kitchen table math, the sequel: wrong again

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

wrong again

a letter to the Times:
Middle-class American children attending well-financed schools outscore nearly all other countries. But our overall scores are unspectacular because we have such a high percentage of children living in poverty.
Rich schools are good schools: the very assumption that led me to overspend on a house in an overspending town.

Maybe I should write a letter to the editor.

Here are Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann:
White students. The overall news is sobering. Some might try to comfort themselves by saying the [achievement] problem is limited to large numbers of students from immigrant families, or to African American students and others who have suffered from discrimination....

...[L]et us consider the performance of white students for whom the case of discrimination cannot easily be made. Twenty-four countries have a larger percentage of highly accomplished students than the 8 percent achieving at that level among the U.S. white student population in the Class of 2009. Looking at just white students places the U.S. at a level equivalent to what all students are achieving in the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Poland. Seven percent of California’s white students are advanced, roughly the percentage for all Lithuanian students.

Children of parents with college degrees. Another possibility is that schools help students reach levels of high accomplishment if parents are providing the necessary support. To explore this possibility, we assumed that students who reported that at least one parent had graduated from college were likely to be given the kind of support that is needed for many to reach high levels of achievement. Approximately 45 percent of all U.S. students reported that at least one parent had a college degree.

The portion of students in the Class of 2009 with a college-graduate parent who are performing at the advanced level is 10.3 percent. When compared to all students in the other PISA countries, this advantaged segment of the U.S. population was outranked by students in 16 other countries. Nine percent of Illinois students with a college-educated parent scored at the advanced level, a percentage comparable to all students in France and the United Kingdom. The percentage of highly accomplished students from college-educated families in Rhode Island is just short of 6 percent, the same percentage for all students in Spain, Italy, and Latvia.

The Previous Rosy Gloss

Many casual observers may be surprised by our findings, as two previous, highly publicized studies have suggested that—even though improvement was possible—the U.S. was doing all right. This was the picture from two reports issued by Gary Phillips of the American Institutes for Research, who compared the average performance in math of 8th-grade students in each of the 50 states with the average scores of 8th-grade students in other countries. These comparisons used methods that are similar to ours to relate 2007 NAEP performance for U.S. students to both TIMSS 2003 and TIMSS 2007. His findings are more favorable to the United States than those shown by our analyses. While our study using the PISA data shows U.S. student performance in math to be below 30 other countries, Phillips found the average U.S. student to be performing better than all but 14 other countries in his 2007 report and all but 8 countries in his 2009 report. (Oddly, the 2007 report takes a much more buoyant perspective than the 2009 report, though the data suggest otherwise.) Phillips also finds that individual states do much better vis-à-vis other countries than we report.

Why do two studies that seem to be employing generally similar methodologies produce such strikingly different results?

The answer to that puzzle is actually quite simple and has little to do with the fact that Phillips compares average student performance while our study focuses on advanced students: many OECD countries, including those that had a high percentage of high-achieving students, participated in PISA 2006 (upon which our analysis is based) but did not participate in either TIMSS 2003 or TIMSS 2007, the two surveys included in the Phillips studies. In fact, 19 countries that outscored the U.S. on the PISA 2006 test did not participate in TIMSS 2003, and 22 higher-scoring countries did not participate in TIMSS 2007. As a report by the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics has explained, “Differences in the set of countries that participate in an assessment can affect how well the United States appears to do internationally when results are released.”

Put starkly, if one drops from a survey countries such as Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, and New Zealand, and includes instead such countries as Botswana, Ghana, Iran, and Lebanon, the average international performance will drop, and the United States will look better relative to the countries with which it is being compared.

Teaching Math to the Talented
Eric A. Hanushek, Paul E. Peterson and Ludger Woessmann
Winter 2011 / Vol. 11, No. 1


lgm said...

Our basic problem is that public school is rationing academics. If a child is not chosen for the hidden 'top track' back in K, he might as well not bother to attend, even if he is capable. The necessary material is simply not taught and there's no text to read even if there was noncooperative learning time to read it in - the situation has nothing to do with a bright child's income level or his classmates' income level and everything to do with the beliefs of the administrators that only a certain percent of students should have an education beyond basic, regardless of how many are actually capable.

These days, full inclusion means that the hidden top track in elementary is gone, so a child that hasn't been afterschooled to make up for it won't be surviving the honors program & real 8th grade algebra - even if both parents have a PhD is rocket science, wages and compensation that put them in the top 0.1% of the district and he goes home to one of them instead of a nanny or daycare.

No offense to Krashen's opinion on the number of children living in poverty, but F&Red lunch numbers include plenty who look to be in poverty due to the below the table income sources, free housing, and the parents never marrying. Not to say that there aren't truly issues that need to be addressed, but just that the gaming of the system is significant in some areas outside of inner cities, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Appalachia. No one will ever check on this b/c the district wants Title I money.

Lisa said...

People tend to believe that 'the other guy' has a problem. Your senator, doctor or school is the 'good' one. Since most of the public is a product of public school the chance they know much about statistics and how to read a study is slim.

Anonymous said...


An article with an interesting counterpoint:

(Have we covered this already?)

-Mark Roulo

momof4 said...

Other issues that affect the kids at the top of our ability/motivation curve are curriculum and instruction. We are likely to be using weak, incoherent math curricula (Everyday Math et al) and instructional methods (discovery learning, groupwork) that are inherently inefficient, so school time is wasted.

In addition, heterogeneous classrooms (mainstreaming, full inclusion, deliberate mix of abilities) mean that even with solid curriculum choices, the pace and depth is likely restricted to the pace of the slowest and lowest, or close to that. Kids who are capable of more work, more depth and a faster pace are unlikely to receive any of them.

These issues are not restricted to math, of course. I speak as the parent of kids who attended schools with strong reputations in affluent suburbs. Since the last one graduated in 03, I am sure there's been little or no improvement; probably the opposite.

The schools do not seem to see their mission as teaching kids as much as they can learn, as fast as they can learn it. Their focus seems to be on the appearance of learning by the kids at the bottom end of the ability/motivation curve, since that's where the lion's share of resources are going. I've been hearing "the kids at the top shouldn't get anything special since they'll do fine anyway" song for over 25 years, even in the areas where most kids could and should be challenged far more.

SteveH said...

What is meant by "rich schools"; absolute dollars or dollars per student? A high $/student doesn't mean that the school has enough money to open up more AP classes or offer a first-rate orchestra. Those dollars are also spread to many students who want to take advantage of those dollars.

There is also the economy of scale. My son's high school covers affluent and not-so-affluent towns. They have about 1700 kids. In effect, the kids who don't want to do anything extra support those who do.

The AP classes are filled with kids who better deserve to be in AP classes. In a small, affluent school, there will be a wider range of abilities and motivation in an AP class, if they have the class in the first place.

I think that most of us at KTM can now look at a school and figure it out for ourselves without the use of statistics. Put another way, I would come up with a much different metric to determine the quality of schools and the education of an individuals.

lgm said...

A 'rich' district has the ability to meet the needs of its students with local resources.

For NY, the state definition is here:

The map is here:

Catherine Johnson said...

Irvington is always in the very wealthiest group as measured by NYSED (which lgm links).

We're spending $30K per pupil, and that will go up next year.

Union is still getting raises & won't budge; plus we have 'cash calls' from Albany (37% increase in payments to pension funds) & rising retiree medical costs & beaucoup tax certs.

And unemployment stats went up today, not down.

Joshua Fisher said...

A post with a relevant link: