There’s a lot of concern these days about American competitiveness in the world economy these days, much of which is simply nonsense.
All the worry about China’s explosive growth threatening American economic might is based on a misconception; as China’s economy becomes more modern and wealthier, Americans are bound to benefit from cheaper goods and a huge new market for our own products.
In fact, much of the worry you hear today about our economic future is nothing more than a recycling of the doom and gloom predictions you heard in the 80’s about how Japan was going to clean our clocks economically.
Of course, not every worry can be dismissed so easily. In fact, America’s economy is in danger, and the source is not external so much as internal.
The biggest threat to the future growth of the American economy is our failing K-12 educational system. And if we don’t shape up fast, Americans will begin losing out in the world job market to countries that are properly preparing their next generation for the fierce competition in the world economy.
According to a recent study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the next generation of Americans could be facing a future of declining real incomes unless we begin preparing them with a better education. This is because the proportion of the population with a high school diploma or college degree is set to decline over the next 20 years—and nothing is a greater predictor of income than educational achievement.
What’s driving this decline? Obviously not a lack of investment in K-12 education. Despite all the moaning about tight budgets in our public schools, the evidence shows an enormous increase in real spending on public education over the past 30 years (about a doubling in real dollars)—with no corresponding increase in student performance.
In fact, in many of the ways that count, we have gone backwards in educational achievement. As the proportion of students who are middle and upper class has declined, a terrifying achievement gap between white and minority students looms as a larger and larger economic problem for the United States. Only about half of all minority students graduate from High School, and correspondingly fewer ever get a college education.
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