Sent to the Wall St. Journal
The Secretary of Education's First Priority. Re: Who's Afraid of Betsy Devos? (January 14).
The Wall St. Journal asserts that Betsy deVos is dedicated to "helping poor kids escape failing public schools," blaming low academic achievement on public schools.
Research consistently confirms that low academic achievement is the result of poverty. In some urban areas, the child poverty level is 80% (the national average is an unacceptable 21%; in high-scoring Finland it is 5%).
When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American students' performance on international tests is near the top of the world. This shows that low achievement is not due to poor teaching, low standards, or unions. The major cause is poverty.
Poverty means food deprivation, insufficient medical care, and little access to reading material; each of these has a strong negative impact on school performance. The best teaching in the world will not help if children are hungry, ill, and have nothing to read.
Let's do the obvious and do it immediately: improve food programs, improve in-school health care, and invest more in libraries and librarians. This will work. For example, in a study involving 40 countries, my colleagues and I reported that the presence of an adequate school library significantly reduces the negative effect of poverty on reading achievement.
Making sure no child is left unfed, no child lacks proper health care, and all children have access to quality libraries will improve academic achievement, as well as the quality of life for millions of children. This should be the first priority of the new Secretary of Education.
original article: http://www.wsj.com/articles/whos-afraid-of-betsy-devos-1484352708?mod=djemMER#livefyre-toggle-SB11290374184297783384704582553324188822302
Study involvoing 40 countires: Krashen, S., Lee, S.Y. and McQuillan, J. 2012. Is the library important? Multivariate studies at the national and international level. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(1): 26-36. (available at www.sdkrashen.com, under "free voluntary reading")
Levels of child poverty: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.
Control for the effect of poverty: Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. http://www.epi.org/). Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/Bracey-Report;
Impact of poverty: Berliner, D. 2009. Poverty and Potential: Out-of-School Factors and School Success. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential; Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership 55(4): 18-22.