Education is a powerful force for promoting opportunity and growth. It is not surprising that an individual’s educational attainment is highly correlated with her income: college graduates generally earn more than less-educated Americans. What might be less obvious is that education is also a significant determinant of many other very important outcomes, including whether individuals marry, whether their children grow up in households with two parents, and even how long they will live. What’s more, on all of these dimensions, the gap between highly educated and less-educated Americans is getting bigger—in some cases, much bigger.
The following facts help illustrate the state of educational attainment in the United States and the growing importance of education in determining people's well-being. On many dimensions—lifetime earnings, incarceration rates, and life expectancy, to name a few—Americans who do not graduate from high school or college are increasingly falling behind those with a college degree. This paper explores both the condition of education in the United States and the economic evidence on several promising K-12 interventions that could improve the lives of Americans.