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[Susan notes: This letter rated the big headline, "To improve education, start by tackling poverty." I'd posted the objectionable article on the website. This letter makes me feel ashamed I didn't write a protesting letter. I'm grateful Kristina Tomaino did. I find it shameful that the reporter just sat back and let Arne make all these undisputed claims.]

Published in New Jersey Star-Ledger

To the editor

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan shamefully promotes the myth that America's education problem is its teachers and their associations, when the data are clearly contrary. ( Better education starts with best educators, Aug. 5).

Duncan's office said National Assessment of Educational Progress data show contractual bargaining states overall outperform weaker or nonunionized states. The most comprehensive charter study performed to date, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, demonstrated charter schools were twice as likely to produce underperforming students in traditional public schools and underserve special-needs populations.

A 2009 study by the American Institutes for Research shows that in six states where collective bargaining by teachers is allowed -- New Jersey, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont -- students' mathematics scores are internationally competitive.

"Poverty need not be destiny," but better education starts by addressing the problem. National and international data repeatedly identify poverty as that problem. The effects of poverty are multifaceted, from a toddler's 32 million-word gap to "toxic stress" that "rewires" the brain.

We cannot allow policymakers to distract us by scapegoating educators or crying impotence over poverty. We must demand they examine poverty's effects and invest in the public schools combating them. Our low-income students, almost half of our student population, depend upon it.

Kristina Tomaino

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