That may not seem like much, but over time such progress can deliver huge economic gains. In a 2010 study, economists Eric A. Hanushek of Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich found that differences in PISA scores and similar measures of cognitive skills explain a great deal of the difference in growth rates among advanced economies from 1960 to 2000. They further calculated that if the United States could raise its average PISA score 25 points by 2030, it could increase its GDP by $45 trillion over the lifespan of children born in 2010.
Could the new tests and common core standards be the secrets to achieving results like this? Obviously it’s too early to say. But it’s hard to think of another set of government policies already in the pipeline that could more dramatically impact the long-term strength of the U.S. economy. So it’s all the more curious that the new tests and standards have garnered almost no press attention, especially in a presidential election year in which the future of the economy is front and center. That’s a testament not only to the way these policies slipped in under the political radar, but also to the fact that writing about abstruse subjects like norm-referenced testing and PISA scores is hard to do (believe me). But as Washington Monthly contributing editor James Fallows once wrote, the mission of serious journalism is “to make what’s important interesting.” By that definition, the authors of the three pieces in this report—Robert Rothman, Susan Headden, and Bill Tucker—have produced very good journalism indeed.