Does Oregon’s Economic Success Depends on Minority Education?


Oregon public schools needs to raise Latino, African American, and Native American students to the same level of academic achievement as white students if Oregonians of every background are to prosper.

Betsy Hammond, writing for The Oregonian, reports that a new study conducted by economists at the consulting firm ECONorthwest estimates that the state’s economy could be $2 billion larger if all working-age Oregonians who came through the Oregon public school system had been educated to the same degree as white students have been.

The study’s co-author Andrew Dyke said that working-age adults of color would have lower rates of unemployment and increased pay with better skills. These economic benefits would affect the rest of the state’s population, since they also would have lower unemployment and higher wages.

The report did not include the manner in which the state could close its achievement gap, nor did it estimate the cost involved in doing so.

Some changes that have proven successful in helping students boost achievement are a high quality preschool program, summer school remediation, and top-quality instruction. The study, “Economics of the Achievement Gap,” was commissioned by the student advocacy group the Chalkboard Project and the Portland Business Alliance. The two organizations agree that positioning young people of color for success is essential since an increasing number of students in the state are non-white and will make up a larger percentage of Oregon’s future workforce.

Much like national averages, Oregon’s achievement gap is substantial, and the gaps in the Portland metro area are even larger than the state’s imbalances, according to the study. The researchers from ECONorthwest relied on a study by Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek, along with a German collaborator, to reveal that poor academic achievement for minority students in the state generate a $2 billion loss to the Oregon economy.

The Stanford study used growth rates and education levels in 30 developed countries over time, and, from this data, the authors were able to gauge how much faster an economy will grow if the young people living in a community get a better education. Using this data, Dyke and his team were able to calculate the benefits of closing the achievement gap based on Oregon’s eighth-grade reading test.

If the achievement gap had been closed in 2003, the economic activity in the state would have increased by $1.9 billion by 2013, writes The Portland Tribune’s Jim Redden.

“In order to close these persistent achievement gaps and prepare all our students for the jobs of the future, all students need access to high-quality, culturally relevant, and engaging learning environments. This means a continued focus on recruiting and retaining the best teachers and leaders, diversifying the educator workforce, and maintaining a laser-like focus on accountability for better results statewide,” says Sue Hildick, president of Chalkboard Project, which advises for the schools.

In a summary of the study in The Portland Tribune, the authors explain that it is critical that Oregon’s children of color make it though school and continue on to post-secondary education or career training, which cannot happen without an educational foundation that prepares these students for the more tech-driven jobs of the future. The researchers conclude by stating that the state cannot have a world-class economy without a world-class education system.

The vitality of Oregon’s economy depends on it, they added.