Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Nobody Knows What's Best for their Own Children

Amanda Ripley:

These days, the theory Hanushek hears most often is what we might call the diversity excuse. When he runs into his neighbors at Palo Alto coffee shops, they lament the condition of public schools overall, but are quick to exempt the schools their own kids attend. “In the litany of excuses, one explanation is always, ‘We’re a very heterogeneous society—all these immigrants are dragging us down. But our kids are doing fine,’” Hanushek says. This latest study was designed, in part, to test the diversity excuse...

As it turned out, even these relatively privileged students do not compete favorably with average students in other well-off countries. On a percentage basis, New York state has fewer high performers among white kids than Poland has among kids overall. In Illinois, the percentage of kids with a college-educated parent who are highly skilled at math is lower than the percentage of such kids among all students in Iceland, France, Estonia, and Sweden.

Parents in Palo Alto will always insist that their kids are the exception, of course. And researchers cannot compare small cities and towns around the globe—not yet, anyway. But Hanushek thinks the study significantly undercuts the diversity excuse. “People will find it quite shocking,” he says, “that even our most-advantaged students are not all that competitive.”

Using Palo Alto as the focus of this anecdotal argument is not very persuasive, if you give it some thought. If the people Hanushek runs into in Palo Alto, that is, likely people working in Stanford, Silicon Valley tech companies, or somewhere in the orbit of the two, both of whom are far more likely to have frequent interactions with well educated foreigners than the average person, if their judgement isn't sufficient to judge the adequacy of primary and secondary math instruction, even compared to kids in other countries, whose is?


Jenny said...

I wanted to say educators, but nothing in our society suggests that at the moment.

Leroy's Mom said...

Hey Tom, isn't that the same PISA data that Gerald Bracey sliced and diced and found that high end American kids did have composite scores comparable to those in high scoring Scandinavian countries? Perhaps not apples and apples, but I am always suspicious about Hanushek, especially since he seems to have lost all reason on the merits of VAM.

Alice Mercer

Tom Hoffman said...

Well, Google says that Bracey said:

"First, comparing nations on average scores is a pretty silly idea. It's like ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash. Not much link to reality. What is likely much more important is how many high performers you have. On both TIMSS math and science, the U. S. has a much higher proportion of "advanced" scorers than the international median although the proportion is much smaller than in Asian nations.

This was not true on PISA, another international comparison that tests 15-year-olds. Only 1.5% of American students scored at the highest level compared to top performing New Zealand at 4% and second place Finland at 3.9%. Yet the proportion of Americans at the highest level meant that 70,000 kids scored there compared to about 2,000 for New Zealand and Sweden. No one else even came close--Japan was second with about 33,000 top performers. These are the people who might end up creating leading edge technology in the future. Who cares if Singapore, with about the same population as the Washington Metro Area, and Hong Kong, with about twice that number, score high? There aren't many people there. (And, as journalist Fareed Zakariya found out, the Singapore kids fade as they become adults. More about that in a moment). The bad news is that the U. S., on PISA anyway, had many more students scoring at the lowest levels; these kids likely can't compete for the good jobs in the country."

Actually the only really dishonest thing about this analysis is acting like it is some kind of novel analysis. It's all pretty self-evident stuff.