The Hamilton Project

A Dozen Economic Facts About K-12 Education

Education is a powerful force for promoting opportunity and growth. It is not surprising that an individual’s educational attainment is highly correlated with her income: college graduates generally earn more than less-educated Americans. What might be less obvious is that education is also a significant determinant of many other very important outcomes, including whether individuals marry, whether their children grow up in households with two parents, and even how long they will live. What’s more, on all of these dimensions, the gap between highly educated and less-educated Americans is getting bigger—in some cases, much bigger.

The following facts help illustrate the state of educational attainment in the United States and the growing importance of education in determining people's well-being. On many dimensions—lifetime earnings, incarceration rates, and life expectancy, to name a few—Americans who do not graduate from high school or college are increasingly falling behind those with a college degree. This paper explores both the condition of education in the United States and the economic evidence on several promising K-12 interventions that could improve the lives of Americans.

  1. Having less education can limit your earnings prospects.
  2. Education benefits individuals and society in general.
  3. More education increases your chance of being married and of raising a child outside of poverty.
  4. More education can even be the key to a longer, healthier life.
  5. The United States is no longer a world leader in high school and college completion.
  6. Stubborn racial differences in educational achievement remain among Americans.
  7. Education lags behind other sectors in innovation investments.
  8. Parents with more education are able to invest more in their children.
  9. Better teachers matter, even more than you might think.
  10. Some charter schools show dramatic improvements in student achievement and may provide lessons for the broader education community.
  11. Small-scale interventions also present opportunities for raising student achievement.
  12. More information and greater transparency in our education system could go a long way toward improving outcomes.

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