Two McKinsey pieces on education – do read them

Two astonishing reports on education from McKinsey.

The first shows the effect that the USA’s poor schools have had on their economy – and was just released. It finds the economic loss in the order of US$2,400 billion to $4,200 billion of GDP in 2008 alone. That’s more than enough to compensate for the current economic crisis.

It’s a tough number to get to though, as it means that the US schooling system would need to be the best in the world, whereas in fact is is close to the worst in the Western world. Their top schools are astonishingly good, but their average and below average schools are appalling.

NZ fares better than the USA, but there is a lot we can learn from this report. It wouldn’t be too hard for the local McKinsey office of the NZ Institute to generate the economic loss numbers for New Zeaand – how about it?

The Economic Impact of  the Achievement  Gap in America’s Schools
The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in America’s Schools

Poor school systems mean the students have poor grades, which mean that a lower proportion go to university, the average income is lower and they are more likely to have low civic engagement and criminal records. That’s summarized nicely in a page, as is a McKinsey team’s wont:

Somewhat frightening are the differences in scores relating to being black and/or low income – things which are also correlated. I wonder what the sme chart looks like in other countries.

While the most recent report stays well away from asking why the education is so poor, the report from 2007 does so – and it is fascinating reading as well.

How the worlds best-performing schools systems come out on top
How the world's best-performing schools systems come out on top

The summary is simple – get great people, help them become great teachers and support them with an equitable excellent system:

The difference a great teacher can make is immense – lifes are changed:

The end of the document has this wonderful check-sheet to determine whether you have an excellent education system or not. The gaps are pretty clear:

I would like to see this on every headmaster’s wall, along with everybody in the Ministry of Education, every member of a school board and all teacher of teachers:

In closing my recent favorite question to ask teachers is “how often are you reviewed by your peers?” The answer is usually close to “never”, and that is sad. It is very hard to improve if you are not getting continuous feedback related to normal situations.

I strongly feel we need to get to the stage where peer teachers can wander into and out of each others classes, sitting quietly at the back (say) without the students changing behaviour, and then giving and receiving 1-1 feedback after the class. This means the teachers need more time in the day, which in turn means more teachers.

We need to also better reward great teachers, those who work in lower decile schools and tough areas,  bringing back the student and society’s respect for teachers. It’s a tough job, and the teachers themselves (in the form of their union) are often against performance pay.

However I have yet to meet a teacher that would not welcome the feedback from peers, while the pay for the people to whom we entrust our children’s future is a national shame. Teaching is a calling, and we should not be doing it for pay, but I really think we owe it to them to allow them to live a decent life.

Published by Lance Wiggs


4 replies on “Two McKinsey pieces on education – do read them”

  1. Awesome article Lance, you should definitely not limit your posts to just finance and IT!

    Being surrounded by teachers I have to agree that it appears very easy at many schools for the teachers to just cruise along and peer review would be an effective way to ensure that they keep their levels high.


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