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Where is the education gap?

This month, Chief Justice John Roberts swore in President Barack Obama for a second time. In a speech rife with progressive rhetoric, the newly rechristened president equated the fight for gay rights with other civil rights movements, highlighted the importance of climate change and alluded to speaking on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Amidst this ambitious speech, the president also made a commitment that rings cliché: improving America’s schools.

It seems every political speech makes a cursory mention of education reform. Americans feel their schools are failing. Any discussion of education naturally leads to ideas for reforming our sinking school system. Why? Overwhelmingly, the answer is that U.S. students have performed in mediocre fashion on international standardized tests, so clearly U.S. schools are in crisis.

New evidence contradicts this argument. The Stanford Graduate School of Education and the Economic Policy Institute collaborated to adjust the results of national and international standardized tests to reflect the socioeconomic status of the test takers. Their report, titled “What do international tests really show about U.S. student performance?” finds the international standing of American test takers increases dramatically when the disproportionate amount of those in a lower socioeconomic status are taken in to account. Correcting for the massive amount of impoverished children within the United States shrinks the gap between the United States and the highest achieving countries by at least a third in both reading and math.

The question then becomes how to best improve the standing of America’s children. The answer does not appear to be pressuring teachers and school administrators as the Obama administration has done for the better part of the past four years. Rather, providing support to either impoverished children directly or to nonprofits and charities serving the poor should play a critical role in Obama’s education plan.

This article was written by Zach Lipp, a contributing writer for The Concordian.

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