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Low-income students face tough road in US

July 8, 2014 - 12:05am

WASHINGTON — It isn’t easy to be a disadvantaged high school student anywhere, but the U.S. education system appears to be particularly unkind to its less-privileged youth.

Low-income students in the United States have a tougher time overcoming their socioeconomic status than their counterparts in Canada, France, Russia and 33 other countries, according to a new global study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Only about 20 percent of disadvantaged students in the United States — those in the bottom 25th percentile of the Program for International Student Assessment’s index of economic, social and cultural status — show academic performance that is in the top 25th percentile internationally.

In Russia and France, that percentage is only slightly higher; in Canada it’s closer to 35 percent. In a few East Asian countries — including Singapore, Vietnam, and several provinces in China — well over 60 percent of disadvantaged students rank in the top quarter of international students. The average among all OECD member countries is about 25 percent.

It’s hardly the first measure by which the U.S. education system has gravely disappointed. Last year, a similar report concluded that American adults performed worse in math, reading and technology-driven problem-solving than adults in nearly every other country in the group of developed nations. And recent testing results have shown little to no improvement.

But the lackluster performance among America’s underprivileged youth should be particularly troublesome. Not only is it an injustice to the low-income students entering the country’s education system, it also is a disservice to the economic well-being of the United States at large. Even a marginal improvement in the mathematics performance of 15-year-olds, the OECD report found, would lead to more than $200 trillion in added economic output over the course of their working lives.

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