Pennsylvania’s Student Achievement Gap

As students ready themselves to return to their classrooms, a report from the RAND Corporation looks past test scores to the issue of Pennsylvania’s student achievement gap – one of the largest in the country.  Although data from 2013 Pennsylvania standardized tests ranks the Commonwealth among the top ten states in student performance (according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)) RAND found sizable achievement gaps according to race/ethnicity, economic status, parent education, and school district.

Some study findings:

  • An achievement gap by race/ethnicity: The proportion of white students achieving proficiency or above in reading and math was 24 to 38 percent larger than African-American and Latino students.
  • An achievement gap by economic status: Students from lower economic statuses had lower proficiency scores, and were estimated to be an average of two or three years behind their peers from higher economic statuses.
  • An achievement gap by district: After removing the highest and lowest performing school districts, RAND found performance gaps between districts similar those identified in the race/ethnicity and economic analyses.  Low performing school districts were identified in both urban and rural areas.

The report, The Economic Impact of Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools by Lynne Karoly, also compares the achievement of Pennsylvania students both nationally and globally, and examines the impact that gaps in academic performance may have on Pennsylvania’s  economy.  The full report is available at the RAND website.




Report  Citation: Karoly, Lynn A.. The Economic Impact of Achievement Gaps in Pennsylvania’s Public Schools. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015.

Nationally and Locally, Afterschool Programs Struggle

A report from the Afterschool Alliance highlights another example of programs experiencing decreased funding and increased demand.  This challenge, already felt by mental health providers and food banks, is also affecting afterschool and summer programs.  Uncertain Times 2012: Afterschool Programs Still Struggling in Today’s Economy discusses the results of a study examining the impact of the economy on afterschool programs for youth, noting  that although they provide a popular and worthy service, their budgets continue to dwindle.

The study found that programs in urban, suburban and rural areas are all struggling with less funding and increased demand for their services.  Additional findings:

  • Nearly 40 percent of programs surveyed reported budgets that are “in worse shape” currently than in the midst of the recession four years ago.  Specifically, 68 percent of programs serving a mostly African-American  population and 65 percent of  those serving a mostly Latino population reported diminished  funds compared to three years ago.
  • Over half of the programs (58 percent) reported being at or above maximum capacity with 36 percent maintained a waiting list. Demand for afterschool programs serving African-American and Latino children was reported to be even higher.  Among  programs serving primarily African-American youth,  65 percent were at or above maximum capacity, and 41 percent had a waiting list. Among those serving primarily Latino children, 70 percent were at or above maximum capacity and 48 percent had a waiting list.

The Pittsburgh Project, a nonprofit community development organization on Pittsburgh’s North Side, is featured in this report as an example of the real-world impact of economic conditions on a local program.  Since the economic downturn, the Pittsburgh Project has experienced  a 40 percent decrease in their budget resulting in staff layoffs, reduced hours, fewer children served and the elimination of many program activities.

Amenities Over Academics – The Market has Spoken

The topic of college costs is back in the news as demands for increased accountability and transparency are once again catching momentum in Washington and beyond.  While the value of a college education may not be adequately measured by economic formula alone, the combination of sticker shock and a slow economy could result in a more cautious, or arduous, decision-making process for families.  With the average cost for one year of tuition and fees at a private 4-year university now costing over three times what it did my salad days, researching what you get for your considerable investment is understandable, if not expected, in 2013. The twist is that the actual draw for students may not be at all related to academics.

Beth Akers of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings Institution asks some interesting questions around increased non-instruction spending in higher education in relation to the rising costs of tuition, board and fees for students in two and four-year institutions.  While discussions of  the value and accessibility of a college education (without having to take on $50,000+ in loans) may appeal to most with teenage children, Ms. Akers notes that a recently released paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that the realities of market demand show that but for the the top tier of students, amenities greatly overshadow academics.  Data from the 1990’s through 2004 indicate that students not headed to high-level academic institutions are swayed by and, more importantly, will pay for nicer dorms, gyms and activity centers.

So, the best way to attract the majority of college-bound youth is with a wide range of recreational offerings and top of the line facilities in which to house them.  Colleges know this and it would be counter-intuitive for them to stop giving prospective students exactly what they want.  My question — what, if any, impact will the recession have on this trend? A study from The Higher Education Research Institute reports that over 2/3rds of freshman entering a college or university in 2012 were significantly influenced by the current economic climate, and nearly 60 percent were not attending their first-choice due to affordability concerns.  Further, the impact of the cost of a particular institution on student decision-making was ranked as “very important” by approximately 43 percent of incoming freshmen last year, up from 31 percent in 2004.  Is the market changing?

What are your predictions for college recruitment and marketing over the next 10 years? 

Report: Evidence of Long Term Economic Impact of the Nonprofit Sector

There has been much focus the past few years on the impact of the economy on philanthropy and nonprofits, but relatively little on the overall impact that nonprofits have on the economy (save some state/local level analysis).  But a recent look at nonprofit operations and economics has concluded that private grantmaking has a greater impact than previously assumed – so says new research from The Philanthropic Collaborative.

The report, Economic Impacts of 2010 Foundation Grantmaking on the U.S. Economy takes a closer look at the $38 billion in foundation grants dispersed throughout the United States in 2010. The authors found positive impacts of the funding at the immediate and short term levels, specifically in wages and jobs, revenue and Gross Domestic Product  (GDP) growth. In the midst of the recent recession the foundation monies resulted in the immediate creation of approximately half a million jobs. More notable than that however, was that the study identified long term impacts,  including creating  partnerships between organizations to encourage local entrepreneurship and grow the presence of for-profit businesses over time. The authors conclude that nonprofit activity does have long-term economic impact, reflected in both the GDP and the country’s employment rate.

The complete report, including eight community-level case studies of diverse initiatives and programs, is available at  The Philanthropic Collaborative’s website.