Universal Basic Skills Would Generate $27 Trillion in Economic Growth

June 30, 2015

If all students in the United States received at least a basic level of skills in their classrooms, this would pump $27 trillion into the economy over the next 80 years. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T”.

A recent report written by economists Ludger Woessmann and Eric Hanushek for the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) analyzed the relationship between student test scores and economic growth around the world. And you know what? There is a direct correlation.

If we improve the quality of schooling so that every student receives what the report defines as a “Level 1” education, the impact on the economy could be tremendous. Level 1 is described as demonstrating “elementary skills to read and understand simple texts and master basic mathematical and scientific concepts and procedures.”

Sadly, 24% of 15 year olds in the U.S. do not complete Level 1 tasks.

According to the report, if we can provide all students with these basic skills by 2030, the average gross domestic product (GDP) would be 3.5% higher. Ironically, this is what the U.S. spends on primary and secondary schools annually. So, if we can achieve this goal, the economic benefit would be enough to pay for K-12 schooling for every child in the U.S.

In addition, providing all students with basic skills is a great way to prevent another economic crisis and save the taxpayers a ton of money.

The authors write, “We cannot simply bail ourselves out of an economic crisis, we cannot solely stimulate ourselves out of an economic crisis, and we cannot just print money to ease our way out of an economic crisis. We can only grow ourselves out of bad economic conditions and, in the long run, that depends more than anything on equipping more people with better skills to collaborate, compete and connect in ways that drive our societies forward – and on using those skills productively.”

So what are the solutions to this vexing problem?

While the researchers acknowledge that there is no silver bullet, they recommend improving teacher quality, having a strong accountability system, provide performance pay for teachers, and allow parents more school options for their children.

These are the same things that the business community has been advocating for over the years. (And will continue to do so).

If we are to grow the economy and help move more people into the middle class, it’s going to happen by providing more people with the right skills for the 21st century economy.

And that starts in the classroom. 


Mark D'Alessio is senior manager of communications for the Center for Education and Workforce.