First, Neal relies on a Gerald Bracey comparison of the U.S.'s most affluent schools to the average schools of foreign countries to conclude that our most affluent schools are doing great, i.e., "eating a few foreign lunches."
[Bracey] produced statistics showing that schools with less than 10 percent of their students in poverty, outscored students in all the industrialized nations in reading and science and were third in math.
In schools with 25 percent of their students in poverty the U.S. led the other nations in reading and science.
So it appears that “our most affluent kids” are not getting “their lunches eaten” but instead are eating a few foreign lunches.
Don't you think it would have been a slightly more fair comparison if Bracey compared the most affluent schools in the U.S. to the most affluent schools of foreign countries instead of the average school? You know, an apples to apples comparison.
I always feel a little dirty after reading a Bracey analysis, so I don't want to dwell on this too long. Which is just as well since Neal is merely trying to establish the fact that affluent schools tend to perform better than less affluent schools-- a fact that no one seriously disputes. he just happens to be overreaching in trying to suggest that our affluent schools outperform equivalent foreign schools. There is no data that confirms that shakey premise.
Next, Neal jumps to a few unwarranted conclusions.
Bracey correctly assumes that the nation’s top students generally come from families that are not in poverty. His figures bear that out. When all American kids, including those in poverty, are compared to the industrialized nations, the U.S. students fall below the international average.
You better not tell that to Bracey, he thinks U.S. schools are the cat's pajamas.
You've earned your education wings if you've already figured out where this argument is going ...
That's right kids, we're going to Kozol country because Neal is about to blame all the U.S.'s education woes on poverty.
(I will mercifully skip the part of editorial where Neal uses a book full of questionable scholarship to give the misleading impression that the U.S. is full of Dickensonian levels of grinding poverty. Let's just say that Neal doesn't understand how poverty statistics are calculated. Let's also stipulate that there are people in the U.S. who we consider to be "poor" even though their incomes are larger than the average European's income without including government benefits like welfare, food stamps, EIT credits, and the like.)
When most poverty is factored out of U.S. public school performance, U.S. schools rank No. 1 in the world. Since the U.S. has the highest childhood poverty among the competing nations, what does that say about the schools? About the nation?
It says that poverty is the biggest problem of the schools and that poverty, not schools, is the biggest problem in the U.S.
Actually, it doesn't say that at all. Neal hasn't come close to proving the correlation between poverty (or socioeconomic status) and student achievement in this editorial which is pretty pathetic since this correlation is pretty easy to show. Here's a graph of student achievement vs. median household income for Pennsylvania's schools.
So for the sake of moving this argument along, let's pretend that Neal actually showed the correlation between SES and student achievement.
Of course, Neal still has a little problem in that he's confusing correlation for causation. Neal thinks that because he can show a correlation between poverty and achievement that poverty causes lower student achievement. That causation, of course, has not yet been proven by anyone. Ever. Anywhere. Kozol's assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.
But, that won't stop Neal. He's already making policy.
If the federal government, in this case represented by the NCLB, wants to improve the school system, it should work on taking kids out of poverty, instead of trashing the schools for failing to bring up all test scores.
No need to improve school systems. They're doin' just fine. Cancel NCLB and start shoveling money out to the poor (which, of course, won't lower the number of poor people at all because a) we don't count government transfers in poverty statistics and b) poverty is determined as a certain percentage of income below the median income).
The findings are not surprising. Right here in Tulsa, we have known for years that there is a direct correlation between school performance and family income.
You have only to ponder what would happen if by a snap of the fingers, we could transfer entire student bodies from high-poverty schools to schools in prosperous areas. Say, let’s move the McLain High School students to Jenks High School and vice versa.
Wonder what would happen to the test scores?
Instead of pondering, why don't we look at some actual data. No one has actually switched the students in an affluent school for the students in a poor school and measured performance, but we can get a good idea of how well poor students would perform in affluent schools by looking at how well poor students are currently performing in affluent schools. Let's use the latest state test scores for Pennsylvania and see how well poor students are performing in affluent schools. Let's use Bracey's definition of affluent schools as schools having no more than 10% poor kids. I found 99 high schools in Pennsylvania that met the criteria. Here's the graph:
The pink squares are poor students and the blue triangles are all students. I even included the regression lines to make the comparisons easier.
As you can see, the poor students are performing considerably (1.32 standard deviation) below the average performance in these ritzy affluent schools. The mean performance differential is 23.42 points. In fact, the poor students in these schools are performing below the state average by 8.77 points (0.49 standard deviation).
The Neal bussing plan looks like it's not going to work out after all. And, in case you were still wondering what would happen to test scores; the answer is nothing would happen. Affluent schools aren't any better at teaching the poor than poor schools. Whichis not to saythat there is not much room for improvemnet in most schools, rich or poor. There is.
NCLB is but the latest of endless schemes to improve the public schools in the mistaken belief that if only teachers, principals and administrators would do a better job the product, our children, would improve.
The figures on test scores and poverty should give us clear direction on how to “improve the schools.” It’s simple. Take the kids out of poverty.
Oddly enough, there's no data that supports Neal's assertion that we can improve education outcomes by "[taking] the kids out of poverty." Except wishful thinking. In contrast, there is data that supports the notion that education outcomes can be improved if "only teachers, principals and administrators would do a better job." See Project Follow Through.
This might be the worst editorial I've seen this year.