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Report Finds Economic Success Hinges on Education Equity

A report out today from the Alliance for Excellent Education says the nation's failure to provide all children with an equal education has "dire economic consequences" that will only worsen as the population of students of color grows.

"The global economy demands knowledge and skills, and America cannot afford to ignore the gaps in educational achievement and disparate high school graduation rates that keep it from producing a workforce that possesses both," says the report, Inseparable Imperatives: Equity in Education and the Future of the American Economy, released by the Washington-based nonprofit. "U.S. policymakers searching for a formula to rebuild the economy must include equity in their equation."

While the gaps are closing, black and Hispanic students graduate at much lower rates than their peers. In the United States, about 25 percent of all students do not graduate from high school, but the numbers are closer to 40 percent for students of color.

In a webinar on the topic this afternoon, Bob Wise, president of the Alliance and former governor of West Virginia, noted that the most recent ACT results show just one in four students are college ready. For Latinos, 13 percent are considered college ready, and 5 percent of black students met all the ACT benchmark. With high school standards going up, Wise said that struggling students who can't meet the existing benchmarks will need to get interventions to move up to the new requirements.

As the country's demographics continue to change, primarily in the South, the issue becomes even more pronounced. The report finds students of color make up more than half the K-12 population in 12 states and 40 percent to 50 percent of the student population in another 10 states.

When it comes to college, 31 percent of whites older than 25 have at least a bachelor's degree, compared with 20 percent of blacks and 14 percent of Hispanics.

The labor market of today relies on more skilled workers than in the past, and education is linked with earning power. Nearly 60 percent of jobs require some education after high school, and without a diploma, high school dropouts are more than three times more likely to become unemployed, the U.S. Labor Department statistics show.

At the peak of their earnings career, high school dropouts average about $9 per hour compared with high school graduates and those with bachelor's degrees, who earn $13 and $25 per hour, respectively, according to the new report.

"Historically, the country's moral failure to provide all children with an adequate and equal education did not incur a noticeable economic cost. This is no longer the case," the report says. "Today, this moral imperative—to equitably provide all students with a quality education—is now a critical factor in maintaining the United States' national economic strength."

To make the economic argument for improved education for all, the report notes that if every state had reached Alliance's goal of graduating 90 percent of its students, many of whom are students of color, for the class of 2011 alone, America would have more than 750,000 additional high school graduates. The additional graduates would likely earn an extra $9 billion each year compared with their earnings without a high school diploma. This would create a ripple effect, creating as many as 47,000 additional new jobs and $2 billion of increased tax revenue by the time these new graduates reach the midpoint of their careers.


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