For decades, investments in public education have boosted U.S. productivity and earnings, forged a path out of poverty for many families, helped disadvantaged students narrow the learning gap with their peers, and developed a workforce that continues to be among the most productive and innovative on Earth. More recently, this engine of growth has lost momentum. While per-pupil spending has continued to rise, educational attainment and performance have stagnated over the last thirty years. Because workforce skills are closely linked to productivity and compensation, the stagnation in education has contributed to static or even declining earnings for many Americans.
In this paper, The Hamilton Project provides a dual-track approach to improving future educational outcomes: 1) tackling structural barriers to unlock the largest gains in student achievement and 2) in the near term, implementing relatively simple cost-effective reforms that improve student performance. The first approach examines opportunities for structural changes to America’s educational system—a new way of doing business. These include generalizing the best practices of top performing charter schools and changing the current systems for identifying, hiring, and retaining highly-effective teachers. The second approach focuses on smaller, cost-effective reforms that could be implemented without dramatically re-thinking how schools operate, such as student incentive and early childhood education programs, and managerial and organizational changes at the school and district levels. In today’s environment of tight school budgets, it is essential not just to know how different approaches impact student performance, but also how much they cost. To this end, The Hamilton Project outlines a metric for comparing educational interventions and calls on policymakers to identify and test more policies and programs in a consistent way. Taken as a whole or piecemeal, we believe these types of reforms hold the potential to reinvigorate our existing system of education.