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The Importance of School Quality

Eric A. Hanushek
Published Date: 
In Paul E. Peterson (ed.)
Our Schools and Our Future: Are We Still at Risk?
(Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press)
pp. 141-173

The ideas ventured by A Nation at Risk, though prescient in many respects, have distorted the nation’s understanding of the relationship between education and the economy for two decades now. Written during a recession, A Nation at Risk implied that the general state of the economy could be directly traced to the current performance of a nation’s education system. The economic trends of the eighties and early nineties reinforced this interpretation. When the economies of Japan, Korea, Thailand, and other East Asian countries were growing at rates so fast that they were predicted to surpass the U.S. economy within short periods of time, the education system was often blamed for the nation’s seeming loss of competitive advantage. Once the tide turned, with the United States experiencing a long burst of growth and innovation for most of the nineties while the East Asian “miracle” evaporated, the rhetorical environment was ripe for a turning of the tables. Observers who never bought A Nation at Risk’s thesis of mediocrity and stagnation in the nation’s schools were quick to cite the nation’s economic performance as evidence of a high-performing education system.