Does student achievement really spur national economic growth?

Educational policy discourse supports the idea that increases in science and mathematics achievement correlate to nation-wide economic gains. However, a thought-provoking new study from the American Journal of Education challenges the perceived causal links between educational achievement and economic growth. Francisco O. Ramirez (Stanford University) and his co-authors find that without the so-called "Asian Tigers," the correlation diminishes and all but disappears.

"This is a striking finding that calls into question the disproportionate attention (and envy) focused on those few countries with the very highest achievement scores," write the authors. "It is clear that education and its reforms are everywhere seen in light of their supposed economic effects. It is also clear that the areas of education given the most attention as relevant to economic goals have been science and mathematics, the new keys to economic growth."

Comparing national GDP data with international standardized test scores over two twenty-year periods (1970-1990 and 1980-2000), the researchers found that countries with high science and math scores do tend to grow somewhat more rapidly than other countries – but not when Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan are removed from the analysis, or in an analysis of the last two decades. Additionally, "Moving from the 'middle of the pack' to the top provides less of an economic boost," the authors write.

They continue: "The results run contrary to the expectation that the student achievement effect would be stronger in more educationally developed countries."

Surprisingly, growth was also higher in countries with lower levels of enrollment. The researchers suggest that regimes making a push for development might also emphasize disciplined student achievement.

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Founded as School Review in 1893, the American Journal of Education bridges and integrates the intellectual, methodological, and substantive diversity of educational scholarship, while encouraging a vigorous dialogue between educational scholars and practitioners.

Francisco O. Ramirez, Xiaowei Luo, Evan Schofer, and John W. Meyer, "Student Achievement and National Economic Growth." American Journal of Education: 113:1.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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It is never too late to give up your prejudices.
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