Don't blame the economy for stalling educational progress

Some teachers are blaming the lackluster economy for stalling educational progress, but the economy is not to blame, argue Michael Petrilli and Brandon Wright in a new Education Next feature.

"Where reform critics get it wrong is when they claim that America's average scores are dragged down by the particularly poor performance of low-income students, or that the advantaged kids are doing just fine," Petrilli and Wright write. "That is objectively untrue. And its scores are not dragged down by an unusually high proportion of poor students, as measures of absolute poverty find the U.S. not to be an outlier at all."

Petrilli is president of the conservative Fordham Institute. Wright also works at the Fordham Institute, as managing editor.

American students are regressing in math and reading, according to data released last week on the Nation's Report Card. Only four in 10 fourth graders, and three in 10 eighth graders, are proficient in math. In reading, about one in three students are proficient in both the fourth and eighth grade.

Petrilli and Wright acknowledge that students living in poverty have a more difficult time learning. Some of this is caused by attending worse schools, but home-life is also an important factor. "Poverty is also associated with higher rates of alcoholism and other substance abuse in the home; greater incidence of child abuse and neglect; and heightened family involvement in the criminal justice system," say Petrilli and Wright.