This week is “National School Choice Week.” The School Choice Week website would have you believe that public schools cannot meet the needs of all students. They claim that only private options can save impoverished children from “failing public schools” by offering parents more choice. Research continues to show that is not the case. According to Data First, an Initiative of the National School Boards Association, only students in 17 percent of charter schools performed significantly better than those public schools. Some 37 percent of charter schools performed signification worse, and the remaining 46 percent of charter schools performed equally to their public school counterparts. Furthermore, these results vary greatly from state to state, even within the same charter network.
The validity of the National School Choice Week message is thrown into question when looking at the track record of charter and private schools. Many charter schools face a federal lawsuit for not adequately serving children with special needs. Some charter schools expel low performing students, or “counsel” them to transfer before state tests can be administered.
According to new data from the National Center for Education Statistics, students in the United States rank high on the PISA test taken by students in OECD countries when poverty is accounted for. U.S. schools with fewer than 25% of their students living in poverty performed as well as other countries with similar poverty rates. U.S. schools with 10% or less students in poverty outperformed Finland, the highest scoring nation.
Studies continue to show that family income and poverty has the greatest impact on education and students’ ability to perform on tests. The achievement gap continues to grow between rich and poor students. In fact, the gap has grown 30-40 percent percent larger for children born in 2001 than for students born in 1985. Numerous studies show parental income, not type of education, is the greatest indicator for scores on SAT and ACT tests.
Dan Goldhaber, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, has found that effective teachers can raise student performance, but not by as much as you might think. Despite the onus put on teachers to raise test scores, research shows that even the best teachers account for less than 10 percent of student performance. He found that non-school factors, such as student characteristics, family income, and other family characteristics account for 60 percent of student performance. All school input only accounts for approximately 21 percent of student outcomes.
School reformers see those statistics and say that we, teachers and schools, have to find ways to make a greater impact than 21 percent. These corporate education reformers claim that new teacher evaluation systems, national standards, longer school days, and privatized education will increase the impact that schools have on student performance. However, nations with high performing schools as tested by PISA have two things in common – a strong public school system and lower child poverty rates than the United States. If research shows that 60 percent of student achievement is based on non-school factors, like poverty, it follows that it is the families of students that need to see change, not schools.
Children in poverty may be food insecure, homeless or living in inadequate housing, have poor access to health care and live surrounded by police and neighborhood crime. Students cannot learn under these circumstances. If we want to improve school performance, we must first eradicate poverty.