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Education gaps create 'permanent recession,' report says

A new report calculates how much money the US has lost by not meeting its education goals.

Counting up: Third graders at McDonogh 15 Charter School in New Orleans sing a song to illustrate a math problem in this 2007 photo. African-American and Latino students continue to lag behind white students in academic achievement. If that gap had been closed during the past 25 years, the US economy would have grown by $310 billion to $525 billion, a new report says.

Nicole Hill/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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Educational achievement gaps are typically measured in terms of test scores – across lines of race and income, or even across state and national borders. But what if they were measured in dollars?

A report released today estimates how much better off the economy would have been in 2008 had achievement gaps been closed between 1983 and 1998 – the 15 years following a landmark report on education, “A Nation at Risk.”

Achievement gaps in the United States impose “the economic equivalent of a permanent national recession,” the report concludes.

It suggests that US economy would have gained:

- $400 billion to $670 billion – or 3 to 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – if students from homes with incomes below $25,000 had risen academically to the level of those above $25,000.

- $310 billion to $525 billion – or 2 to 4 percent of GDP – if African-Americans and Latinos had caught up academically with whites.

- $425 billion to $700 billion – or 3 to 5 percent of GDP – if below-average states had performed at the average level.

- $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion – or 9 to 16 percent of GDP – if the US performed at the level of top-performing nations on PISA, an international test of 15 year olds.

By comparison, in the current deep recession, the US economy is falling about $1 trillion short of its output potential, notes the report, published by McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm with an office in Washington.

From President Obama to governors to parent groups, a growing chorus of voices is linking education to the nation’s economic future.

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