We are hearing more and more these days about international benchmarking. Maybe it is because of the increased focus on assessment generated by the common core standards movement. Maybe it is because we are finally starting to recognize that while our NAEP scores hold steady, our students’ standing on international tests such as TIMSS and PISA continues to slip. Or maybe it is because of the economy, as we grow more and more mindful of both the globalization issue of the past five or eight years or the more recent worries about jobs just evaporating, particularly for those without 21st century skills.
Whatever the reason, international benchmarking is standing as a hot topic. Not only are we aware of those tests where our kids compete against their peers in Singapore and Sweden, but we now seem to pay more attention to groups like Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, (even though the Obama Administration eliminated the U.S. Department of Education’s official liaison to OECD last year) and are perking up when we hear about test scores, teacher training, and seat hours in classrooms across either ocean.
Today, the Alliance for Excellent Education released a new report from OECD focused on the economic benefits of school improvement. The full report, co-authored by Hoover Institution/Stanford University’s Rick Hanushek, can be found here. In revealing the new study, All4Ed President Bob Wise said, “This report provides powerful evidence that educational improvements make an important and lasting impact not only in the lives of students, but in the livelihood of nations.”
Such is a comment that should be common sense to most, but if often overlooked by far too many. Despite all of the talk and the pleadings, far too many still view education (and even education reform) as something that happens in a vacuum. We make classroom changes and figure their impact are limited to the classroom. When we make changes related to curriculum or instructional materials or technology or teacher training or funding in general, we don’t necessarily see the ripple effect. We often fail to see how classroom changes impact what is happening in the home or in the local community. And most certainly, we fail to appreciate the impact it has on our nation, our economy, or our sense of global competitiveness.
The OECD study offers three examples of how education improvement (here measured by how our kids do on PISA) can have a direct and positive impact on our GDP, including:
* Increasing average scores on PISA by 25 points over 20 years would result in an increase in the U.S. GDP of $40 trillion over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. (And the Alliance notes that Poland was able to achieve such gains in just six years.)
* Bringing the United States to Finland’s level on PISA (meaning a 50-point gain) would increase the GDP by $100 trillion over the lifetime of a child born in 2010.
* Bringing all U.S. students up to a minimum level would add $72 trillion to the GDP over the lifetime of a child born in 2010. (Currently 19 percent of U.S. students before below the PISA minimum level.)
Every few months, it seems like we are presented with yet another study tying school improvements to economic success. How many more of these studies do we need to see before it truly takes hold in our psyche? How many of these studies do we need before state departments of education join forces with economic development and labor departments to develop a long-term education effort that reflects the learning and skills needed to meet our workforce pipeline demands? How many more toplines do we have to read before we see that sociologists, psychometricians, and economists need to work together to develop the long-term improvements necessary? How long before we all realize that true education improvement does not happen in a vacuum?