The First Step: Protect Children from the Effects of Poverty
Sent to the Washington Post, Feb 28, 2011
To the editor:
Bill Gates proclaims that "other countries have raced ahead" of the US
in education, and in order to catch up, our teachers must improve
("How teacher development could revolutionize our schools," Feb. 28).
The premise is false: American education has been successful. The
problem is poverty.
American students from well-funded schools who come from middle-class
families outscore students in nearly all other countries on
international tests. Our average scores are not spectacular because
the US has the highest percentage of children in poverty of all
industrialized countries (over 20%; in contrast, high-scoring Finland
has less than 4%).
All educators are interested in improving teaching quality, but there
is no national crisis in teaching quality. Our first step should be to
protect children from the damaging effects of poverty: better
nutrition (Susan Ohanian suggests the motto "No Child Left Unfed"),
excellent health care for all children, and universal access to
reading material. The best teaching in the world is useless when
students are hungry, sick, and have little or nothing to read.
American students in well-funded schools …
Berliner, D. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA:
Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the
Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., &
Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing
tests, and changing schools.
Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. In press.
Bracey, G. 2009. Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality. Educational
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and
achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13.
Poverty and hunger, health and access to books:
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.
Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership
Martin, M. 2004. A strange ignorance: The role of lead poisoning in
“failing schools.” http://www.azsba.org/lead.htm.