About U.S. Public Education and International Comparisons

You may have heard that students in other parts of the world are doing much better than U.S. students. In fact, you may have heard that the U.S. is in 25th place internationally.

What you may not have heard is that, when these comparisons are equalized for child poverty, U.S. students are right up there at the top, alongside Denmark, Norway, and other high-achieving nations. Students in U.S. classrooms have a much higher poverty rate of over 20%.  While, for example, Denmark’s poverty is about 8%.

Education leaders know that their greatest challenge is poverty. On the first day a child from poverty comes to school, he is behind. Other children already know their numbers; many can read. They have had life and family experiences that give them educational advantages. So it’s up to the school district to provide enrichment and additional time to bring a child from poverty to an acceptable achievement level. Meanwhile, advantaged children are moving on to ever-higher levels.

What most U.S. citizens do not understand is that our country has historically made a commitment to educate all children. Not every country does that. And what most of us don’t realize is the profound impact of early experiences on a child’s developing brain. Poverty minimizes those early learning experiences and builds poor scaffolding for future learning.

Let’s focus on the real issue when we talk about international comparisons. It’s child poverty.


Nancy Oelklaus, Ed. D.
Campaign Chair, Be Proud, Texas
A Project of Friends of Texas Public Schools

5400 Mount Bonnell Road
Austin, TX 78731


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