“Equity” has become a major issue in education policy, but it is a politicized, ambiguous word. Does the concept mean that all outcomes must be equal, or do its proponents simply endorse equal opportunity? The policies that have been advanced in equity’s name are generally anchored in the dubious premise that different outcomes stem necessarily from injustice.

Requiring schools to right the wrongs of the past puts an impossible burden on the educational system. Other institutions share that responsibility, from families and philanthropic organizations to civil society and political actors. The world of education, by contrast, needs to focus on helping students learn effectively and find success in life.

Our new book, The Economics of Equity in K-12 Education, recommends specific changes to education policy and programming. We endorse strategies from the scientific literature that could improve the life chances of American students. Social scientists have conducted a vast amount of empirical research in education policy and the economics of education. Our aim is to make this research accessible for interested readers and policymakers, who can use scientifically informed best practices on the job.

Student achievement has continued to deteriorate, even as education funding grows. In fact, reading and math scores recently hit a 30-year low, according to the 2022 National Assessment Education Progress (NAEP) exam results, while federal funding for education grew to nearly $90 billion. These alarming results provide a warning: our emerging workforce is less prepared to handle the increasingly complex demands of the future. Left unchanged, that dynamic will accelerate the inequalities that educational-equity proponents have decried. Any conversation about improving student outcomes should consider how children accumulate skills and cultivate their abilities, also known as “human capital.”

Without implementing evidence-based priorities, recent idealistic proposals may treat a symptom without addressing the cause—making them ineffective and possibly counterproductive. The proposals in our book are for state and local governments, educational leaders, and anyone interested in the American education system’s top priority: to supply students with the necessary skills to participate, flourish, and grow in the American economy.

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