Not that we haven’t said it all along. The problem is not teachers. It’s poverty, stupid!
How do I know? Because researchers at the National Association for Secondary School Principals disaggregated the data from the 2009 PISA scores. The news that you and I read in December when the scores were released told us that American 15 year old students, when compared with 15 year olds in about 60 other countries, scored only slightly above average in reading, average in science, and below average in math.
Do you recall the bad press that American public schools got in December because of the PISA scores? I certainly do.
Fast forward to January 2011 after the NASSP had time to scrutinize the scores more closely. We now realize that if we remove the scores of American students who live in poverty from the results, American students score the highest of any country in reading, higher than Finland! Finland’s reading score was 536. When the the United States included ALL of its students’ scores, our score was a mediocre 500 in reading. When we remove the scores of students living in poverty (students who qualify for free and reduced lunch), U.S. students scored 551 — the top reading score.
|Free and Reduced Meal Rate of U.S. Schools||PISA Score|
|Schools with less than 10%||551|
|Schools with 10 – 24.9%||527|
|Schools with 25 – 49.9%||502|
|Schools with 49.9 – 74.9%||471|
|Schools with greater than 75%||446|
To quote Dr. Gerald N.Tirozzi, the Executive Director of the NASSP: “Once again we’re reminded that students in poverty require intensive supports to break past a condition that formal schooling alone cannot overcome.”
Get ready. The next chart will shock you. WARNING: I suggest that unless you want many sleepless nights that you skip it altogether.
Although not all countries tested submitted their poverty rates, here is an abbreviated list of some of the countries that did. (At the bottom of this post you will see a link to the actual NASSP site where you will find complete listings.)
|Country||Poverty Rate||PISA Scores|
Look at the chart below at the scores from countries with poverty rates of less than 10% and compare them to the U.S. scores of schools where the poverty rate is less than 10%:
|Country||Poverty Rate||PISA Scores|
|United States||Less than 10%||551|
Is the real problem coming into focus? It’s not teachers, stupid. It’s not unions or any of the other willy-nilly things the NCLB reformers have been targeting. It’s poverty. Now we know what the problem is. Next we have to figure out effective ways to address it. No longer do we need to ask what’s causing our mediocre scores. We only need to look for solutions to poverty! Now let’s get to it and drop NCLB, RTTT and all of the other nutty things we’ve been doing the last 10 years.
Another chart you’ll find on the NASSP site shows that even at U.S. schools where the poverty rate is 10 – 24.9% that U.S. students outscored countries with a similar poverty rate. U.S. students in this category scored 527.
To quote the NASSP report: “The problem is not as much with our educational system as it is with our high poverty rates. The real crisis is the level of poverty in too many of our schools and the relationship between poverty and student achievement.”
The report goes on to say: “While there is no relationship between poverty and ability, the relationship between poverty and achievement is almost foolproof. To deny that poverty is a factor to be overcome as opposed to an excuse is to deny the reality that all educators, human service workers, law enforcement officers, medical professionals, and religious clergy have known for years.”
Please read the rest of the online article at the link below. It’s not only factual, but it’s inspirational as well.
Now let’s get going. Instead of coming up with solutions such as charter schools, high stakes testing, firing teachers et al, let’s begin solving the real problem — poverty. Did you know that a 5 year old child who has lived in poverty begins kindergarten 18 months behind his/her classmates? Children in poverty are not likely to be familiar with print material, they don’t know the enjoyment available in books and therefore are not motivated to learn to read, they lack a 5 year old child’s vocabulary so that when they come across words in reading, they have not heard them before. These children are still behind years later. Teachers can not make up for these deficits during kindergarten. The place to fill in the gaps is in intensive, enriched early childhood education in order to make sure these children have caught up by the time they reach kindergarten. Children who are successful in kindergarten are more likely to graduate from high school — and more likely to break out of poverty, thus finally ending a cycle that may have lasted for generations.
Here is the link to the NASSP article. Oh by the way, Diane Ravitch reports in her latest “Bridging Differences” post on edweek.org that Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institution expects the poverty rate in the U.S. to increase to 25% by 2014. We better get busy!