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General Audience Articles

Format: 2019
The Achievement Gap Fails to Close: Half Century of testing shows persistent divide between haves and have-nots. (with Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, and Ludger Woessmann). Education Next, 19(3), Summer 2019.

Despite the topic’s importance, surprisingly little scholarship has focused on long-term changes in the size of the achievement gap between students from higher and lower socio-economic backgrounds. Our new research, presented here, attempts to fill this void, using data from four national assessments of student performance administered to representative samples of U.S. students over nearly five decades.

Do Smarter Teachers Make Smarter Students? International Evidence on Teacher Cognitive Skills and Student Performance. (with Marc Piopiunik and Simon Wiederhold). Education Next, 19(2) , Spring 2019, pp. 57-64.

STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT VARIES WIDELY across developed countries, but the source of these differences is not well understood. One obvious candidate, and a major focus of research and policy discussions both in the United States and abroad, is teacher quality. We look at whether differences in the cognitive skills of teachers can help explain differences in student performance across developed countries.

For Long Term Economic Development, Only Skills Matter. IZA World of Labor, 343, 2017.

,A country’s development depends on its economic growth, and countries that foster high levels of skills in their population will thrive in the long term. The gains in GDP related to skill improvements lead to substantial gains in GDP per capita, which can be used to finance other objectives, such as those found in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Analysis shows that there are enormous potential economic gains from improving the quality of schools. This finding justifies substantial schooling reforms.

Education Reform. In Scott W. Atlas, Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Eric A. Hanushek, Edward P. Lazear, Lee Ohanian, Joshua D. Rauh, and Frank A. Wolak, Economic Policy Challenges Facing California’s Next Governor, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, October 2018, pp. 19-23.

Performance of students in California has recently improved, but large numbers of students still remain poorly equipped to face a world of automation and economic change. Moreover, California’s economic future is in jeopardy, especially if the high cost of living impedes the flow of skilled in-migrants to the state.

Cognitive skills of workers are closely related not only to their own labor market earnings but also to the economic health of the state. The strength of these relationships highlights the need for California to improve the quality of its schools.

Education and the Nation's Future. In George P. Shultz (ed.), Blueprint for America, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2016, pp. 89-108.

The future of the United States is dependent on the skills of its population. A basic problem is that improving these skills, which depends on enhancing the quality of schools, takes a long and consistent policy regime. This has to come from leadership at the top. The states have primary responsibility for the schools, but the federal government can and should be an important actor in setting the agenda and ensuring that the agenda is accomplished.

Blueprint for America
George P Shultz (ed.)

It Pays to Improve School Quality. (with Jens Ruhose and Ludger Woessmann). Education Next, 16(3) , Summer 2016, pp. 16-24.

Last year, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, supplanting No Child Left Behind and placing responsibility for public school improvement squarely upon each of the 50 states. With the federal government’s role in school accountability sharply diminished, it now falls to state and local governments to take decisive action. Large economic benefits should accrue to states that take advantage of this new flexibility.

What Matters for Achievement: Updating Coleman on the Influence of Families and Schools. Education Next, 16(2), Spring 2016, pp. 22-30.

The Coleman Report, “Equality of Educational Opportunity,” is the fountainhead for those committed to evidence-based education policy. Remarkably, this 737-page tome, prepared 50 years ago by seven authors under the leadership of James S. Coleman, still gets a steady 600 Google Scholar citations per year. But since its publication, views of what the report says have diverged, and conclusions about its policy implications have differed even more sharply.

The Preschool Debate: Translating Research into Policy. In Ingrid Gould Ellen, Edward L. Glaeser, Eric A. Hanushek, Matthew E. Kahn, and Aaron M. Renn, The Next Urban Reaissance: How Public-Policy Innovation and Evaluation Can Improve Life in America’s Cities, New York: Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, 2015, pp. 25-40.

There is a broad consensus that the United States should expand its current preschool programs, particularly for disadvantaged students. This consensus reflects both a general interest in improving the preparation of students entering schools and a particular concern that disadvantaged students are especially handicapped by current preschool educational experiences. Matched with this desire to improve school preparation is evidence that at least some preschools are able to significantly improve the outcomes of their students.

Finding the Right Focus. In María de Ibarrola and D.C. Phillips (ed.), Leaders in Educational Research, Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2014, pp. 93-105.

Perhaps there are people who know from early life what they want to do for their life’s work, but I suspect they are rather rare. The actual process of getting to the right place, at least from my experience, involves a series of iterations that require learning one’s own skills, matching skills with life plans and objectives, and probably something that looks a lot like luck. This autobiographical essay represents my attempt to extract the separate facets of arriving at my current position as an economist who tries to match evidence about education with policy.

Achievement Gap. In Denis C. Phillips (ed.), Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy, Los Angeles: SAGE Reference, 2014, pp, 4-7.

Virtually all countries try to meet two goals for the outcomes of their schools: getting high levels of student achievement while minimizing systematic gaps in performance. Dealing with these issues simultaneously frequently presents challenges and policy conundrums. The United States—the subject of this discussion—has felt the weight of these issues where the historic pressures of segregated education have been heightened by a steady influx of immigrants.

U.S. Students from Educated Families Lag in International Tests. (with Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann). Education Next, 14(4), Fall 2014, pp. 8-18.

“The big picture of U.S. performance on the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation…. Fifteen-year olds in the U.S. today are average in science and reading literacy, and below average in mathematics, compared to their counterparts in [other industrialized] countries.”

Boosting Teacher Effectiveness. In Chester E. Finn Jr. and Richard Sousa (ed.), What lies ahead for america's children and their schools, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 2014, 23-35.

Over the last two decades, research on student achievement has pinpointed the central role of teachers. While other factors—families, peers, neighborhoods—are obviously elements in a student’s learning, it is the school and particularly the teachers and administrators who are given the public responsibility for the education of our youth. There is a general consensus that improving the effectiveness of teachers is the key to lifting student achievement, although questions remain about how best to do this.

School Leaders Matter
School Leaders Matter: Measuring the impact of effective principals. (with Gregory F. Branch and Steven G. Rivkin). Education Next, 13(1), Winter 2013, pp. 62-69.

Gregory F. Branch, Eric A. Hanushek, and Steven G. Rivkin

It is widely believed that a good principal is the key to a successful school. Yet until very recently there was little rigorous research demonstrating the importance of principal quality for student outcomes, much less the specific practices that cause some principals to be more successful than others. This study provides new evidence on the importance of school leadership by estimating individual principals’ contributions to growth in student achievement. Our results indicate that highly effective principals raise the achievement of a typical student in their schools by between two and seven months of learning in a single school year; ineffective principals lower achievement by the same amount.

Education Next, Winter 2013

The Cost of Ignorance. In Norberto Bottani and Daniele Checchi (Ed.), La Sfida Della Valutazione, Bolgna, IT: Società Editrice il Mulino, 2012, pp. 39-46.

The rewards to improving our schools are very, very large, but the policies that are needed are politically difficult. Nonetheless, we have to change the direction of our schools in order to improve student outcomes.

Is the U.S. catching up?
Is the U.S. catching up? International and state trends in student achievement. (with Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann). Education Next, 12(4), Fall 2012, pp. 24-33.

To find out whether the United States is narrowing the international education gap, we compare learning gains over the period between 1995 and 2009 for 49 countries from most of the developed and some of the newly developing parts of the world. We extend this comparison to 41 states within the United States, allowing us to compare each to these states to the 48 other countries. In absolute terms, the performance of U.S. students in 4th and 8th grade on the NAEP in math, reading, and science improved noticeably between 1995 and 2009. Yet when compared to gains made by students in other countries, progress within the United States is middling, not stellar.

Education Next, Fall 2012

Achievement growth: International and state trends in student achievement. (with Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann). PEPG Report No. 12-03, July 2012.

To find out the extent of U.S. progress toward closure of the international education gap, we provide estimates of learning gains over the period between 1995 and 2009 for the United States and 48 other countries from much of the developed and some of the newly developing parts of the world. We also examine changes in student performance in 41 states within the United States, allowing us to compare these states with each other as well as with the 48 other countries.

Grinding the Antitesting Ax: More bias than evidence behind NRC panel's conclusions. Education Next, Spring 2012, pp. 49-55.The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) was scheduled for reauthorization in 2007, and its future has in recent months garnered renewed attention. Yet so far, Congress has found it impossible to reach sufficient consensus to update the legislation, as competing groups want to a) keep all the essential features of the current law as a way of maintaining the pressure on schools to teach all students, b) modify the federal law by moving to a value-added or some alternative testing and accountability system, or c) eliminate federal testing and accountability requirements altogether, reverting to the days when the compensatory education law was simply a framework for distributing federal funds to school districts.
Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? (with Paul E. Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón) . Education Next, 11(4), Fall 2011, pp. 51-59.

At a time of persistent unemployment, especially among the less skilled, many wonder whether our schools are adequately preparing students for the 21st-century global economy. Despite high unemployment rates, firms are experiencing shortages of educated workers, outsourcing professional-level work to workers abroad, and competing for the limited number of employment visas set aside for highly skilled immigrants. As President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.

Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? (with Paul E. Peterson, Ludger Woessmann, and Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anadón) . PEPG Report No. 11-03, Cambridge, MA: Program on Education Policy and Governance, Harvard University, August 2011.

At a time of persistent unemployment, especially among the less skilled, many wonder whether our schools are adequately preparing students for the 21st-century global economy. Despite high unemployment rates, firms are experiencing shortages of educated workers, outsourcing professional-level work to workers abroad, and competing for the limited number of employment visas set aside for highly skilled immigrants. As President Barack Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address, “We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time.

Valuing Teachers: How Much is a Good Teacher Worth? Education Next, 11(3), Summer 2011, pp. 40-45.

For some time, we have recognized that the academic achievement of schoolchildren in this country threatens, to borrow President Barack Obama’s words, “the U.S.’s role as an engine of scientific discovery” and ultimately its success in the global economy. The low achievement of American students, as reflected in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) (see “Teaching Math to the Talented,” features, Winter 2011), will prevent them from accessing good, high-paying jobs.

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