kitchen table math, the sequel: achievement gap in northern schools

Friday, July 17, 2009

achievement gap in northern schools

from the Times:
Historically, the achievement gap between America’s black and white students was widest in Southern states, where the legacies of slavery and segregation were reflected in extremely low math and reading scores among poor African-American children.

But black students have made important gains in several Southern states over two decades, while in some Northern states, black achievement has improved more slowly than white achievement, or has even declined, according to a study of the black-white achievement gap released Tuesday by the Department of Education.

As a result, the nation’s widest black-white gaps are no longer seen in Southern states like Alabama or Mississippi, but rather in Northern and Midwestern states like Connecticut, Illinois, Nebraska and Wisconsin, according to the federal data.


By 2007, the state with the widest black-white gap in the nation on the fourth-grade math test (not counting the District of Columbia) was not in the deep South, but in the Midwest — Wisconsin. White students there scored 250, slightly above the national average, but blacks scored 212, producing a 38-point achievement gap. That average score for black students in Wisconsin was lower than for blacks in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi or any other Southern state, and 10 points below the national average for black students, the study indicated.

Wisconsin was the only state in which the black-white achievement gap in 2007 was larger than the national average in the tests for fourth and eighth grades in both math and reading, according to the study.

Racial Gap in Testing Sees Shift by Region
Published: July 14, 2009

This brings to mind the Times article on Balanced Literacy in Madison, WI.

However, I don't know whether southern schools are more likely to use explicit instruction than northern schools. Given redkudu's (& evil math teacher's) experiences, I wouldn't assume so.

Nevertheless, I've had a hypothesis for a while now that the closer you are to Columbia Teacher's College, the worse things are. (I see the entire state of California as being really close to Teacher's College.)

The truth is, I have no idea what to make of this finding.


Anonymous said...

My sister was an elementary and middle school teacher in several rural Georgia towns and she definitely used explicit instruction. When I asked my cousin, who currently works in a rural area, she said, "We must use explicit instruciton or our students would fail." According to her, the teachers follow a script. Many of the students fall way below the poverty line.

I often joke that most of my Georgia cousins are receiving a better education than my two sons schooled here in northern Virginia. Northern Virginia is not the south...we true southerners quip that it is simply an extension of New York.


Anonymous said...

"Wisconsin was the only state in which the black-white achievement gap in 2007 was larger than the national average in the tests for fourth and eighth grades in both math and reading, according to the study."

With two tests (reading and math) and two test-points (4th and 8th grade), we have 4 possible [test,test-point] pairs:

   *) 4th reading
   *) 4th math
   *) 8th reading
   *) 8th math

For each pair, the black/white gap can be less-than/equal-to/greater-than the national average.

Assuming some sort of non-pathological distribution, with 50 states, I'll be very surprised if only *ONE* state is above the average in each of these 4 categories. Naively, I'd expect about (50/12 = 4) four states to be above average. Or ... are most states "average"? Maybe because the average bin is so large?

Anyone have an idea?

-Mark Roulo

Marta said...

It looks like it is a function of population distribution. Minority population is unevenly distributed. The map is here:

The states with a larger gap than average all have a very small minority community. Southern states, which had the smallest gap, have much larger Black populations.

cranberry said...

The states with gaps smaller than the national average are states with higher population growth rates? It's only a quick impression, looking at the map. Higher growth rates would mean new school districts, new school buildings, a need to grow teaching staff quickly.

It'd be harder for parents to gauge the "good" school districts, as the status quo changes more quickly? Thus, you're less likely to end up with districts full of struggling families and kids.

Or, simply, the districts are less likely to have entrenched systems of seniority. I wonder how this map would correlate with strong unions vs. weak unions.

It is a striking finding, as it contradicts the "northern schools good, southern schools bad" formula. It could be that certain populations are moving from one area to another. Those willing to risk everything in search of opportunity are different than those who choose to stay put.

Anonymous said...

Southern schools also tend to have lower achievement levels period. One can close the achievement gap by raising achievement levels of those on the bottom, or by holding down the achievement of those on the top. My experience with southern schools tells me that our top achievers aren't doing so well.