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Endangering Prosperity: A Global View of the American School

Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson, Ludger Woessmann
Published Date: 
Washington, DC: Brookings Press
147 pages
Endangering Prosperity

The relative deficiencies of U.S. public schools are a serious concern to parents and policymakers. But they should be of concern to all Americans, as a globalizing world introduces new competition for talent, markets, capital, and opportunity. Endangering Prosperity compares the performance of American schools against that of other nations. The net result is a mixed but largely disappointing picture that clearly shows where improvement is most needed. The authors describe explicitly the economic costs of a stagnant educational system. The objective is not to explain the deep causes of past failures but to document how dramatically the U.S. school system has failed its students and its citizens. It is a wake-up call for structural reform. To move forward to a different and better future requires that we understand just how serious a situation America faces today.

Foreword by Lawrence H. Summers

"America faces many pressures ranging from achieving long-run fiscal balance to maintaining our strong national security. As Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann persuasively show, these pressures could be dramatically lessened by improving our schools." —George P. Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State

"Just when you thought we’d reached a consensus on the need to dramatically improve America’s schools, a chorus is emerging to suggest all is well. Endangering Prosperity contains all the facts and figures needed to put an end to such dangerous and misguided thinking.” —Joel Klein, former Chancellor of New York City schools

"If the United States is to continue to be the experiment in liberty and freedom for which those who founded our great country sacrificed their lives, we must find a way to fix our schools. If we continue on the path we are on, we endanger more than just our prosperity, as the authors of this powerful volume make clear." —Jeb Bush, former Governor of Florida

"Endangering Prosperity makes a compelling case that K-12 public education in the United
States is lagging compared to its international counterparts—and that the issue extends across the socioeconomic spectrum. The economic costs are simply too great, the authors persuasively argue, to accept the timid incrementalism that too often passes for ‘reform.’" —Chris Cerf, Commissioner of Education, State of New Jersey

"Seen from abroad, it is clear that America’s schools could do better. Endangering Prosperity accurately describes the challenges facing U.S. schools, but also shows the rewards that could come from improvement." —Sir Michael Barber, former advisor to U. K. Prime Minister Tony Blair


Foreword vii

Acknowledgments xi

1 An Economic Future Imperiled 1

2 Human Capital and Economic Prosperity 17

3 A Global View of U.S. Student Proficiency Rates 33

4 U.S. Advanced Performance in Global Perspective 47

5 Economic Benefits of Higher Performance 57

6 A Global View of Growth in U.S. Achievement 69

7 Substantive Concerns and Political Obstacles 85


A Methodology for Comparing U.S.
and International Performance 105

B Two Measures of Reading Proficiency 117

Notes 121
References 133
Index 141