Education Letter to the Editor

Which Status Quo Should We Change?

March 06, 2007 1 min read

To the Editor:

In their Feb. 21, 2007, letter to the editor rebutting Diane Ravitch’s Commentary on the report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (“‘Tough Choices’: Radical Ideas, Misguided Assumptions,” Jan. 17, 2007), Thomas W. Payzant and Charles B. Reed build their case on the claim that the United States has the second-most-expensive system of education in the developed world, but only mediocre results. This oft-repeated observation is virtually meaningless, however, when viewed in proper context.

The UNICEF report “An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries,” released only last month, serves as a case in point. The United States finished dead last among 24 nations in terms of relative income poverty, the percentage of children in households with equivalent income less than 50 percent of the national median. Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden dominated the top half, with rates of less than 5 percent. It’s more than mere coincidence that these same four countries are also among those with the highest academic ratings, because of the tight correlation between poverty and performance.

Messrs. Payzant and Reed correctly point out that social revolutions occur when the people reach the limits of their frustration with the status quo. But what they fail to acknowledge is that the people’s disaffection is mistakenly directed at schools instead of at policies that exacerbate the underlying social and economic conditions responsible for the issue.

Walt Gardner

Los Angeles, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as Which Status Quo Should We Change?