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The Power of Education: Boosting Economic Growth in the Long Run

Why focus on math and reading proficiency?

Why focus mostly on math and reading? American students must be, at a minimum, proficient in math and reading. There is much more to education than competence in these basic subjects, but it is difficult to imagine high levels of scientific and historical knowledge, artistic production, or cultural awareness if students by the time they have reached the age of fifteen are not proficient in the tools that open the door to these domains of learning.

We often give special attention to mathematics, because it is especially easy to compare throughout the world. Math skills are pretty good at predicting future earnings and other economic outcomes compared to other skills learned in high school.

Does the diversity of the United States affect its educational outcomes?

The diversity of population is not the reason why the United States does poorly in international comparisons. If you compare advantaged populations in the United States to their counterparts in other countries, the proficiency gap gets a little smaller, but remains quite large. Comparing white students in the United States to other countries, or comparing students from college-educated families shows that the gap remains.

Not even half of the students from college-educated families were proficient in mathematics. And children of college-educated parents in our best state (Massachusetts) still trailed all students in Hong Kong and Singapore.

That even relatively advantaged groups in American society do not generate a high percentage of students who achieve at the proficient level in math suggests that schools are failing to reach students effectively.

What is the basic argument for more widespread education in American?

The acquisition of basic skills in reading and especially in mathematics in elementary and secondary school enhances a student’s long-term economic prospects. Countries that educate students to higher levels of achievement enjoys higher levels of economic productivity and more rapid rates of economic growth. The United States is not providing an educational setting in which as large a percentage of students are reaching proficiency in math as thirty-one other countries in the industrialized world. The United States isn’t bringing as large a percentage of its students to the advanced level as twenty-nine other countries in the industrialized world.

The video says that if we reached Canada’s math and reading levels, we’d have a much larger economy. What does that mean?

It does not mean that Canada is richer than the United States. Instead, it relies on the notion that countries that do a better job of educating their people tend to have faster economic growth. Canadian levels of proficiency in math and reading are higher than in the United States. If we increased just our proficiency – not advanced skills, just basic proficiency – to Canada’s level, we would expect to see higher rates of economic growth in the long run.