Jonathan Livengood writes:
There has been some discussion about the recent PISA results (in which the U.S. comes out pretty badly), for example here and here. The claim being made is that the poor U.S. scores are due to rampant individual- or family-level poverty in the U.S. They claim that when one controls for poverty, the U.S. comes out on top in the PISA standings, and then they infer that poverty causes poor test scores. The further inference is then that the U.S. could improve education by the “simple” action of reducing poverty. Anyway, I was wondering what you thought about their analysis.
My reply: I agree this is interesting and I agree it’s hard to know exactly what to say about these comparisons. When I’m stuck in this sort of question, I ask, WWJD? In this case, I think Jennifer would ask what are the potential interventions being considered. Various ideas for changing the school system would perhaps have different effects on different groups of students. I think that would a useful way to focus discussion, to consider the effects of possible reforms in the U.S. and elsewhere. See here and here, for example.
P.S. Livengood has some graphs and discussion here.