Friday, January 13, 2012

The Achievement-Gap-GDP-Gap Myth: Selling Snake Oil?

edited 7/26/18
(I)f ...(student)... achievement gaps were closed, the yearly gross domestic product of the United States would be trillions of dollars higher, or $3 billion to $5 billion more per day -- Javier C. Hernandez (2009)
Would it were so. But this wishful thinking, on which many reform proposals have been based and marketed, is highly misleading. Most people with a poorly performing automobile would take it to be a joke, for example, if someone said,
Buy just one new replacement tire, and your gas mileage will increase, your engine will stop missing and the accident rate in your city will go down 50%.
A much cited slide presentation report by McKinsey & Company (2009) that detailed findings on the economic impact of the achievement gap in America's school beats on this same drum. A crucial item buried in slide 88 of McKinsey's 119 slide presentation is this: the difference between the actual GDP and the hypothesized GDP is "determined by assumptions about the ability to make use of higher skilled people and the quality of economic institutions."

Although some economists believe that cognitive and economic development are linked, they recognize that public school classrooms are not the only, or even the most important influences that affect this relationship. For example, Hanushek and Woessmann (2008 ) write,
Overall economic institutions ... can be viewed as preconditions to economic development. And, without them, education and skills may not have the desired impact on economic outcomes.
For example, the so-called "overeducated" often find themselves misfit in their economy, so that even high levels of their particular cognitive skills fail to provide "human capital," i.e. skills that translate into economic payoffs.

But what has been dropped from reform propaganda is the critical condition that appropriate, healthy economic institutions must be available so higher skills acquired can be put to use. (Since the 2008 report that Hanushek co-authored, he has said little about this condition, preferring, it seems, to take the easy ride on the school reform bandwagon.)

The present school reform undertakings, like the many that have preceded them in the past 100 years, represent little more than the triumph of hope over experience.

For references and links to cited articles and to examine these issues further, see Moral Responsibility in the Education Industry: 
how much can school reform enhance a student's occupational fitness?

--- EGR