Rich school, poor school

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The benefits of the U.S. education system, however, are not distributed equally. Wealthy and middle-class children receive one education, which enables them to race to the top of the world charts. Classes are small, electives are abundant and private tutors are common. Poor students receive an entirely different education –– one with far fewer resources –– both in school and at home.

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, a teachers’ union, attributed the U.S.’s lackluster PISA scores to the “corrosive effects of poverty” in a Dec. 3 Politico report.

According to Politico, the U.S. has among the highest child poverty rates in the world, double or triple the rate of PISA “powerhouses” such as South Korea, Germany, Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands. American students who attend schools where more than 50 percent of children are eligible for subsidized lunches posted “dismal” scores on the PISA tests, in line with developing nations such as Kazakhstan, Romania and Cyprus. By contrast, American students who attend schools where fewer than 10 percent of children are eligible for subsidized lunches placed second only to Shanghai in literacy and science, and ranked sixth in the world in math, according to Politico.

Diane Ravitch, a New York University educational historian who is among the most vocal critics railing against the U.S.’s dependence on standardized tests to drive educational “progress,” posted an analysis on her blog by North Carolina teacher Daniel Wydo that placed the wealthiest of American students at the very top in literacy and science and fifth in math in the PISA rankings.

To summarize, the U.S. had PISA scores both in the stratosphere, posted mainly by upper-income students, and near the bottom, posted most often by poor students, leaving us with middle-of-the-road results when they were averaged together.

Politico pointed out that certain poor countries, such as Vietnam, fared better in science and math than America. Vietnam was 21st in the world in both categories, while the U.S. was 26th and 35th, respectively. So, Politico surmised, poverty could not fully explain America’s substandard PISA performance.
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