For some time, we have recognized that the academic achievement of schoolchildren in this country threatens, to borrow President Barack Obama’s words, “the U.S.’s role as an engine of scientific discovery” and ultimately its success in the global economy. The low achievement of American students, as reflected in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (see “Teaching Math to the Talented,” features, Winter 2011), will prevent them from accessing good, high-paying jobs. And, as demonstrated in another article in Education Next (see “Education and Economic Growth,” research, Spring 2008), lower achievement means slower growth in the economy. From studying the historical relationship, we can estimate that closing just half of the performance gap with Finland, one of the top international performers in terms of student achievement, could add more than $50 trillion to our gross domestic product between 2010 and 2090. By way of comparison, the drop in economic output over the course of the last recession is believed to be less than $3 trillion. Thus the achievement gap between the U.S. and the world’s top-performing countries can be said to be causing the equivalent of a permanent recession.
(photo credit: Tim Ellis)