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We Do Know This: More Education Leads to Increased Economic Growth

Time to put "education" front and center in the great American conversation

The intellectually potent issue of the day is not Obamacare or the Tea Party. Global climate change? A contender. But "income inequality" is the intellectually heavyweight issue of the day. Simply put: "The rich are getting richer; the poor are getting poorer." Maybe someone will put a tune to that line.

From Occupy Wall Street to Francis Piketty, with daily articles in the New York Times, this is THE issue of the day. Why? America’s middle class is getting squeezed, squeezed, squeeeeeeezed. For example, college graduates don’t have jobs AND the cost of that college education is crushing them. In general, credit card debt is crushing everyone! And ES is even using the Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons!

And where is education in the Great American Conversation? The only educational articles that gain traction nationwide are those that argue for making it easier to fire bad teachers. Yup, that would fix American education. (Just to be clear: "Yup… " is a sarcastic statement!)

The liberals, led by Piketty’s new book, argue for more government intervention; the conservatives, led by the Koch Brothers, argue for less. We are not going to get into that political quagmire. But, rather, we ask a question that needs to transcend partisan politics: Where is education?

Our parents — ES’s and CN’s — knew that the way to better one’s lot in life was by getting an education. Both of us are first generation Americans; our parents came to this country relatively penniless, unable to speak English, and today, their progeny are using words like progeny and writing a blog for THE Journal. We actually listened to our parents. We were late bloomers — we both got our Ph.D.s when we were 35. CN had been a classroom teacher for 14 years; what ES had been doing remains a mystery.

Goldin and Katz, two Harvard economists, wrote a pretty amazing book: "The Race Between Education and Technology" in 2010. At the outset, they ask: "we want to know the direct effect of education on economic growth." And indeed, by the end of the book they feel they have made their case: more education leads to increased economic growth — for individuals, in particular, and for America in general. (The book is intense and long; but there is a real sense of accomplishment in getting through it! Nonetheless, a thoughtful review/critique can be had by reading Andrew Hacker’s article.)

We ask again: Where is education?

The debates about the Common Core State Standards and the debates about charter schools versus public schools are healthy. We need more debates about real, deep educational issues: What percentage of time should children spend drilling on content versus actually doing investigations? What should the nature of those investigations be — student-directed? Teacher-directed? What are productive uses of the newly emerging generation of mobile devices that are growing ever more ubiquitous among today’s youth?

Education needs to be front and center in the Great American Conversation — and it’s not. It’s not even in second place.


There is an expression: "Education is local." Indeed, it is very local! Our views on what it means to be educated are based on our very personal, deeply ingrained values. And discussing our innermost feelings is not something that is easy to do even in private, let alone in the very public Great American Conversation.

So what if discussing our feelings is hard. In our classrooms, in our professional conversations, we are constantly talking about our feelings and about education. (Indeed, writing this blog was not easy. We (CN and ES) have had more discussion about this blog than any other blog we have ever written.)

We need to lead the way! We educators need to be the prime movers in returning education to its rightful place — front and center - in the Great American Conversation!

Superintendents, principals: Hold more parent meetings, send out newsletters, write blogs, encourage parents to comment and write blogs. Teachers: ditto. Get the parents to talk about education — about how their very own children are being educated.

Every one of us must step up to the plate and help get the conversation going! This is America, where the grand experiment in democracy started. Democracy means we the people are in charge — so let’s take that right and that responsibility and re-energize America to discuss what is arguably, the most important invention of democracy: universal, public education.

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at