Daniel Wydo, a teacher in North Carolina, sent this analysis of 2012 PISA:

Here’s what the mainstream media will NOT tell you about 2012 PISA. When comparing U.S. schools with less than 10% of students qualifying for free/reduced lunch, here’s how U.S. students (of which almost 25% are considered poor by OECD standards and of which nationally on average about 50% qualify for free/reduced lunch) rank compared to all other countries including one I chose to purposely compare – Finland (of which about 5% are considered poor by OECD standards):

*Shanghai is disqualified for obvious reasons.

Science literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=556 [1st in the world]

Finland – ranked 4th in the world

Reading literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=559 [1st in the world]

Finland – ranked 5th in the world

Mathematics literacy

U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced – score=540 [5th in the world]

FInland – ranked 11th in the world

The NCES also disaggregated the mathematics data further based on seven total proficiency levels (Below Level 1, Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4, Level 5, and Level 6). The outcomes, as expected, were perfectly aligned with what we would expect in terms of the levels of poverty our students endure. For example, on the mathematics literacy scale, U.S. schools with less than 10% free/reduced lunch had 94% of students score at a “Level 2” proficiency or above (a “Level 2” proficiency equates to being able to use basic mathematics in the workplace), whereas schools with more than 75% free/reduced lunch had 54% of students score at a “Level 2” proficiency or above, of which 46% of the 54%, scoring at a “Level 2” proficiency or higher, scored at a “Level 2” or “Level 3” proficiency with only 6% scoring at a “Level 4” proficiency, 2% scoring at a “Level 5” proficiency, and so few scoring at a “Level 6” proficiency, the reporting standards were not met. Virtually no students from schools with less than 10% free/reduced lunch ranked at the “Below Level 1” proficiency (reporting standards were not met), and a mere 5% were ranked at “Level 1” proficiency. On the flip side, a whopping 46% of students in schools with more than 75% of free/reduced lunch scored at a “Level 1” proficiency or at “Below Level 1” proficiency (28% and 18% respectively).

The dissagregated data for science and reading, based on the various proficiency levels, followed the example set in mathematics, although maybe not quite to the extent of variability when comparing schools with less than 10% free/reduced lunch to schools with more than 75% free/reduced lunch..

This is not a new phenomenon. For every administration of PISA and TIMSS, when controlling for poverty, U.S. public school students are not only competitive, they downright lead the world. Even at home nationally, when controlling for poverty, public school students compete with private school students in Lutheran, Catholic, and Christian schools when analyzing NAEP data. This is my own synopsis of the Braun (2006) study using large samples of NAEP data and using HLM to compare private school students to public school students:

In 4th grade reading (after adjusting for student characteristics – so an apples to apples comparison can be made based on SES and other student characteristics) it’s a wash – there is no difference in scores between the private schools and the public schools. In 4th grade mathematics, after adjustments, public schools outperformed private schools significantly. In 8th grade Reading, after adjustments, private schools outperformed public schools significantly, with the exception of Conservative Christian schools, which performed similarly to public schools, both of which were outperformed by Catholic and Lutheran students. In 8th grade mathematics, it’s another wash except for a very important caveat. While Catholic schools followed the trend with and without adjustments, Lutheran school and Conservative Christian schools didn’t. Lutheran schools were significantly higher, increasing the average among private schools, while Conservative Christian schools were significantly lower, decreasing the average among private schools.


One has to wonder why our media continues to barely report the connection between child poverty and their performance at school. The school reformers want nothing to do with it other than to claim there are miracle schools and teachers out there, although upon further analysis these are the schools that usually game the system and do a ‘data dance’ – most namely, charter schools.

The reports continue to be all about our failing or “mediocre” schools and incompetent teachers. I like the simple observation made by researchers in the past – if the argument is to be made that U.S. public schools and teachers are failing, then we have huddled all of our incompetent teachers and principals in our urban and rural schools, for they are the ones that struggle or “fail” – this is evidenced in the PISA data I provided and appears at every turn when outcomes are disaggregated based upon child poverty. Or are our urban and rural schools and teachers “failing” or “struggling” any more than our urban or rural police forces? Response times are higher in urban and rural areas (for different reasons), and crime rates are higher in our urban areas, so does this mean that our urban and rural police officers are failures? Can you imagine police unions if we were to erase officer tenure, step ladder structure for pay increases, LIFO, and bust their unions – and then demonize them because they can’t seem to solve the crime problems of our urban areas? Can anyone say value-added modeling for police officers estimating their effects on crime rates during their beat? The difference between police officers and teachers, specifically in this analogy, is that we are push-overs, ah-hem, I mean caretakers.