A new report by UNICEF finds that the United States ranks second among the nation’s advanced nations in child poverty, with 23.1% of our children living in poverty. We are second to Romania, where the rate is 25.5%. Read the summary here.

Forgive me, but I think we are really number one. Romania is a very poor country that was subject to decades of misrule by Communist dictators. I visited Romania in 1990, soon after the execution of the dictator Ceauşescu and his wife. I saw desperate poverty and a collapsed economy that was not that of a developed nation. It was what we then called Third World. The nation has great potential, but it is certainly not in the same economic category as the highly developed United States, other than on a measure of child poverty.

So forget Romania. We lead the world’s advanced nations in Europe and Asia. We are number one in child poverty.

Since child poverty is the single most reliable indicator of low academic achievement, it stands to reason that anything our government and our nation can do to reduce child poverty will improve academic performance. Children are more likely to learn if they are healthy, well-nourished, and able to focus on their learning. Children who have a toothache or can’t see or hear well can’t focus. Children who are hungry can’t focus. Children who are not sure where they will sleep tonight can’t focus. Children who are worried whether their mother or father is safe can’t focus.

Why is it so hard to get the attention of our leaders tuned to what matters most? Why the pretense of a program like Race to the Top that the best way to meet the needs of poor children is to fire their teachers?