“What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.” (John Dewey)
Every child deserves an excellent education. This statement is supported by an impressive collection of studies, reports, articles, and comments by national leaders. If you believe that a person’s intellectual capacity is racially, ethnically, or culturally predetermined, you may as well stop reading at this point. If you don’t believe it, then you can’t be in favor of a program that tacitly accepts some schools will be better than others and seeks equity by balancing access instead of raising quality.
If you believe that everyone has the potential for greatness, then you must also want to ensure that every child is nurtured to achieve that greatness. And you should not only want it on moral or ethical grounds; you should also want it on economic grounds. There are many reports on the economic and social benefits of providing equitable access to quality K-12 education. America has some excellent public schools, but that is not enough. America’s future is at risk as long as we continue to allow poor schools to exist.
The news programs and business publications constantly remind us that we are increasingly competing in a global economy. Our ability to compete is directly related to how well we prepare each individual citizen to participate. America’s K-12 public education system is the most important single factor in preparing citizens to compete. The personal costs of a poor education are the first manifestations of the problem of educational inequity. But, as the McKinsey report demonstrates, the issue is much more than a collection of individual, personal costs. The lack of quality education for large numbers of our population has a previously hidden cumulative national cost that is staggering.
In April of 2009, The McKinsey & Co. published, The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools. The report summarized the issue as follows:
This report finds that the underutilization of human potential in the United States is extremely costly. For individuals, our results show that:
- Avoidable shortfalls in academic achievement impose heavy and often tragic consequences, via lower earnings, poorer health, and higher rates of incarceration.
- For many students (but by no means all), lagging achievement evidenced as early as fourth grade appears to be a powerful predictor of rates of high school and college graduation, as well as lifetime earnings.
For the economy as a whole, our results show that:
- If the United States had in recent years closed the gap between its educational achievement levels and those of better-performing nations such as Finland and Korea, GDP in 2008 could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher. This represents 9 to 16 percent of GDP.
- If the gap between black and Latino student performance and white student performance had been similarly narrowed, GDP in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher, or 2 to 4 percent of GDP. The magnitude of this impact will rise in the years ahead as demographic shifts result in blacks and Latinos becoming a larger proportion of the population and workforce.
- If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been similarly narrowed, GDP in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher, or 3 to 5 percent of GDP.
- If the gap between America’s low-performing states and the rest had been similarly narrowed, GDP in 2008 would have been $425 billion to $700 billion higher, or 3 to 5 percent of GDP.
Put differently, the persistence of these educational achievement gaps imposes on the United States the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession. The recurring annual economic cost of the international achievement gap is substantially larger than the deep recession the United States is currently experiencing. The annual output cost of the racial, income, and regional or systems achievement gap is larger than the US recession of 1981–82.
The quotes above are a very small sample of the informative material and analyses presented in the report. If you need to make the financial case for investing more heavily in K-12 education, the McKinsey report is a fantastic resource.
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