Students at risk of lower lifetime earnings and graduation rates due to lower achievement

Dive Brief:

  • Recent research findings presented by the National Assessment Governing Board highlight the negative impact of the pandemic on students, including reduced lifetime earnings, lower high school graduation rates, and decreased college enrollment rates. Additionally, there is a predicted rise in rates of teen motherhood and criminal arrests due to the decline in educational achievement during the pandemic.

  • An analysis based on 8th grade math results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress between 2019 and 2022 suggests that the decline in achievement could lead to a substantial long-term income loss, potentially resulting in a $31 trillion economic loss over the remaining years of this century.

  • Research indicates that the financial repercussions of the educational achievement slide may outweigh the losses caused by unemployment and business closures during the pandemic. According to Eric Hanushek, a former testing and measurement expert on NAGB, the expected financial impact could be about 17 times more severe than other pandemic-related losses.

Dive Insight:

The latest findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reveal declines in math and reading proficiency for the majority of states at the 4th and 8th-grade levels. Notably, the average math score for 8th graders displayed an 8-point decrease, as evaluated by Hanushek using Education Department data.

Emphasizing the significant impact of learning setbacks on economic growth, Hanushek stated, “The learning losses are substantial and have long-term implications for the nation’s economic productivity. A less skilled workforce and a reduction in innovation could hamper economic progress.”

Projections suggest that the economic consequences will vary by state due to differences in learning setbacks and the size of individual state economies. For instance, potential future earnings reductions vary, with Utah students facing a 2% decline while students in Delaware and Oklahoma may encounter an almost 9-point decrease in lifetime earnings.

Despite efforts to address academic declines, a slowdown in economic growth is anticipated even if educational achievement returns to pre-pandemic levels in the years ahead, as indicated by Hanushek’s study.

An additional study conducted by researchers from Harvard University and Dartmouth College estimated a total loss of $900 billion in earnings for public school students in 2020-21 due to math score declines. However, with subsequent academic recovery, this loss may be mitigated to $600 billion.

Amid concerns of diminishing chances to address pandemic-related learning losses, Hanushek stressed the critical need for prompt action.

Proposed solutions by Kane include:

  • Tracking high school graduates to support postsecondary education or vocational training.

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