Education Gaps: A Permanent Recession

In their report, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools,” McKinsey & Company discussed how gaps in education are substantially hurting the United States economy. They stated that “the persistence of these educational achievement gaps imposes on the United States the economic equivalence of a permanent national recession.” The report describes 4 different achievement gaps that are contributing to the problem: between students of different ethnicities, between students from differing family incomes, between the US as a whole and other nations, and between schools in different regions of the US. You can read the full report here.

One of the most interesting findings in the article was the calculated boost to our economy if each of the 4 gaps had been closed for a period of time. Based on their analyses, McKinsey & Company reported that in 2008 the United States could have collected an additional $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion in gross domestic product if the gap between the US and other nations was closed from 1983 to 1998, an additional $310 billion to $525 billion if the gap between students of different ethnicities closed by 1998, an additional $400 billion to $670 billion if the gap between students from differing family incomes was closed from 1983 to 1998, and an additional $425 to $700 billion if the gap between schools in different regions of the US was closed ftom 1983 to 1998. In total, if all 4 achievement gaps were closed, our gross domestic product would have been between $2.435 trillion and $4.195 trillion higher in 2008 alone. It has been said that the US economy will fall $1.0 trillion short of its potential during the current recession- a number that is far less than the potential economic boost we lost due to the existence of educational achievement gaps.

Based on the findings of this report, it is important that we invest in quality educational programs-those that show measurable results- at all levels. Adequate investments in early education play an important role in closing achievement gaps. Studies have found that these gaps can form early in life, before Kindergarten begins, and that early experiences are linked to future outcomes, even into adulthood. As Dr. James Heckman once said, “Investing in quality early learning programs is the most efficient way to affect school and life success and to reduce social expenditures later.” We couldn’t agree more.

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