Why I am uncomfortable with trying to tie specific improvements in school quality to increases in Kentucky’s economy
At the outset, I want to make it clear that I think boosting the level of education in Kentucky can reap good economic benefits for the state.
For one example, folks in Northern Kentucky tell that robotics-based manufacturers in this part of the state can’t find enough qualified workers. The situation is so serious that those manufacturers are now asking Northern Kentucky business recruiters not to attract more robotics-based companies to the region. The qualified labor pool is already stretched too thin. Jobs already are there. Workers with the education needed to perform those jobs are not.
To be sure, this is a subjective example, and I can’t add any dollar impact estimates.
Sadly, it a real challenge to find specific data that can be credibly used to tie actual, dollar amounts of economic improvements to specific amounts of better education. The Kentucky Center for Education and Workforce Statistics was recently created to develop such data based pictures, but KCEWS, as we call it, is still rather new. It has issued a few reports about the impacts of college education and economic outcomes, but platforms that fully blend data from the K to 12 education system with postsecondary education data and resulting workforce impacts is still in the future.
Given the limitations of currently available data, I am uncomfortable about trying to estimate specific dollar amounts of economic improvement related to specific amounts of educational improvement. However, limitations in the data are not stopping others from trying to connect specific dollar estimates for economic improvement to educational improvements.
The newest case in point, Education Next, an education-oriented journal published at Harvard University, released an article in its summer 2016 edition titled “It Pays to Improve School Quality” (hereafter “It Pays”).
It Pays bravely explores new territory, trying to estimate the current levels of adult work force education in each state and then using that to project how further improving education levels could boost each state’s economy. It’s a worthwhile pursuit, but I am uncomfortable with the approaches the report uses to work around the obvious limitations in currently available data. For sure, It Pays’ estimate of the current educational level in Kentucky’s workforce looks very wrong, and that might point to more credibility issues for the report’s other findings.
Furthermore, while It Pays’ authors’ intention is to boost education and productivity – certainly a laudable goal – inaccurately portraying Kentucky’s current adult education level as remarkably high might do more harm than good to the process of trying to really improve the Bluegrass State’s school system.