Sent to the New Republic, Nov 29, 2011
Contrary to Kevin Corey’s description (Dec 15, 2011, “The Dissenter,”) when Diane Ravitch discusses international test scores, she does not compare the best American schools to other countries’ average scores. Rather, she is citing analyses that consider the effects of poverty.
The crucial finding is that middle-class American children attending well-funding schools do very well on international tests, with scores that are at or near the top of the world. Our overall scores are unspectacular because we have so many children living in poverty, over 20%, the highest of all industrialized countries. In contrast, only 5% of children in high-scoring Finland live in poverty.
High poverty means inferior health care, inadequate diet, and little access to books, all of which have devastating effects of school performance.
The entire national standards/testing movement is based on the premise that our schools are failing, and the chief evidence is international test scores. The studies Ravtich refers to, however, show that the problem is poverty, not bad teaching or a lack of national standards and tests.
University of Southern California