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Bruno: Who Told Us The Education Fights Poverty, Anyway?

Screen shot 2014-04-21 at 2.51.06 PMWhen charged with "ignoring poverty", many education reformers will respond that in fact improving education is the best way to fight poverty. 

Arne Duncan once went so far as to say that "the only way to end poverty is through education."

Is that correct?

I'm skeptical. As Matt Bruenig has pointed out, educational outcomes have been improving for decades in the United States, and yet poverty rates haven't really budged.

And what about internationally? Certainly, many developed countries have much lower poverty rates than the United States. Is that a result of superior educational performance?

One preliminary way to look at the evidence would be to see if countries with better academic performance also have lower poverty rates.

Out of curiosity I decided to take a first crack at that using results from the 2012 PISA, which tested 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science.

Click below to see what I found. 

To get an overall picture of each country's performance I added up the three subject area test scores. (This may not be an OECD-sanctioned method.)

I then compared each country's overall PISA performance to its pre-tax, pre-transfer poverty rate. (That's the poverty rate before the government "steps in" by taking money in the form of taxes and redistributing it in the form of welfare payments, etc.)

I used the most recent available data on the OECD website, and omitted countries for which the most recent data was older than 2010.

click to enlarge

In general, countries with higher PISA scores also tend to have higher pre-transfer poverty rates. (We're the red dot.)

This doesn't prove anything about the relationship between education and poverty, but my point is that it's not at all obvious why reformers - or anyone else - would assume that the best way for us to fight poverty is to make changes to our school system.

And yet the notion that education is an excellent way to fight poverty for a country like ours remains a central article of faith among education reformers. Why? - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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It's pure propaganda, right out of their propaganda shops (Hoover Institution et al.) There's a line in "Waiting for 'Superman'" addressing that. In the narrator's voice, it says something like (paraphrasing): It used to be believed that poverty leads to bad schools, but now we know that bad schools lead to poverty. Then it instantly cuts to someone speaking, as though that person is backing up the line, but the speaker is discussing a different topic. Do any "reformers" or anyone who isn't paid to believe this crap actually believe it? Discuss among yourselves.

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