Stephen Krashen and Susan Ohanian
"The way you end cycles of poverty is through educational opportunity …" (Arne Duncan, in "A conversation with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan," in the NCTE Council Chronicle, 2011).
The US Department of Education says that with better teaching, we will have more learning (higher test scores, according to the feds), and this will lead to major improvements in the economy. This is a core concept that drives US Department of Education policy. It also suggests that our economic problems are because of low-quality education.
The US DOE philosophy is identical to Bill Gates' view: "There's a lot of uncertainty today about our nation's economy, but there is no uncertainty that a high-quality education is key to economic prosperity for all of our people--and for us as a nation" (Gates, 2011).
But there is good evidence supporting the view that the relationship is the other way around, evidence that agrees with Martin Luther King's position: "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).
Research tells us that there is no correlation between improved test scores and subsequent economic progress (Baker, 2007), that high unemployment in an area results in decreased school performance of children, even those whose parents are still employed, and it also tells us what we already should know: High poverty means poor diets, inadequate health care, and little access to books: All of these conditions are related to school performance (Berliner, 2009; Krashen, 2004).
We are all committed to improving teaching, but the best teaching in the world will have little impact when there is high poverty, when children are under-nourished, in poor health, and have little or nothing to read.
The consequences of the US Department of Education philosophy are serious: They define school success in terms of test scores. Among other negative consequences, money is being invested in new tests instead of invested in protecting children from the effects of poverty.
Neither Secretary Duncan nor any of the NCTE participants in the conversation appear to be aware of even the possibility of the alternative, of the view that reduction of poverty, or at least protecting children from the effects of poverty, will improve educational outcomes.
Baker, K. 2007. Are international tests worth anything? Phi Delta Kappan, 89(2), 101-104.
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. Retrieved [date] from http://epicpolicy.org/publication/poverty-and-potential
Duncan, A. 2011. A conversation with US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: Learning from one another. The Council Chronicle 21, 1: 22-24.
Gates, B. 2011. The US economy and public education. http://www.impatientoptimists.org/Posts/2011/09/The-US-Economy-and-Public-Education
Krashen, S. (2004). The power of reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited.