August 19, 2011 11:35

Improving students' math proficiency in the U.S. to Canadian or Korean levels could yield US$75 trillion in GDP over an 80-year period, a new study in the U.S. claims.

The Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University's Kennedy School offers the estimate in a report examining the math and reading skills of ninth-graders in 65 countries, the Huffington Post reported Wednesday.

The report titled "Globally Challenged: Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete?" was co-authored by four academics, including Prof. Paul Peterson of Harvard University and Ludger Woessmann, a professor of economics at the University of Munich, and published earlier this month.

The study focused particularly on analysis of the students' math test proficiency. Its analysis of a relationship between math scores and GDP is an expansion of Woessmann's study on the correlation between educational achievement and economic growth in OECD states. The PEPG research team concluded that math is the most important subject for economic development.

With its 32 percent proficiency rate, the U.S. ranked a poor 32nd out of the 65 countries surveyed. Korea ranked fourth with a 58 percent proficiency rate. In China, samples were from two Chinese societies: Shanghai and Hong Kong, which ranked first and third. Singapore came second. Finland, Switzerland, Taiwan, Canada, and the Netherlands also had more than 50 percent math proficiency.

"Increasing the percentage of proficient students to the levels attained in Canada and Korea would increase the annual U.S. growth rate by 0.9 percentage points and 1.3 percentage points, respectively," the report says. "Since long-term average annual growth rates hover between 2 and 3 percentage points, that increment would lift growth rates by between 30 and 50 percent."

In monetary terms, "that averages out to around a trillion dollars a year," the report adds. The U.S.' GDP was $14.6 trillion last year.

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