A poverty, not education, crisis in U.S.

Lauren Williams's picture
Thursday, December 12, 2013

The latest results of the Program for International Student Assessment — which measures the knowledge and skills of 15-year-old students in math, reading and science — were released last week, and once again Finland is near the top. True, this time students in Asia claimed many of the top spots. But Finland's system remains one of the world's highest-performing, with its universal preschool program, site-based management and dislike of standardized testing often cited for its success.

By comparison, U.S. student scores remained in the middle of the pack. But the most telling difference between Finns and Americans when it comes to education is child poverty.

Poverty is the most relevant factor in determining the outcome of a person's educational journey, and in Finland, the child poverty rate is about 5%. In the U.S., the rate is almost five times as high. Unlike us, the Finns calculate the rate of poverty after accounting for government aid, but the differences remain substantial.

As researchers Michael Rebell and Jessica Wolff of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, have noted, there is no general education crisis in the United States. There is a child poverty crisis that is impacting education.

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