Published in Education Week, November 1, 2017
Bill Gates still doesn't get it. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will invest $1.7 billion in new curricula development and research and development of innovative education initiatives, among other improvements, over the next five years ("Bill Gates Announces $1.7 Billion in New K-12 Investments"). But 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, U.S. schools' international test scores are some of the highest among schools worldwide. Our overall scores are unspectacular because our rate of child poverty is the highest among economically advanced countries. Poverty means food deprivation, lack of health care, and limited access to books, all of which have a devastating effect on school performance. Martin Luther King Jr. 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." While schools and teachers can always improve, they are not to blame for poverty's effects. The best teaching in the world will not help if students are hungry, ill, and have little or nothing to read.