Study: U.S. education gap stunts economic growth

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 at 7:30pm
Molly Peterson, Bloomberg News
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The U.S. education system’s failure to match student-performance levels in countries such as South Korea and Finland is the economic equivalent of a “permanent national recession,” McKinsey & Co. said in a report.

Last year’s U.S. gross domestic product could have been higher by as much as 16 percent, or an increase of $2.3 trillion, if the achievement gap had been closed between 1983 and 1998, the study found. McKinsey, a New York-based consulting firm, released the report Wednesday at a conference in Washington.

“The recurring annual economic cost of the international achievement gap is substantially larger than the deep recession the United States is currently experiencing,” the report said.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the report will help create a “huge sense of urgency” for making “radical and fundamental” changes to the public-school system.

American 15-year-olds ranked 25th among students in 30 nations in math scores and 24th in science scores in 2006, the study said, citing data from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Finland, Korea, the Netherlands and Switzerland ranked highest in math. South Korea, Finland, Canada and New Zealand had the highest science scores.

Duncan, whose agency is overseeing the distribution of $100 billion in economic stimulus funds, said the money will help states and school districts boost student achievement.

“It’s not a free lunch; we’re asking for unprecedented reforms and an unparalleled level of transparency,” he said. “We have to set a common bar, and it has to look at what other countries are doing.”