Panel Paper: Achievement As An Educational Good

Thursday, November 7, 2013 : 10:05 AM
Washington Ballroom (Westin Georgetown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Helen Ladd, Duke University
Student achievement, which is the focus of this paper, is an example of an educational good.  Even as imperfectly measured by test scores, student achievement is clearly predictive of future success in the labor market, and of additional educational attainment that, in turn, is associated with better health and greater political participation. At the same time, achievement is only one of many educational goods, and is not always the most relevant one, even for success in the labor market. Compared to other educational goods, such as non-cognitive skills or relevant dispositions, however, achievement is easier to measure. This consideration undoubtedly helps explain why so much of the current policy and policy-related research focuses on student achievement rather than on other educational goods.  Although this focus on achievement is consistent with the tendency for policy makers, and also for researchers, to pay attention to things that can be measured and that can be analyzed with the empirical tools of social science, policy makers and researchers would do well to focus on a broader set of educational goods.

 In this paper, we use student achievement to illustrate the various normative principles associated with the level and distribution of educational goods among individuals.  We also devote considerable space to the issue of achievement gaps between groups of students defined by their family background.   Achievement gaps between well identified groups of students – such as black and white student – receive a tremendous amount of attention in U.S. policy debates. A central question is which achievement gaps are normatively significant and why.  Depending on how the achievement gaps are measured, efforts to reduce them could be consistent with the distributional goals of either equality or adequacy. In some situations, such efforts may foster the development of other types of educational goods.   In other cases, however, what is really at stake may be the low achievement level of members of the lower performing group rather than the size of the gap between the average achievement of the lower and the higher group.  In those cases, the relevant distributional criterion may be priority to the less advantaged.

Full Paper: