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Lessons of the McKinsey Report

vonzastrowc's picture

A new McKinsey report on the economic costs of low educational achievement has drawn plenty of praise and criticism. Critics charge that the report gives international assessments too much credence while paying scant attention to the dramatic socio-economic disparities that distinguish the United States from the highest-performing nations. The critics have a point, but we should not overlook the report's most critical lessons about the high cost of inequity.

Business champions of school reform have admittedly lost some of their luster in the current economic environment. The judgment of consulting groups like McKinsey seems a bit more fallible these days. The past year has shown us that a handful of Harvard MBA’s can do at least as much economic damage as a horde of high school dropouts. It would behoove many in the business community to show a bit more humility as they discuss education and the economy.

Still, let's not ignore some of the report's most critical conclusions:

"Race and poverty are not destiny." This is not just a truism. Charles Murray and his acolytes have been hard at work attributing poverty and low achievement to genetic causes. These views have even been gaining traction in some mainstream education blogs. Murray and his followers seek to inoculate Americans against concern about the tremendous social, economic, political and educational disadvantages that limit the prospects of so many young people.

Investments in equity do pay off. Efforts to level the social, economic and education playing fields can pay enormous dividends.

You should worry about other people’s children, because your well-being depends on their well-being. Improving public education is everyone’s responsibility. There are no economic or educational bunkers that will protect you or your children from the long-term consequences of inequality.

The McKinsey report says little about how we should close achievement gaps and catch up to nations whose students perform well on international assessments. I hope we can emulate those nations by addressing inequalities both within schools (such as unequal access to effective educators) and beyond schools (such as unequal access to health care and early childhood enrichment.)


I’d call the McKinsey report

I’d call the McKinsey report an example of post modern pseudo-science. But there is a simpler explanation illustrated by the old joke. A client asks the consultant what does 2+2 equal? The consultant replied, “what do you want it to equal?”

You’re right, the report recommends little, but it implies a great deal. It showcases Texas and NYC, where McKinsey does a little business with its biddy Joel Klein. It showcases places on the top of selected charts where data-driven accountability is used. It ignores charts that imply the opposite.

If any of us were supervising a paper by a freshman, would we ask whether it is significant that Latinos in the rust belt state of Ohio, as opposed to an immigration magnet, outscore Whites in Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia? Wouldn’t we expect a falsifiable hypothesis and ask what would be a significant result? It took a 10 word search on google to learn that Ohio has a Hispanic population of 2.3% and 3/4ths are not immigrants and the median income is two to five thousand dollars per family higher for Hispanics in Ohio than Whites in those states. And that just scratches the surface of the clutter in their weird statement and chart. (Would NAEP people want their data used this way; what schools were sampled? In small states or with small sub-populations that could be huge)

Does it mean anything when you have 14 blue dots showing unnamed school districts, out of 91 dots, where whites and blacks outscore their state’s population? Off the top of our heads we could list plenty of explanations.

By calling it a paper, McKinsey is implying some sort of valid methodology. Instead they deliver graphics not unlike the Onion.

And rhetoric.

The question is Why? I just see it as a prop.

I’ll leave it to Tom Hoffman, Gerald Bracey and others to pick apart the international data. I didn’t even see whether they accounted for cost of living even in the US, much less the cost of living for poor people. Would we acccept that from an undergrad?

Of course this is junk science, because they are just providing props for the EEP.

John, I think it's fair to

John, I think it's fair to question the report's methodology, but I still think it offers some useful lessons.

I will admit that I was a bit frustrated when the authors asserted that the United States gets less bang for its buck than higher performing nations do. No where did they take into account the fact that poverty levels in higher-performing nations like Finland are much lower than they are in the United States. Nor do they mention that nations like Finland offer many more out-of-school supports for student success, such as health care--and those expenditures do not form part of their education budgets.

Still, the costs of inequality are very real, and investments in equality are essential. At a time when some decry any government expenditure or attempt to level the playing field as "socialism," it's helpful to have a strong reality check.