Sunday, May 11, 2014

Does Shanghai have the world's best public schools?

Does Shanghai have the world's best public schools?
Sent to Newsweek

"Lessons from the world's best public school" (May 9) considers Shanghai to be the "world's best education system" (p. 30), because Shanghai's scores on international tests such as the PISA are at the top of the world. As Newsweek notes, however, Shanghai is "one of China's richest cities" (p. 31) and the children of migrant workers are excluded from their public schools. 

In contrast, American students' PISA scores are unspectacular. But  children are not excluded from school in the US,  and American schools must deal with a very high rate of child poverty, 24%, the second highest among 34 advanced economic countries.

Any comparison of educational programs must consider the effect of poverty.  Every study ever done has shown that poverty has a devastating effect on school performance.  Poverty means, among other things, food deprivation, lack of health care, and lack of access to books.

When researchers control for the effect of poverty, American scores are among the best in the world. When we examine middle class American students in well-funded schools, their scores are close to Shanghai's and ahead of all other countries tested. 

The current move in the US to become more like China in education, with more competition and more rigorous examinations, will do nothing to improve student achievement in the US. The problem is poverty. 

Stephen Krashen

Original article:


Level of poverty:
UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre (2012), ‘Measuring Child Poverty: New league tables of child poverty in the world’s rich countries’, Innocenti Report Card 10, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence.

Control for poverty:
Payne, K. and Biddle, B. 1999. Poor school funding, child poverty, and mathematics achievement. Educational Researcher 28 (6): 4-13; Bracey, G. 2009. The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Boulder and Tempe: Education and the Public Interest Center & Education Policy Research Unit. Berliner, D. 2011. The Context for Interpreting PISA Results in the USA: Negativism, Chauvinism, Misunderstanding, and the Potential to Distort the Educational Systems of Nations. In Pereyra, M., Kottoff, H-G., & Cowan, R. (Eds.). PISA under examination: Changing knowledge, changing tests, and changing schools. Amsterdam: Sense Publishers. Tienken, C. 2010. Common core state standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Phi Record 47 (1): 14-17. Carnoy, M and Rothstein, R. 2013, What Do International Tests Really Show Us about U.S. Student Performance. Washington DC: Economic Policy Institute. 2012. Krashen, S.  2010. How poverty affected U.S. PISA scores.

“Poverty means poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and lack of access to books”:
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.;   Krashen, S. 1997. Bridging inequity with books. Educational Leadership  55(4): 18-22.

Increasing testing does not mean greater achievement:
Nichols, S., Glass, G., and Berliner, D. 2006. High-stakes testing and student achievement: Does accountability increase student learning? Education Policy Archives 14(1). OECD. Tienken, C., 2011. Common core standards: An example of data-less decision-making. Journal of Scholarship and Practice. American Association of School Administrators [AASA], 7(4): 3-18.

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