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General Audience Articles

Format: 2023
The Economic Cost of the Pandemic: State by State. Hoover Education Success Initiative, 2023.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) now show the significant impact of the pandemic on learning. The abstract nature of test score declines, however, often obscures the huge economic impact of these learning losses. NAEP results indicate large differences in learning losses across states, and this analysis provides state-by-state estimates of the economic impacts of the losses. Students on average face 2 to 9 percent lower lifetime income depending on the state in which they attended school.

The Basic Skills Gap. (with Ludger Woessmann). Finance & Development, 59(2), 2022, pp. 50-53.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have received considerable attention since their adoption in 2015. But halfway through their implementation period there is little indication that the ambitious agenda will be accomplished by 2030. The key to bringing about the 17 SDGs is enhanced world development that provides the resources needed to move forward on the goals, but there is a fundamental challenge. Economic development depends on the skills of each society, which means that high-quality, equitable education is paramount.

Budgeting During and For Recovery. In Margaret E. Raymond (ed.), How to Improve our Schools in the Post-COVID Era, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, 2021.

Considerable uncertainty surrounds the overall state of school finance coming out of the pandemic. As unemployment peaked soon after the economic lockdowns that involved most states after March 2020, states became very concerned about the expected future tax revenues, and they began planning a retrenchment in all spending, including that for schools. In response to the overall economic situation and recognizing the potential problems of schools, the federal government increased its spending—directing specific portions of funds to schools.

Does the World Change for Teachers? In Margaret E. Raymond (ed.), How to Improve our Schools in the Post-COVID Era, Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution, 2021.

Schools changed dramatically with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is unlikely that they will return fully to the “old normal.” Moreover, the learning losses for current students since March 2020 are likely to follow them over their lifetimes unless schools actually get better. The structure of teacher assignments and teacher compensation must change to accommodate these new realities. The teaching force must be used more effectively if the accrued challenges are to be met.

The Economic Impacts of Learning Losses. (with Ludger Woessmann). Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2020.

The worldwide school closures in early 2020 led to losses in learning that will not easily be made up for even if schools quickly return to their prior performance levels. These losses will have lasting economic impacts both on the affected students and on each nation unless they are effectively remediated.

Test-Based Accountability in Distressed Times. (with Chester E. Finn Jr.). The State Education Standard, September 20(3), 2020, pp. 13-17.

When COVID-19 forced a hiatus in federally mandated assessments in spring 2020, it interrupted a quarter century of effort to track, disaggregate, and publicize achievement levels at the school level. The aborted school year put a big data gap where 2020 scores should have been. Combined with the already raging assaults on testing, state education leaders find themselves in a fraught and difficult place.

State leaders should stick with their assessments because they improve student learning and school performance.

The Unavoidable: Tomorrow’s Teacher Compensation. Hoover Education Success Initiative, 2020.

States and localities cannot avoid dealing with issues of teacher compensation. Not only is it the largest budget item for most local governments, but it is the place of largest leverage for improving the quality of schools. Fortunately, consistent research evidence directly informs ways to optimize teacher compensation.

The Fall of Educational Productivity and Policy Paralysis. In Lindsay M. Burke and Jonathan Butcher (ed.), The Not-So-Great Society, Washington, DC: Heritage Foundation, 2019, pp. 45-51.

The United States has a long history of investing in its population through public education. These investments have contributed importantly to the success of the U.S. economy. But the evidence now suggests that the education system is languishing and my not be well-positioned for the 21st Century.

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, pp. 8-17.

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.