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Closing the achievement gap can improve state economies

WEDNESDAY, JULY 15, 2015 10:40 AM

The achievement gap has been an issue in schools for years, with lower socioeconomic-status students and minorities frequently falling behind. Helping these students reach their full potential is important so they can receive a good education, and new research shows it can potentially help state economies as well.

According to a RAND Corporation study, eliminating the achievement gap in Pennsylvania could increase the state's gross domestic product by as much as $44 billion after 10 years. The study, which observed Pennsylvania public schools, used standardized state test scores to help reach its conclusions.

Closing the academic achievement gap could make the GDP growth possible because it would give students the opportunity to obtain higher paying jobs and would offer the workforce more skilled employees. RAND Corp. officials estimate that by diminishing the achievement gap, the annual lifetime earnings of each yearly group of Pennsylvania students could increase by $1.4 billion to $3.4 billion.

"Our estimates show that when school performance gaps are closed, individuals can benefit from higher lifetime earnings, society can gain from reduced social costs and the economy can experience higher rates of economic growth," said Lynn Karoly, a senior economist at RAND and the lead author of the Pennsylvania study.

Common Core and the academic achievement gap
By providing students with equal opportunities and clear expectations from an early age, Common Core State Standards help prepare kids for college and future careers. Common Core also helps students by advising teachers to use instructional strategies like cooperative learning and integrated approaches to teaching.

The RAND study determined that around 40 percent of eighth graders statewide can be classified as economically disadvantaged. Peer collaboration is beneficial to all students, but can be particularly useful for students in low-income families because they are allowed to discuss problems with classmates. The students also have to practice verbally explaining their answers and reasoning.

The greater focus on communication and collaboration is valuable for students with a smaller lexicon because it encourages them to speak in class more often, EdSource noted, which can help enhance vocabularies. This is particularly useful for lower-income students, whose vocabularies are usually more limited than their classmates'.