How the Achievement Gap Has Cost Pennsylvania Billions of Dollars

Waslala Miranda |

On May 6, researchers showed how the achievement gap and underlying inequality in Pennsylvania schools held back academic and economic performance and how resolving those problems would allow us to leapfrog ahead of the rest of the nation.

During a Temple University symposium on education funding, RAND economist Lynn Karoly showed how the state would benefit if it closed the achievement gaps among racial and socioeconomic groups, as indicated by state assessment scores.  Currently, Pennsylvania suffers from achievement gaps so large that our 8th grade reading scores on the nation’s report card indicate:

  • A white-black gap that is the 6th largest among states in the nation;
  • A white-Latino gap that is the 3rd largest among states in the nation; and
  • A wealthy-poor gap that is the 17th largest among states in the nation.

However, if Pennsylvania had closed those gaps in 2003, it would be the top scorer among states and be among the top three scorers globally.  Even more importantly, Pennsylvania would have enjoyed major gains after just one year:

  PA GDP Gain from Closing Gaps in 2003 (Billions $)
Gap Closed Gain After First Year (2004) Gain After 10 Years (2013)
Race-Ethnic $0.9 – $2.0

(0.2% – 0.4%)

$12.4 – $27.4

(1.9% – 4.2%)

Economic Status $1.6 – $3.1

(0.3% – 0.6%)

$21.8 – $43.5

(3.4% – 6.7%)

Parent Education $1.5 – $2.6

(0.3% – 0.5%)

$20.3 – $35.4

(3.1% – 5.5%)

Closing the race-ethnic gap in 2003 would have resulted in $1.25 – $2.89 billion, or about 6-15%, more in earnings in 2014.  If all the achievement gaps had been closed in 2003, our state economy last year would have grown by an additional 2% – 7%, or by $12-$44 billion.[1]

Remember that figure when anyone says pushing for policies that help all children have a fair chance in life, especially in the classroom, is just “throwing money at the problem.”  We are also paying the price of not adequately investing in a fair and equitable education system through lower test scores and the worst funding inequality in the nation between the wealthiest and poorest school districts.  Certainly, the price tag of more equitable policies would not have been small, but it’s difficult to believe they would have cost the dozens of billions of dollars that failing to invest in such policies have already cost us.

[1] Lynn A. Karoly, “Economic Impact of Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools,” (presentation, Beyond a New School Funding Formula: Lifting Student Achievement to Grow Pennsylvania’s Economy, Harrisburg, PA, May 6, 2015).