Report Makes Effort to Calculate Economic Boost from Closing Achievement Gap

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NEPC review finds claims plausible but not backed by sufficient evidence

Past research suggests that the economic well-being of a society is related to the health and success of the society’s educational system. A new report estimates that if Black and Hispanic high school math scores increased to become equal to those of White high school students, the size of the U.S. economy would increase by $20 trillion by 2050. It also projects that tax revenues would rise by $4 trillion for federal and $3 trillion for state and local. The report therefore argues for substantial public investment aimed at closing achievement gaps.

However, a review published today concludes that, while the new report’s broader claim that closing achievement gaps would likely produce economic gains is sound, the report’s specific calculations are insufficiently supported by detail and checks of accuracy.

Clive Belfield, of Queens College, City University of New York, reviewed "The Economic Benefits of Closing Educational Achievement Gaps" for the Think Twice think tank review project at the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education.

Belfield is an economist whose research focuses on resource allocation and cost-effectiveness. The Economic Benefits of Closing Educational Achievement Gaps, by Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford, was published by the Center for American Progress.

Belfield’s review points out that the report lacks sufficient detail concerning its calculations of the economic benefits and fails to check the accuracy of its estimates. Additionally, he writes, “these estimates rely on a single study, and that study has limitations: it looks across countries rather than at the U.S. economy, and it implies a very powerful role for cognitive skills (test scores) over behaviors.”

The study’s plausible overall premise is that it makes sense to reduce educational gaps in the name of both efficiency and equity. But the economic model it uses lacks the detail required to judge the premise’s accuracy. “In order to be fully convincing, an economic model needs to be transparent in how the calculations are made and incorporate extensive sensitivity testing,” he writes. The model should also fully justify the focus on closing achievement (e.g., test-score) gaps rather than, for example, gaps in attainment (e.g., high school graduation). “Only then,” Belfield concludes, “will the actual numbers generated by the economic models be useful for a calculation of how much to invest in our long-term future from purely an efficiency perspective.”

Find Clive Belfield’s review on the NEPC website at:

Find "The Economic Benefits of Closing Educational Achievement Gaps," by Robert Lynch and Patrick Oakford, on the web at:

URL for this press release:
The Think Twice think tank review project ( of the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) provides the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. The Think Twice think tank review project is made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit

This review is also found on the GLC website at

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William J. Mathis

Clive Belfield

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National Education Policy Center (NEPC)
since: 03/2011
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