Putting the Focus on What Matters

With our country witnessing a diminshing return on our education, many researchers are looking to other factors that may be atttribtuing to our slow moving economy.

According to economist Eric Manushek, a country’s economic growth is directly attributed to the cognitive skills of the population. This runs contrary to the belief that the rate of school attendance, student enrollment or the years of school is a key factors to a country’s economic success. What his study suggests is, the school’s ability to improve a student’s basic skills in math and literacy are more important to a country’s economic growth more than how much time is spent in the classroom. Manushek states, “Analysis that I have done with Ludger Woessmann (The Knowledge Capital of Nations: Education and the Economics of Growth) shows that almost all of the variation in economic growth rates across nations can be explained by differences in knowledge capital. Indeed, some of the puzzles of historic growth patterns no longer look like puzzles when we take into the learning that takes place in the different schools found around the world.”  Stanford News.

The fact that there is a broader recognition that quality teachers will lead to revitalized competitive schools, gives hope to many who saw our country’s future starting to diminish. Many states are introducing legislation with it’s main focus on more flexibility in pay, hiring and keeping teachers.  This puts great importance on accurate teacher evaluations in order to understand how to nurture and keep quality teachers in our schools.

The key is to set up explicit measurements according to international benchmarks, not local. Local definitions are not likely to produce international competitiveness. Most private schools understand this mechanism. Their guidelines look at outcomes on an international level, and they collaborate not only with local organizations, but with national and international institutions as well. This gives private schools an advantage on how best to achieve a world-class education, and this may very well be why the public school system is faltering in some areas around our country, but it’s not the only reason.

Inequitable, segregated schools, disproportionate public school spending, race and class inequalities in many states are limiting students ability to achieve an education required for economic stability. The problem becomes exacerbated by the rising levels of children thrown into poverty, which is currently at one in four nationwide. 

In 2015, there were at least 30 states where funding was less than the pre-Great Recession. During the school year of 2007-8, some cuts were more than 10% per-student. Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona and Idaho all reduced their per-student funding by more than 15 percent. These cuts undermine our children’s education and the schools’ ability to achieve a high-quality economically viable education. Legislation can pass all the reform initiatives it wants, but without proper funding, schools will not be able to implement many of the reforms.

belize-1323004_640Since K-12 public schools rely heavily on state aid, with an average of 46% coming from state funds, any cuts to state funding, or decrease in state revenue, will require schools to scale back the services they provide…unless they can raise additional revenue to cover needed expenses, and that’s not easily done in districts where revenue will have to come from lower middle class and poor residents.

Cutting our public education at the local, state and federal levels has serious consequences, long-term economic consequences. Eric Hanushek’s report has established just how important our children’s education is to the future of our country. It is the main interest of all nations, so much so, that the United Nations has ratified a new set of development goals designed to help nations and organizations end poverty and provide quality education for everyone.

It’s about time we stop being complacent with our current system and start taking action to give every American a quality education.


Photos courtesy of Pixabay