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[Susan notes: Walt Gardner makes good use of data to show the tight correlation between poverty and performance.]

Published in Education Week

To the editor

In their Feb. 21, 2007, letter to the editor rebutting Diane Ravitchâs Commentary on the report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce ("âTough Choicesâ: Radical Ideas, Misguided Assumptions," Jan. 17, 2007), Thomas W. Payzant and Charles B. Reed build their case on the claim that the United States has the second-most-expensive system of education in the developed world, but only mediocre results. This oft-repeated observation is virtually meaningless, however, when viewed in proper context.

The UNICEF report âAn Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries,â released only last month, serves as a case in point. The United States finished dead last among 24 nations in terms of relative income poverty, the percentage of children in households with equivalent income less than 50 percent of the national median. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden dominated the top half, with rates of less than 5 percent. Itâs more than mere coincidence that these same four countries are also among those with the highest academic ratings, because of the tight correlation between poverty and performance.

Messrs. Payzant and Reed correctly point out that social revolutions occur when the people reach the limits of their frustration with the status quo. But what they fail to acknowledge is that the peopleâs disaffection is mistakenly directed at schools instead of at policies that exacerbate the underlying social and economic conditions responsible for the issue.

Walt Gardner

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