NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 28, 2009

The lagging performance of American schoolchildren, particularly among poor and minority students, has had a negative economic impact on the country that exceeds that of the current recession, according to a study by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Starting in fall 2008, researchers reviewed federal and international tests and interviewed education researchers and economists.  They pointed to bleak disparities in test scores on 4 fronts: between black and Hispanic children and white children; between poor and wealthy students; between Americans and students abroad; and between students of similar backgrounds educated in different parts of the country.  

Nationally, the gap in test performance between white and Hispanic students grows by 41 percent from Grade 4 through 12, and between white and black students it grows 22 percent, say researchers:

  • Students educated in different regions also showed marked variation in test performance, despite having similar demographic backgrounds.
  • In Texas, schools are given about $1,000 less per student than California schools, but Texas children are on average one to two years of learning ahead of their counterparts in California.
  • In New York City, an analysis of 2007 federal test scores for fourth graders showed strikingly stratified achievement levels: while 6 percent of white students in city schools scored below a base achievement level on math, 31 percent of black students and 26 percent of Hispanic students did.
  • In reading, 48 percent of black students and 49 percent of Hispanic students failed to reach that base level, but 19 percent of white students did.
  • If achievement gaps were closed, the yearly gross domestic product of the United States would be trillions of dollars higher, or $3 billion to $5 billion more per day.

However, there's evidence that 24 countries over the past 20 years have significantly overhauled their educational systems and closed achievement gaps.   The trick is sharing effective strategies, say researchers.

Source: Javier C. Hernandez, "Study Cites Dire Economic Impact of Poor Schools," New York Times, April 23, 2009.

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