Eight economic facts about education

Better access to financial aid information and smaller-scale interventions (such as after-school enrichment programs) are just two ways that education leaders can boost high school and college completion.

Earning a college degree increases one’s earning potential and economic value significantly—yet the United States is being outpaced by many other countries in the percentage of students completing college.

The authors of “A Dozen Economic Facts About K-12 Education” identify key facts about K-12 education and include tips on how improvements can benefit U.S. students and the national economy. Here are some of those facts; for the full report, click here.

The report was released by The Hamilton Project, which aims to advance opportunity, growth, and prosperity in the nation.

1. Having less education can limit your earnings prospects.

The report notes that less-educated people enter the workforce earning much less than entry-level college graduates. In fact, in 2010, nearly 80 percent of high school dropouts earned less than $30,000. Of workers earning more than $100,000 a year, more than 75 percent had at least a college degree.

2. The U.S. is no longer a world leader in high school and college completion.

The U.S. now ranks 15th in the world in the percentage of workers ages 25-34 who have a college degree. That’s a sharp plummet from ranking second 30 years ago. It’s not that fewer U.S. workers hold a degree: The nation’s college completion rate has remained stagnant, while other countries (such as South Korea and Japan) have seen their college completion rates soar in recent years.

U.S. high school completion rates fell to eleventh place when ranked globally. Students in the U.S. rank 14th in international reading assessments and 25th on international math assessments. President Obama has made college completion a core goal of his administration.

3. The achievement gap between white and minority students remains.

Data reveal that when black students enter kindergarten or first grade, they already achieve at lower levels than their white peers when it comes to standardized tests—and that achievement gap grows larger with age. Some evidence points to school quality, and the vast variation that exists in schools across the nation, as one reason for this gap.

4. Education lags behind other sectors in innovation investments.

Education faces “a relative innovation deficit,” in that the U.S. spends anywhere from 3 to 23 percent of its expenditures on research and development in other sectors, but just 0.2 percent of education expenditures are spent on research and development. Average test scores have fallen flat, and the nation could benefit from new approaches aimed at increasing productivity and innovation, the report says.

5. Better teachers matter, even more than you might think.

Having a “better teacher” for even just one year, as measured by the somewhat controversial “value-added” model, means a student is 1.8 times more likely to attend college; female students are 1.7 percent less likely to have a child as a teenager; and the net present value of students’ lifetime earnings is nearly $6,400 greater, the report claims.

6. Some charter schools show dramatic improvements in student achievement and might offer lessons for the broader education community.

Charter schools can serve as models for public school systems, the report says, because they have more room to innovate and can experiment with what works. For instance, results from the Harlem Children’s Zone and the Knowledge Is Power Program—both charter programs—show declines in racial achievement gaps. The report notes that results can be inconsistent, though, and researchers are currently examining what practices make charter schools successful and how public schools can apply those practices in their own environments.

7. Small-scale interventions also present opportunities for raising student achievement.

Big changes often receive the most attention, but smaller changes can have a large impact in the classroom as well, the report notes. Some of those changes include incentivizing students to read, moving schools to a K-8 structure to improve test scores among middle school students, having later start times, running after-school enrichment programs, and having smaller class sizes.

8. More information and greater transparency in our education system could go a long way toward improving outcomes.

Better access to more information could help economically disadvantaged students finish high school and apply to college, the report says. Less-complicated financial aid applications and processes could encourage more students to apply for aid.

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Laura Ascione

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