Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

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.)

[Image: global-economic-symposium.org]