More on poverty and education

14/12/2011 Comments Off on More on poverty and education

Germane to the recent posts on poverty, childhood, and charter schools are this post at Crooked Timber and the linked op-ed at the NY Times. This is the paragraph that caught my eye:

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

The NAEP has a great data website. I didn’t do the analysis reported in the NY Times, but did make this graph:

What are we to make of this? On the one hand, it is easy enough to say that children’s intelligence varies with the parents’, so we would expect school achievements to be correlated. If parental earnings are also correlated with their own education, then family poverty is ‘naturally’ correlated with children’s test scores.

On the other hand, better schools can improve children’s education (is that a tautology?). So, we are once again at the idea that we need to figure out what works for which children. That’s where the posturing over charter schools — and again, in the Dom Post this morning — annoys me. This black-and-white from both sides gets us nowhere. Teachers are not angels placed upon the earth with a sacred calling. Charter schools aren’t perfect incentives incarnate. These are people working in invented institutions with multiple goals and incentives, working things out as they go.

I have an idea. Rather than National Testing (TM), let’s do exit interviews with pupils. I’m sure the Human Resources industry can gin something up. Then we can get some data on what children actually think of what’s being done in their name.

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