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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: RI Experts on the Biggest Issues Facing Public Education

On Friday November 22, the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University, the Latino Policy Institute of Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, the Providence Student Union, and RI-CAN: Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now will host Rhode Island leaders in the public and nonprofit sectors for a symposium on "the civil rights issue of the 21st century, adequacy and equity and the State of Education in Rhode Island."

Weighing in on the the "three biggest factors" facing education in the state today are symposium participatnts Gary Sasse, Founding Director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Leadership; Christine Lopes Metcalfe, Executive Director of RI-CAN; Anna Cano-Morales, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, Central Falls Public Schools and Director, Latino Policy Institute at Roger Williams University; Tim Duffy, Executive Director, RI Association of School Committees; and Deborah Cylke, Superintendent of Pawtucket Public Schools.  

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Sasse

"Provide a state constitutional guarantee that all children will have access to  an education that will prepare them to meet high performance standards and be successful adults.

Bridge the gap between the educational achievement of majority and minority students.  This will require the implementation of a comprehensive agenda for quality education in Rhode Island’s inner cities."

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Sasse

"Revisit school governance and clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the state, school districts , neighborhood schools, and school teachers and school administrators.  Develop and implement a system to hold schools responsible for student outcomes."

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Sasse

"Build a consensus and buy in of all stakeholders around  the education reform initiatives being advanced by the Board of Education."

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Metcalfe

"Set high expectations and raise our standards across the state for anyone that contributes to the success of our students. From adopting the Common Core to discussing rigorous teacher evaluations, conversations around creating a culture of high expectations have to be at the center of the work."

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Metcalfe

"Expand opportunities and start earlier - we must ensure that all kids have access to a high performing public school of their choice, which includes full-day kindergarten."

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Metcalfe

"School facilities - with an aging infrastructure, underutilized buildings and the need to provide fair funding for school facilities for all public school students regardless of the public school they attend, this needs to be a top issue tackled by the RI General Assembly in 2014."

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Cano-Morales

"Meet the academic potential of all students but especially with regards to urban schools students -- 3 out of 4 are Latinos in Providence, Central Falls, and Pawtucket." 

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Cano-Morales

"Connect through specific best practices the academic successes of our students to careers jobs. Investing in schools is economic development as a whole for Rhode Island. " 

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Cano-Morales

"Increase the access to -- and completion of -- higher education and post- secondary opportunities.  Poverty? Struggling families? Education and access to careers and competitive wages is the best antidote."

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Duffy

"Providing adequate funding is critical -- and there are going to be pressures on the state budget, which mean stresses to meet the education funding formula.  With the predictions of the state's projected loss of revenue with the casinos in MA, education funding could be on the cutting board, and we need to ensure that it's not.  Do we need to look at strengthening the language of the constitution to guarantee funding?"

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Duffy

"Implementing the common core standards will provide continuity -- and comparison -- between states now.  With over 40 states involved, we're embarking a new set of standards here."

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Duffy

"Accountability and assessing student performance -- how that it's driven by the common core, we'll be able to compare the best districts in RI against the best districts in say MA.  That's the intent of the Common Core is a standardization of how we hold the system accountable."

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Cylke

"Issue one is quality.  Your quality of education should not be dependent on your zip code.  And the reality is, certain cities are distressed, or whose property values are not as high, I know each town has a different capacity to fund education. There's an absolute, clear relationship between the quality of public schools, and economic development of states. There's irrefutable evidence that quality public schools can make states more competitive."

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Cylke

"Issue two is equality.  In West Warwick and Providence, the per pupil spending is around $16K.  In Pawtucket it's $12.9.  What's wrong with that picture? If I'm in charge of overseeing that my students are college ready, they need to be adequate funding.  A difference of $3000 per pupil?  We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars -- more like $25 million in this case.  An exemplary school district is Montgomery County, MD -- they have roughly the same number of students, around 145,000 -- there's one funding figure per pupil. There's equitable funding for all kids."

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Cylke

"Issue three is Infrastructure.  A critical issue is whether the state is going to lift its moratorium in 2014 for renovations for older schools, ore new construction.  If that moratorium is not lifted, and those funds are not available, it is critical to us here in Pawtucket. The average of my schools is 66 years, I've got 3 that celebrate 100 years this year. These old schools have good bones, but they need to be maintained.  These are assets -- and this is all interrelated with the funding formula."

 
 

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