An excellent and unexpected article appeared in the business section of the New York Times on November 5, written by Eduardo Porter.

Despite bipartisan rhetoric about “closing the achievement gap,” and giving every child an equal change “regardless of zip code,” the evidence suggests that this is empty blather. What really matters is which schools get the best funding.

Porter writes:”

The United States is one of few advanced nations where schools serving better-off children usually have more educational resources than those serving poor students, according to research by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do disadvantaged schools have lower teacher/student ratios than in those serving more privileged students.

Andreas Schleicher, who runs the O.E.C.D.’s international educational assessments, put it to me this way: “The bottom line is that the vast majority of O.E.C.D. countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.” The inequity of education finance in the United States is a feature of the system, not a bug, stemming from its great degree of decentralization and its reliance on local property taxes.

And he adds that much of the disparity stems from our nation’s heavy reliance on property taxes:

Today, the federal government provides only about 14 percent of the money for school districts from the elementary level through high school, compared to 54 percent, on average, among other industrial nations. More than half the money comes from local sources, mostly property taxes, which is about twice the share in the rest of the O.E.C.D.

This skews the playing field from early on. In New York, for instance, in 2011 the value of property in the poorest 10 percent of school districts amounted to some $287,000 per student, according to the state’s education department. In the richest districts it amounted, on average, to $1.9 million.

The state government in Albany redresses part of the imbalance: In the 2010-11 school year it transferred $6,600 per student to the state’s poorest school districts, about four times as much as it sent to the richest. But it’s still a long way from closing the gap.

That year, the most recent for which comprehensive data is available, the wealthiest 10 percent of school districts, in rich enclaves like Bridgehampton and Amagansett on Long Island, spent $25,505 on average per pupil. In the poorest 10 percent of New York’s school districts — in cities like Elmira, which has double the nation’s poverty rate and half its median family income — the average spending per student was only $12,861.

In other states, the disparity between the richest districts and the poorest districts is even larger.

What a shame that Race to the Top was targeted at test scores and not at leveling the playing field in systematic ways.