A Message from the Director

Angel Harris

Achievement disparities by race/ethnicity, social class, and gender are arguably the most well-known problems facing schools within the United States (U.S.). Students with higher grades or test scores are more likely to complete high school, enroll in and complete college, and attain better occupational opportunities. When you consider that academic performance is an important determinant of many important outcomes such as educational attainment, earnings, and occupational attainment, achievement disparities warrant more attention from policy makers interested in reducing inequality in general. Furthermore, educational deficits in general are inhibiting our ability to compete on a global scale. Data from the Program for International Student Assessment shows that the U.S. scientific literacy score is below the average score for countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).  In math, the average U.S. score is lower than 31 jurisdictions (23 OECD and 8 non-OECD). If the U.S. had levels of achievement similar to nations such as Finland and Korea, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could have been $1.3 trillion to $2.3 trillion higher in 2008, which represents 9 to 16 percent of nation’s GDP. If the minority-white achievement gap had been similarly narrowed, GDP in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher.1 The magnitude of this impact will rise in the years ahead as demographic shifts result in blacks and Latinos becoming a larger proportion of the population and workforce.  Therefore, reducing achievement gaps seems to be a vital first step in addressing inequality in the U.S., in realizing the democratic values that U.S. laws and policies strive to achieve, and for improving the economic health of the nation.

Angel L. Harris
Research on the Education and Development of Youth


1 McKinsey & Company, “The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools.”