Behind the Headline: School vs. Society in America’s Failing Students

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School vs. Society in America’s Failing Students
New York Times | 11/3/15

Behind the Headline
America’s Mediocre Test Scores: Education Crisis or Poverty Crisis?
Education Next | Winter 2016

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Eduardo Porter considers whether it is a mistake to blame America’s schools for not doing a good enough job of educating disadvantaged students.

He cites a new report by Martin Carnoy from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Emma García from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and Tatiana Khavenson from the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, who say that disadvantaged students in the U.S. outperform disadvantaged students in many other countries.

Porter writes that

Awareness that America’s educational deficits are driven to a large degree by socioeconomic disadvantage might move the policy debate, today so firmly anchored in a “schools fail” mode. It offers up a new question: Is it reasonable to ask public schools to fix societal problems that start holding disadvantaged children back before they are conceived?

On the other side, Porter adds

“There is no way you can blame socioeconomic status for the performance of the United States,” said Andreas Schleicher, the O.E.C.D.’s top educational expert, who runs the organization’s PISA tests. “When you look at all dimensions of social background, the United States does not suffer a particular disadvantage.”

In a new article for Education Next, “America’s Mediocre Test Scores: Education Crisis or Poverty Crisis?” Mike Petrilli and Brandon Wright examine this question from many angles.

Echoing the statement by Andreas Schleicher, the analysis by Petrilli and Wright finds that the average test scores of the U.S. “are not dragged down by an unusually high proportion of poor students.”

They conclude

Where reform critics get it wrong is when they claim that America’s average scores are dragged down by the particularly poor performance of low-income students, or that the advantaged kids are doing just fine.That is objectively untrue. And its scores are not dragged down by an unusually high proportion of poor students, as measures of absolute poverty find the U.S. not to be an outlier at all.


America’s mediocre performance is remarkably consistent. Yes, affluent students outperform poor students. But they don’t outperform their peers overseas.

– Education Next

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