In the quiet days of August, after summer school ends and before principals return to work, followers of education issues and news found it a good time to re-hash ongoing debates, ourselves included.
WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show re-aired interviews from leaders of different schools of thought regarding education reform. First up, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor and the founder of Students First, Michelle Rhee, on the occasion of launching a New York chapter, studentsfirstNY. You can hear the interview here:
Next, the show aired a taped interview with Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and author. The discussion focuses on school performance and the frustration some teachers feel about standardized testing. You can hear it here:
The Rhee versus Ravitch showdown also appeared on CNN this week. In an interview, Ms. Rhee decried the results of a study that ranked the U.S. 25th in education internationally and said one of the most important fixes to education is to improve teacher quality.
But, in an online rebuttal, Ms. Ravitch argued that the rankings do not take into account the most serious factor affecting performance.
Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations. As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.
Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.
This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?