Sent to Education Week, October 20, 2017
Bill Gates still doesn’t get it (“Gates Foundation announces new 17B for K-12,” October 20). The main problem in American education is not poor curricula, or lack of data. The problem is poverty.
When researchers control for the effect of poverty, our international test scores are near the top of the world. While we can always improve, there is nothing seriously wrong with our schools and our teachers. Our overall scores are unspectacular because our rate of child poverty is so high, the highest among economically advanced countries.
Poverty means food deprivation, lack of health care, and lack of access to books; each of these has a devastating effect on school performance. The best teaching in the world will not help if students are hungry, ill, and have little or nothing to read.
Martin Luther King was right when he said: "We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.” (Martin Luther King, 1967, Final Words of Advice).