement and rate of economic growth for various countries around the world.  They point out, for example, that only 32% of U.S. high school students are proficient in mathematics, as compared to 49% in Canada, and that closing this achievement gap would boost our rate of GDP growth by almost 1%.  But they also point out that the math proficiency rate for white students in the U.S. is 42% with much lower proficiency rates for both African American and Hispanic students.  In other words, almost 2/3 of the American-Canadian math proficiency gap can be explained by poor performance of American minority students, many of whom grow up in poverty.
In yesterday’s New York Times, James Heckman, a Nobel prize winner in economics, has an article “Lifelines for Poor Children” which points out the importance of investing in effective early childhood development from birth to age 5.  “High-quality early childhood programs are great economic and social equalizers – they supplement the family lives of disadvantaged children by teaching consistent parenting and by giving children the mentoring, encouragement and support available to functioning middle-class families.”
High quality early childhood education is expensive and it is very important for all levels of government, especially at the federal level, to operate more efficiently.  How is it possible to expand early childhood education under such very tight financial constraints?
The key is to build it into our existing Head Start program on which we are currently spending over $8 billion per year.  Many experts acknowledge that academic gains from Head Start are short lived, seldom persisting even into 3rd grade.  But there are existing models for much more effective early childhood education, such as the program run by Educare in Omaha and other cities.
In short there is a cost effective way to provide “lifelines for poor children”, for their own good and also for the benefit of society as a whole, and we should expect our national leaders to move in this direction.

The Link between Education and Prosperity


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).