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Horowitz: Improving Educational Performance -The Surest Path to Prosperity

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Rob Horowitz

A persuasive statistical analysis recently put forward by two noted experts on the economics of education establishes that student performance at age 15 on an international test of mathematical knowledge and ability is a strong predictor of a nation’s future economic growth.  The math skills tested are as strongly correlated with economic growth because they probably are a good proxy for a range of critical skills including the ability to read and comprehend, according to the authors of the analysis, Erik Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, and  Ludger Woessmann of the Ifo Institute for Economic Research in Germany.

Further, small improvements in educational performance, say the study’s authors, provide a big pay off in economic growth. For example, just a 5% increase in the average score of American students would generate an additional $40 trillion in cumulative economic output over the next 20 years.

And there is plenty of room for improvement.  Despite substantial gains made in our students’ ability to do math over the past 25 years or so as measured by standardized tests, we still have a long way to go.  The United States ranked 35th out of 64 countries in math and 27th in science. in the most recent Program for International Student Assessment(PISA) tests.

Noting the strong link between educational performance and economic growth established in the statistical analysis., Robert Litan of The Brookings Institution, writes, “there is one surefire way, at least in principle, to boost growth and improve equity: by improving the quality of K-12 education.”

Recognizing the importance of a more prepared, better skilled workforce as a key to economic growth in a tough competitive global economy where capital is mobile, our past two Presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, despite their policy differences across a range of issues, both strongly backed a large role for the federal government in education—a role in which federal funding is used as leverage to provide incentives for efforts aimed at improving quality. In a welcome departure from rote formula funding, which treats success and failure the same, under President Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the funding of education programs based on evidence that they improve student performance has become widespread

It is critical that the next President continue this approach—an approach that is generating some of the changes we need in a public education system that has failed in large measure to keep up for our major competitors and as a result is failing too many or our children. 

I am not arguing that we have achieved perfection in federal educational policy; there is still much room for improvement and new ideas. But I am arguing that the shared Bush/Obama emphasis on educational quality is the right and needed priority.

This is the discussion we should be having in the Presidential campaign. What are each candidate's ideas for improving school performance?  Instead so far unfortunately, the discussion has mainly been limited to hot button ideological issues such as rejection of Common Core.

One bright spot was the recent Education Forum for the Republican Presidential candidates held in New Hampshire and hosted by former television correspondent and current education activist, Campbell Brown. Together with the Des Moines Register,.  Brown will be holding a similar forum for the Democratic candidates in Iowa in October

A compelling answer to improving educational performance should be a threshold requirement that we voters demand of all candidates who seek to be our President. There are few—if any—topics-- that are more central to our economic future.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


Related Slideshow: MA Education Officials Debate Future of State Standardized Tests

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Mitchell Chester

Commissioner, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

“We are in the middle of a two-year tryout of the PARCC. You wouldn’t buy a car without taking it for a test drive. We know we have some items that need revision, that students found them confusing."

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Dianna L. Biancheria

Worcester School Committee

“I don’t want to see a hybrid of both tests; I want to see one or the other. The way I look at it is that the school district is prepared for PARCC testing or it isn’t. As a district, if we are ready and all factors are in place, then I see us moving forward. To split up the district would be irresponsible.”

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John L. Foley

Worcester School Committee

“There will always be some form of assessment tool in place to look at student achievement. The biggest concern that I have with moving to PARCC testing is that we lose the continuity of testing. Any sort of curriculum shift will render previous scores irrelevant. But then again, you always have to start somewhere.”

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David Perda

Chief Research & Accountability Officer, Worcester Public School District

“With any new initiative there is always a form of a learning curve. It would make it easier on the district if we could do some sort of hybrid. As a district, we don’t currently have any recommendation yet, but we are still giving it a lot of consideration; we have been asking a variety of people within the district about their opinion.”

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John F. Monfredo

Worcester School Committee

“I would like to get additional facts on PARCC testing. If PARCC is the next coming of MCAS then I want to find out exactly what we have to do and what some of the advantages could be. I would like a postponement of another year so that we can make an intelligent decision.”

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Tracy O'Connell Novick

Worcester School Committee

“I think it is unfortunate that we have to choose between two different standardized tests; we are choosing between two equally bad options. Teachers are evaluating students all of the time. We don’t need a formalized test which is something that is so outside of the classroom.”

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Linda Noonan

Executive Director, Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education

“MCAS is a good test for basic skills and testing for proficiency, but it is a basic test. It doesn’t test college readiness. We need to have an assessment in place properly tests whether or students are ready for higher education.”

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Brian A. O'Connell

Worcester School Committee

“The MCAS was developed specifically for Massachusetts as the standard. I’m concerned with PARCC testing because it is based on a national standard, whereas in Massachusetts we hold ourselves to a higher standard. I think that we should have a test that is tailor made to our state’s individual needs.”

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Hilda Ramirez

Worcester School Committee

“PARCC testing has been designed to test students on college readiness and 21st Century skills. A computerized test shouldn’t be a surprise; this is why the district put an emphasis of improving our technology infrastructure. I believe that the right steps are being taken to help districts align to PARCC.”

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JC Considine

Chief of Staff, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the state came down to a 50-50 split. We are hoping for a good split so that we can make sure that both sides are accurately represented, so that when the time comes, we can make a decision as a state.”


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