We’re Talking about Money

April 30, 2009

There have been numerous reports documenting the achievement gaps in education in America. Some focus on the racial gap, others on the gender gap, and AAUW’s own Where the Girls Are, released last year, focuses on gaps in educational achievement and attainment by gender as well as race and family income. McKinsey & Company recently released a new report that adds an important and new perspective to this topic. The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap, as the title indicates, looks at the economic impact of the various achievement gaps in America.

Briefly, the report describes the gap between American students and those in other nations, the gaps between American students of different races and income backgrounds, and the systems-based achievement gap. The latter highlights differences in performance between similar groups of students (based on race and income) in different school systems. Not only does this report provide new information to those of us already well versed in the size and persistence of the gaps in education, but it also invites a broader audience to join the conversation because all of a sudden we’re talking about money.

Educators have fought to bring attention to the seriousness of achievement gaps for decades, hoping that a collective sense of moral outrage would create a sense of urgency to address the issue. But the truth is we often end up preaching to the choir. The truth is that most Americans aren’t aware of the severity of achievement gaps, especially if their children aren’t “underperforming.” Even those who have a basic awareness think of it as differences in test scores, not differences in years of learning and opportunities to learn. However, everyone understands money, especially given the current economic crisis. The McKinsey report estimates that the racial and income achievement gaps alone result in a 6 to 9 percent drag on GDP, which is larger than any post-WWII recession up to the current recession. That means that if we had closed the race and income gaps in educational achievement, we may have been able to either prevent or at least greatly minimize the negative impact of the last few recessions.

Most educators did not need an economic analysis to understand that closing achievement gaps in education should be a national priority. However, it helps to have it. The McKinsey report points out that “educational gaps impose the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession.” So along with the bank bailout and the auto bailout, maybe it’s time for an education bailout?

This guest post is by Andresse St.  Rose, AAUW Research Associate.

AAUWguest By:   |   April 30, 2009

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