Broken U.S. educational system costing America $2 trillion/year!

A new McKinsey study — “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools” — paints a shameful picture of American education and estimates that better education would increase GDP an astonishing $2 trillion per year:

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.

Before analyzing just how poorly American students perform relative to students overseas, let me start with a caveat: The “U.S. educational system” is broken, but it’s hardly just the fault of teachers and schools. Students aren’t showing up at school prepared and eager to study. Just off the top of my head, I would suggest these likely culprits: * dangerous communities (bullying, crime, guns, drugs) * strong strain of anti-intellectualism * video game culture * junk food * poor parenting * skipping breakfast * dysfunctional and broken homes (esp. missing fathers) * weak communities with few role models, few mentors, and little hope * materialistic culture & hanging out at malls * evangelical religion (esp. anathema to science education) * language and cultural barriers not present in homogeneous high-scoring nations like Finland, Korea and Japan

So, just how poorly are American students performing?

The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a respected international comparison of 15-year-olds by the OECD that measures “real-world” (applied) learning and problem-solving ability. In 2006 the United States ranked 25th of 30 nations in math and 24th of 30 in science…

The longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers. In recent cross-country comparisons of fourth grade reading, math, and science, US students scored in the top quarter or top half of advanced nations. By age 15 these rankings drop to the bottom half…

The United States has among the smallest proportion of 15-year-olds performing at the highest levels of proficiency in math. Korea, Switzerland, Belgium, Finland, and the Czech Republic have at least five times the proportion of top performers as the United States…

The gap between students from rich and poor families is much more pronounced in the United States than in other OECD nations… A low-income student in the United States is far less likely to do well in school than a low-income student in Finland…

School spending in the United States is among the least cost-effective in the world. By one measure we get 60 percent less for our education dollars in terms of average test-score results than do other wealthy nations.

Posted by James on Friday, April 24, 2009