Poverty and Global Education Rankings

A columnist in the Washington Post discussed the impacts that America’s poverty rate has on its international education rankings.  The full article is here.
Alfonzo Porter examines a study that compares international education rankings, adjusted for rates of poverty.
“The data also found that U.S. students enrolled in schools with less than 10 percent of its students in poverty significantly outperform the world: The 551 score bested both Finland, which scored 536 and had a poverty rate of 3.4 percent, and the Netherlands, which has a 9 percent poverty rate and a score of 508. Students in U.S. schools with a poverty rate of between 10 percent and 24.9 percent rank third, just behind Korea and Finland. U.S. kids who attend schools with a poverty rate of between 25 and 50 percent are 10th in the world, and those who attend a school with more than 50 percent of its students in poverty are near the bottom worldwide.”
This shows that, adjusted for poverty, the US routinely outperforms nations around the world.  The article explores though, the impact of having a 21.7% poverty rate:
“But poverty cannot be used solely as an excuse for poor performance. If we seek to address the issues surrounding our collective performance on international assessments, we will be forced to look closer at providing the extra resources needed for high-poverty schools to achieve.
We already know what works. There are plenty of examples of high-performing schools in high-poverty communities that stand ready to teach us what we need to know. While there is no relationship between poverty and effort, ability or cognition, the relationship between poverty and achievement is undeniable. For education reformers, policymakers, and the public to refute that this is a major factor that must be overcome in student achievement is to deny a real problem that continues to impact our global competitiveness.
Simply put, the real crisis in American public education is the number of students existing in poverty. Our lowest-performing schools are the most under-resourced with the highest number of disadvantaged students.”
This, I believe echoes the sentiments of Mike Rose in the novel that we are all reading, Lives on the Boundary.  Not only does it reflect the progressing theme of the books — the impact that education can have on marginalized students, and vice versa — but it also reflects the rowdy concerns of the “back-to-basics movement.”  He explains how these concerns have been voiced for centuries and only really cause concern when we have an idealized or elegiac notion of the past.  The same panic is being risen here; America’s scores compared to other nations is increasingly an issue of concern, however we continue to outpace most nations with comparable poverty rates.

This does raise the issue that poverty has major impacts on performance, since poverty stricken schools are spotlighted as the schools which “bring down the average.”

Hopefully, though, this spotlight on poverty can help raise awareness and lead to social and political change in addressing the issue of poverty  – and education’s role in that.

-Matt Cleland
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