"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Poverty vs the SAT

Last week there was a hearing on Capitol Hill on the latest ESEA bill. DC is still trying to "fix" education and the bill's 800+ pages shows us that they are working very hard to do that.  They are even trying to return control to local school districts. But things are on and off the table so frequently it looks more like the dinner rush hour at the Cheesecake Factory than a measured attempt to make public education better.  The problem may be that they are looking at everything on the dessert menu, when the problem lies more in the liver and onions main course.

University of Texas physics professor Michael Marder has looked at the data (something reformers love to use when it suits their agenda) regarding education and economics. His charts point to something that almost no one in the education debate wants to address, though it may be one of the most significant factors in education "success."

Dr. Marder looked at Texas data to see how the corporate model of standardized testing and charter schools was affecting there. The chart below plots poverty concentration against percentage of students meeting the SAT college readiness criterion. Each dot represents a single high school. The size of the dot represents the number of students who tested at that school and the color of the dot represents the ethnic/racial makeup of the school.

The chart clearly shows an inverse correlation between SAT scores and poverty. As the poverty rate goes up, as defined by qualification for reduced prices lunches,  SAT and ACT scores go down. In Texas,  and in most other places, race and ethnicity correlate with lower incomes and lower test scores. Not surprisingly, schools made up of primarily rich students do better on these tests.

Dr. Marder found this correlation in public schools and also looked for it in charter schools.  Given that charter schools were originally established under George Bush as a tactic to help low income struggling students one would hope that the correlation would at least be less for charters. In fact there does seem to be less correlation but that is because Texas charters, regardless of income level, don't come close to preparing their students for the SAT. Most are close to 0%. The idea that public schools are bad is false. For well-off white kids public schools are pretty good. Students from low income families just aren’t achieving college readiness at the level of their more wealthy peers.

This is not a condemnation of charter schools, as some have seen it. It IS an verification of something that almost every teacher in the public school system knows. Children from certain cultural backgrounds are less likely to succeed, as academic success is currently defined. This cultural influence is seen at all ends of the academic performance spectrum.

The U.S. Department of Education’s statistical and testing arm, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), released its latest “progress” report November 1st: The survey measured fourth- and eighth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.  A graph depicting the NAEP scores, published by Associated Press as percentage figures in the print edition of the Washington Times shows, at most, a two-percent change in both math and reading scores between 2009 and 2011. However, a standard three-percent margin of error for such statistics means, realistically, that scores did not change at all in these two years. While the report did not break out scores for Asian minorities, the who have historically done considerably better than whites, blacks or Hispanics, the statistical flat line should apply to their scores as well indicating that Asians are still doing better at the same comparative rate.

It would be interesting to find out how many Asians were in the poor performing schools and whether their scores were typical of the low income school in general. My guess is that they are not, especially if they are less than 3rd generation American.

So who wants to have a conversation about how you motivate a culture to elevate the importance of education?  To start with you have to figure out why the poor are poor.  Ultimately you have to be able to accept the findings, which may be political toxin, which is why most politicians will never address the real causes of the "performance gap."

1 comment:

  1. School charts and school posters are great reminder, educational and learning tool. School charts, educational wall charts and school posters have the ability to convey a complex and difficult subject and concepts in simple words.


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