Brill v. Ravitch

Class Warfare author Steven Brill debated Diane Ravitch on C-SPAN. Ravitch blamed poverty for low U.S. scores compared to rival countries, saying affluent U.S. students do as well as Finns and Koreans.

Big deal, responds Matthew Ladner on Jay Greene’s blog. Our best students do as well as the average for all of their students.

No mention of how the very wealthiest schools in America compare to the very wealthiest schools in Finland and South Korea, or that our African-American kids score closer to the average score in Mexico than that in Finland.

The gap between high-scoring and low-scoring U.S. students is wide compared to most of our high-scoring competitors.

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  1. Neil Riemann says:

    The wealth and income gaps are also wide compared to most of our competitors.

    • Yeah, and the countries with the lowest income gap? Chad and Burkina Faso. Thanks but I have a lot less trouble accommodating myself to that income gap then I would to the income of nations with a lesser gap.

      As to the TV program, I caught the last half hour of it and I must say, Steven Brill has a positiviely superhuman amount of forbearance. Brill’s purpose on the program, to judge from Ravitch’s behavior, was to provide opportunities for Ravitch to hold forth on the various orthodoxies to which she subscribes. Either he’s one tolerant guy or he’s very sure the unpleasantness of the appearance on Ravitch’s program will be repaid by greater book sales.

      Given the sales numbers typical to books about education I think it’s more likely the former.

      • I would assume Brill has some bounteous income source from within the billionaire-funded reformy world that goes beyond book sales. Why in the world would he have helicoptered into a field in which he had no prior involvement and quickly staked out firm positions on the side that’s amply funding vast numbers of researchers and commentators?

        • Ah yes, the first and last refuge of the defenders of the “Marie Antoinette” school of public education punditry – only teachers may hold forth on education. How’s that working out for you?

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Fact is, our best students match other countries’ average students, presuming that’s the case, because of our demographics. We have taken in the people who weren’t even literate in their own language. I have a relation in the Austin area who teaches immigrants both English and standard Spanish. I asked her if the kids’ parents resent being told, in effect, that their Spanish is unsatisfactory. No, she said, they are glad of the opportunity because they know even bad Spanish is an obstacle. From which I deduce these immigrants don’t speak their home language well. Clever guy, Aubrey.
    One reason to match demographic groups is to test the effect of education on The Child. In any experiment, you will try to reduce variables except for the variable subject to the experiment, so matching demographics is proper.
    The other countries against whom we match our system have few immigrants or other groups not subject to generations of Western European culture and literacy. Thus, comparing those to our most similar demographic will help us see how our ed system works.
    The question could be, whose population is better educated, on average. That’s separate from which ed system does more with the kids involved. The two would only be identical questions if the kids involved were similar.
    They’re not, taken as a national group instead of broken down by demographics.

  3. Matthew Ladner says:


    The United States spends somewhere around 4 times as much per pupil as Mexico. These doubtlessly true stories about poorly educated Hispanics ring a bit hollow when you see that Hispanics in America don’t do much better in math than Mexico, don’t you think?

    However many poorly educated Hispanics we have arrive with bad Spanish skills, there must be a far greater number in Mexico, but our Hispanic students can’t do math much better than the average student in Mexico.

    The sad fact of the matter is that a huge number of low-income children are simply being warehoused rather than educated.

  4. These doubtlessly true stories about poorly educated Hispanics ring a bit hollow when you see that Hispanics in America don’t do much better in math than Mexico, don’t you think?

    The Hispanics in Mexico are being taught in their native language. The reason Hispanics as a category in the US do poorly is because many of the low performing ones speak English as a second language.

    Rings a bit hollow to mock the US for teaching Spanish speakers better in English than Mexico teaches Spanish speakers in Spanish, don’t you think?

    And you have no idea what you are talking about. Most kids aren’t warehoused. It’s very difficult teaching low ability kids, full stop. It’s particularly difficult to do when the number of low ability kids in a school is over 20-30% of the total.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Matthew, I think the definitive study was the one asking the kids what the lowest grade they could get and stay out of trouble at home. Broken out by ethnicity. Asians, iirc, about A. Blacks, at the bottom, something like C- or D.
    I believe that attitude, for better or worse, trumps anything.
    And “warehousing” doesn’t square with either the spending or the efforts put into schools with high levels of low-achievers.
    It’s a conclusion made necessary by your inability to admit there may be other factors besides the mean ol’ rotten society’s despising of the lower-class “other”. Can’t be anything intrinsic in the “other”, even cultural differences. Nope. To think that would be mean and stuff.

  6. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Disappointing that nothing was said in the Brill – Ravitch debate about curriculum as a factor influencing outcomes.

  7. That was my first extended look at Ravitch….and she came off as a shrill, shrieking shrew. Wasn’t she supposed to be the interviewer in this case?

    Give Brill credit… must have taken a herculean effort not to reach over and stuff a sock in her mouth.