Excellence in education boosts the economy

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KINGSTON, R.I. – August 25, 2010 — If you ask the director of the University of Rhode Island’s School of Education about the best way to improve the economy or improve the general health of the population, he’ll have a simple answer.

“It’s education. Study after study shows that education adds value,” said David Byrd, director and professor of education at URI.

“We know that early childhood education works,” said Byrd, “and we also know that we have to mitigate the effects of poverty on educational attainment, support low-performing schools and increase enrollment in higher education. Studies show that community investments in pre-school programs improve the overall outcomes for children.”

Byrd said the stakes are high for individuals, the national and state economy and the ability of the nation to compete around the globe.

Referring to a study of global competitiveness, Byrd said the United States this year is ranked second behind Switzerland, and the latest Newsweek magazine ranks the U.S. as the 11th best country in the world. Finland is number one, due in large part to its excellent schools.

The Newsweek article mentions three factors that influence academic achievement—early childhood education, more time in school and intensive training programs for teachers.

URI has been recognized for its education reform efforts by the federal and state governments, with awards of about $28 million in grants during the past five years, including those from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. The focus is to improve teacher preparation and instruction in public schools across the state.

While building a stronger education system for pre-school through university level is critical to the nation as a whole, it’s also critical for individual economic empowerment.

Byrd said studies show that a man who obtains a college education earns $186,000 more over a lifetime than a worker who does not. Male college graduates from groups that were considered the least likely to go to college earned 30 percent more during their lifetimes than students from similar circumstances who did not advance beyond high school. Women who had been unlikely to go to college, but who earned a degree, earned 35 percent more during their lifetimes than those who just completed high school.

And education and health are positively related, with the better-educated person more likely to report being in excellent or very good health regardless of income, according to a study done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

“A good education – pre-K through university – really provides a strong foundation for today’s ‘knowledge-based economy.’ We are truly vested in providing teachers of today and tomorrow with all of the skill sets and tools they will need to help build that foundation,” said Byrd.

In response to the news that Rhode Island won its bid for federal “Race to the Top” funding, Byrd added,
“It’s excellent news that Rhode Island was successful in receiving this competitive federal ‘Race to the Top’ award. This will allow the state to move ahead on a number of important school reform efforts like the new educator evaluation system, implementation of the common standards program and the ability to bring more data to bear for school improvements. My congratulations to all who are involved.”