NEPC Review: The Economic Benefits of Closing Educational Achievement Gaps (Center for American Progress, November 2014)
A new report from the Center for American Progress estimates substantial economic benefits from closing achievement gaps. These gains result from higher economic growth, which the report suggests would arise from higher levels of student achievement and specifically from higher achievement by minority students. Overall, the report estimates that if Black and Hispanic high school math scores converged to equal those of White high school students, the size of the U.S. economy would increase by $20 trillion over the period from 2014 to 2050. Federal and state/local tax revenues would also increase, by $4 trillion and $3 trillion respectively, over this period. Thus, the report makes an economic case for sizeable public investments to close achievement gaps. However, although there are likely to be economic gains from closing these gaps, the report does not include much detail concerning specific calculations and does not check the accuracy of its estimates. Moreover, these estimates rely on a single study, and that study has limitations: it looks across countries rather than at the U.S. economy, and it implies a very powerful role for cognitive skills (test scores) over behaviors. A general proposition—that reducing educational gaps makes sense on both efficiency and equity grounds—is plausible. But the report does not provide enough detail for readers to see how big the efficiency gains are, and readers are asked to accept that closing achievement gaps—rather than raising graduation rates or enhancing socio-emotional skills—will yield the biggest economic pay-off.