July 23, 2007

The WaPo Editors are Idiots

In an editorial promoting the use of discrimination to achieve racial and socio-economic balancing in school districts the WaPo editorial board make the following highly irresponsible statement:

And the evidence is strong that low-income students thrive in higher-income schools -- in fact, after the socioeconomic status of a student's family, the biggest predictor of academic success is the socioeconomic level of the school. In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress given to fourth-graders in math, low-income students attending more affluent schools scored 20 points higher -- the equivalent of almost two years' learning -- than low-income students in high-poverty schools. Low-income students in middle-class schools did better than middle-class students in high-poverty schools.

First, "thrive" is a poor choice of words. Low-income students do not thrive in higher-income schools. The fact is that they fail in unconscionably large numbers even in higher-income schools.

Second, there aren't enough higher-income schools to place all the poor kids into so that the "magic aura" of the rich kids can rub off on the poor kids and magically boost their performance.

And third, the classification of low -income for purposes of NAEP includes income levels up to something like $40,000 which includes kids who are decidedly not all that poor. The WaPo editors also don't seem to realize that the poor kids in the higher-income schools aren't as poor on average as the kids in the poor schools. It is this differential that is attributable the tiny 20 point difference the WaPo Editors allegedly found in 4th grade NAEP math scores.

It is this kind of misreading of data which leads to silly education policies like that propounded by the WaPo editors. It's not like we don't have decades of busing data showing that this kind of racial balancing doesn't lead to increased achievement.


Bridget Magnus said...

Well gee, if their theory is that "rich kids do well in school and poor kids don't" then the answer should obviously be to give a million dollars to each poor family!

Or alternatively, they could look for the *real* reasons rich kids/rich schools outperform poor kids/poor schools: infrastructure; teacher strategies and training; quality/quantity of textbooks and secondary learning materials; parental involvement and expectations; access to resources outside the school; social and economic pressures. You know, the stuff that is complicated, so it's just easier to think it's a money thing.

Parentalcation said...

Hmmmm... using the NAEP to justify an editorial position.

Do you suppose that next week they will be advocating that minorities drop out of college, since the NAEP shows that black and hispanic kids with parents with some college consistantly score higher than those with parents with a college degree?

No Benefits of College Completion for African-Americans?

Personally, I have no problems with striving for economic integration as long as it is done with choice programs (magnet schools)... neighborhood schools should always be the standard.

Linda said...

Really good point - the poor kids in better schools might better be classified as "broke", rather than "poor". Our family was in that situation while we were in college, but had 3 young children.

Catherine Johnson said...

There's evidence that black children do better in integrated schools; Roland Fryer cites it in his paper showing that black kids do better in non-integrated schools.

I think I read recently (can't remember the source) that the research on this has shifted as the problem has shifted.

iirc, when segregation meant state-mandated segregation black children did do better in integrated schools.

Now that the problem is one of income, I think that effect has disappeared.

But don't quote me....