Sent to the New York Times, Dec. 19, 2013
The Times asks "Why Other Countries Teach Better?" (Dec. 18). But there is no clear evidence that they do.
The most powerful factor in developing well-educated citizens, not mentioned by the Times, is poverty: When researchers control for the effects of poverty, our students score near the top on international tests. A survey from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), cited by the Times, confirms that socio-economic status is a very strong predictor of literacy development and that this effect is much stronger in the US than in other countries (OECD report, page 10).
Poverty in the US is much higher than in the high-flying countries described by the Times: In the US, the child poverty rate is 23%; in Finland, it is only 2.5%.
Children of poverty suffer from hunger, malnutrition, inferior health care, and lack of access to books. The best teaching in the world will not help when children are hungry, ill, and have little or nothing to read.
Original article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/18/opinion/why-students-do-better-overseas.html?_r=0
Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
Control for the effect of poverty: Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. http://www.epi.org/). Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report;
Impact of poverty: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential; Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.