NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 4, 2009

According to a McKinsey & Company report on the economic impact of the achievement gap in American schools, the longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers. That's a sobering thought. The longer kids are in school and the more money we spend on them, the further behind they get, says Walter Williams, a John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University.

In recent cross-country comparisons of fourth grade reading, math, and science, U.S. students scored in the top quarter or top half of advanced nations. By age 15 these rankings drop to the bottom half. In other words, American students are farthest behind just as they are about to enter higher education or the workforce. 

As a result, the teaching establishment and politicians have convinced taxpayers that more money is needed to improve education, says Williams:

  • The Washington, D.C., school budget is about the nation's costliest, spending about $15,000 per pupil; its student/teacher ratio, at 15.2 to 1, is lower than the nation's average.
  • Yet, student achievement is just about the lowest in the nation.
  • However, 1,700 children in kindergarten through 12th grade receive the $7,500 annual scholarships in order to escape D.C. public schools, and four times as many apply for the scholarships, yet Congress, beholden to the education establishment, will end funding the school voucher program.

Any long-term solution to our education problems requires the decentralization that can come from competition, says Williams. However, centralization has been massive. In 1930, there were 119,000 school districts across the United States; today, there are less than 15,000.  Control has moved from local communities to the school district, to the state, and to the federal government.  Public education has become a highly centralized government-backed monopoly.

Source: Walter E. Williams, "Dumbest Generation Getting Dumber,", June 3, 2009; based upon: McKinsey & Company, "The Economic Impact of Achievement Gap in America's School," McKinsey & Company, April 2009.

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