In the article that triggered the previous rant, both the writer and the subject, Bill Gates, make reference to the frequent howl of politicians and corporate types, that students in US schools have fallen far behind their counterparts in other countries. The line has been repeated so many times that it has become accepted as fact.

Except Alfie Kohn has some evidence-based arguments to use in response to those claims that are far more clichéd talking points than truth.

As always, his essay is very good, well worth saving for your next discussion with someone from the all-testing, all-the-time fan club.

However, this is probably the most important point Kohn makes about improving student achievement in the US, no matter how you define that term.

4. Rich American kids do fine; poor American kids don’t. It’s ridiculous to offer a summary statistic for all children at a given grade level in light of the enormous variation in scores within this country. To do so is roughly analogous to proposing an average pollution statistic for the United States that tells us the cleanliness of “American air.” Test scores are largely a function of socioeconomic status. Our wealthier students perform very well when compared to other countries; our poorer students do not. And we have a lot more poor children than do other industrialized nations.

More than 20% of American children are living in poverty, a rate that puts the US 34th out of 35 industrialized countries, the same ones frequently used in test score comparisons.

That ranking should be far more upsetting politicians and corporate types than the numbers generated from largely irrelevant multiple choice tests.