Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Need To Stop Kidding Ourselves That A Poor Education Outcome In The US Is A Money Problem

A comment I post on Capital Gains and Games blog, "The Problems of Local Governments -- In One Not So Easy Lesson" by Andrew Samwick:
"So calls for students to go to schools in their own neighborhoods really do put kids from minority, low-income households into schools with less opportunity."

My impression is that the issue is not so clear-cut. When you compare schools that have a mix of low income kids and high income kids with schools that are predominately high income, the predominately high income schools look better than the mix income schools on school wide statistics; higher average reading and math scores, higher percentage graduation rates, higher enrollment in colleges and higher enrollment in elite four year colleges. When the high-income group in the mix income school is compared by itself with the kids in the high-income schools, the results are equal.

Higher household income students do well independently of the school they attend. That is not to say they received identical educations. Certainly, schools in richer areas have more resources, smaller class size, more advance courses, etc., but reading and math scores and college enrollment are more predictable from parent's income and parent's education levels than they are from the amount of money spent per student in a school district, class size, age of the buildings, number of advanced classes, etc.

Schools in lower income areas often have minority kids but there are poor areas, such as Appalachia, and other parts of the US, where the kids are poor and not minorities. In low income areas, the structural aspect of schools, the buildings, the labs, the fields, etc, are in much poorer condition than in richer areas, but it is not clear any of that affects graduation rates or reading and math scores.

Years ago, it was noticed that despite extreme poverty in Appalachia, there were kids that went on to college. It was found that the most significant determinate was household expectation. Parents' expectations that their kids would graduate from high school and go to college were the important factors that determine which kids went on to college.

High-income parents expect their kids to go to good colleges. Kids accepted to charter schools or special magnet schools are expected by their parents to take advantage of that extra benefit and graduate and go to college.

A large percentage of Asian kids (and Asians are a minority in the US) go to college because their parents expect it.

Are there any studies that control for parents' expectations that show that a better school improves outcomes, controlling for the fact that any lower income parents who move or get their children into better schools are parents with higher educational expectations for their children? Parents who kids are rejected from enrollment into some 'special' better school (charter, magnet, etc.) due to some lottery or other mechanism will lower their expectations because their kids will continue to go to an 'inferior' school with worse education outcomes.

One of the big educational mistakes of the last few decades is the switch to the school centric, as opposed to the household centric, model for improvement of educational outcomes. The school centric model showed us that no matter how much money you throw at it, no matter what variables within the school you improve, such as teacher qualifications, class size, technology, etc., student education outcomes do not change. The average US reading and math scores on standardized tests has not improved in 40 years, despite more money, better teachers and smaller class size.

The extra money, in excess of inflation and student population growth, spent on education over the last few decades has not provided a positive return on the investment. We need to stop kidding ourselves that a poor education outcome in the US is a money problem.
See my earlier related blog post, "We Do Not Know How to Improve Student Education Levels And High School Graduation Rates."

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