If education is the great avenue of opportunity for self improvement and one of of the clearest predictors of what that future will look like, a report released this week makes for sobering reading.
The finding, by the Public Education Foundation, is based on six years of testing data, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, and reveals "a stark, unpalatable fact" - reading, maths and science results are falling faster and further for students who are already at the bottom of the performance curve.
The report seeks to quantify how these declining standards will also convert into economic terms and found these drops convert into a staggering cost of nearly $120 billion for Australia over coming decades.
Of the estimated losses to the economy over the lifetime of the students, $20 billion could also be linked to students at the bottom being allowed to fall further than those at the top.
Between 2009 and 2015, the average performance of students in the the bottom 10 per cent fell 21.3 points while at the top ten percent performance fell 14.4 points.
As an example of these worsening outcomes and growing gaps, scores at the lower end in the skills area of reading fell nearly twice as much as scores at the higher end. By contrast, results in mathematics declined evenly across the board.
What the analysis also indicates is these lower results intensify in the public education sector where schools must work with a larger proportion of socio-economically disadvantaged students. The government sector is thus most acutely feeling this inequality.
Report author David Hetherington not only wants to get the message out about the falling standards but about the economic and ultimately social impacts of these declining skills and what it could potentially mean for the nation’s future.
"Educational performance is inextricably linked to future income. If we are letting educational performance of the kids at the bottom fall away, we are certainly reducing our future standards of living."
While the models and of educational funding remain complex and deeply polticised what this bald figure shows is the ongoing cost of not halting the slide.
Education should be seen by society, as it is by many parents, as an investment in that future but it also needs to be an investment with the demonstrable improvement in some of the most basic areas.