CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Children in Finland remain among the top-scoring students in the world, particularly in science but also in reading and math.
Why? One reason is Finnish teachers are highly respected and valued. The teaching profession in the Scandinavian country is on par with physicians in the United States in respect and pay.
But Finland also enjoys a very low child poverty rate of about 4 percent. Meanwhile, the KIDS COUNT Data Center reported that nearly one in four U.S. children (23 percent) lived in poverty in 2012.
Poverty is most pervasive in the South. Thirteen of 15 southern states, including West Virginia, had a child poverty rate of 25 percent or higher in 2012.
U.S. students in low-poverty areas tend to perform better than their peers both nationally and internationally.
Last month, the results of the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, were released. The data, which measured student learning across 65 countries in 2012, revealed that Massachusetts and Connecticut scored significantly higher in math, science and reading than the average U.S. student and also placed among the top 10 provinces, states and countries in reading and the top 15 in science.
The child poverty rate in both Massachusetts and Connecticut was just 15 percent in 2012.
Poverty persists in Appalachia and its solution is everyone's responsibility, but there are ways to tackle these problems.
One way is ensuring teachers are highly qualified and well trained. Research indicates that a highly skilled teacher can help students overcome the academic impact of poverty.
Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to recruit and retain those highly skilled teachers.
This year, state lawmakers have an opportunity to help level the playing field with a multiyear salary increase for teachers and school employees. That will make the teaching profession more competitive with our surrounding states and to other professions within our state.
While the average teacher earns about $17,000 more in Pennsylvania and nearly $19,000 more in Maryland, West Virginia is losing ground in competitiveness for high-quality teachers.