Sent to Newsweek, Dec 21, 2010
Randi Weingarten sees the real problem and then looks the other way (Gates and Weingarten: Fixing Our Nation's Schools, Dec. 20): She recognizes that child poverty in the US is much higher than in other industrialized countries (20% or more, compared to Finland and Denmark which are under 4%). She still thinks, however, that the solution is "figuring out what the best teachers do and trying to scale that up." She is apparently unaware of the fact that middle class American children who attend well-funded schools score at the top of the world on standardized tests, a finding that indicates that teaching quality is not the problem.
It's always a good idea to try to improve teaching, but the major problem is poverty. Study after study shows that that school performance suffers profoundly when children suexperience "food insecurity," live in unsafe and toxic environments, and have little access to reading material. The best teaching in the world has little impact when children are hungry, the best literacy programs have little impact when there is nothing to read. Studies also show that providing adequate nutrition and access to books improves school performance.
Our first priority must be to protect children against the effects of poverty: Let's start with nutrition ("No Child Left Unfed") and increased support for libraries and librarians. We can make profound improvements for a fraction of the cost of the Arne Duncan/Bill Gates solution of new standards and tests.
Newsweek article at: http://www.newsweek.com/2010/12/20/gates-and-weingarten-fixing-our-nation-s-schools.html