Friday, March 23, 2007

Parsing the Achievement Gap

My initial reaction to the California education report (Getting Down to Facts?, 3/18/07) was decidedly negative. The newspaper accounts emphasized the CA education performance (dismal) and the projected financial needs (astounding). Like the other scribes, I was dismayed. Over the last few days I took the opportunity to look more closely at the massive 1700 page report and now I’m really depressed.

The summary lays out the dismal statistics. The 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress ranked California 44th in eighth grade math, 48th in reading and 50th in science (ahead of only Mississippi) in comparison to the 49 other states and the District of Columbia. Some suggest that California’s position simply reflects the large minority populations in the state. However in math scores, for example, California ranked only 36th for both white students and for children of college graduates relative to their peers in other states. We are proud of the fact that Palos Verdes high school students rank in the top 3% in CA, but how well do they perform relative to districts with comparable demographics in New York or Wisconsin?

Some “Getting Down to Facts” conclusions: Solely directing more money into the current system will not dramatically improve student achievement. Simply introducing more new categorical programs will not produce the desired achievement gains. Our system is not making the most efficient use of its current resources. State policies do not let administrators make the best use of the pool of potential teachers nor adequately support current teachers. And something must be done about the excessive difficulty in dismissing weak teachers.

It takes 1700 pages to explain these obvious issues while making not one concrete proposal to fix the broken system. That will take another year and another million bucks. I have a suggestion: Just fix it! The teacher issues tread on the third rail of union contracts, but all it takes is political will, starting with the Gov and the legislature, to make the needed changes.

And make those changes before spending another extra dollar (or billion dollars) on the system. The relationship between spending and performance is so unclear that the various studies projected costs ranging from a few extra billion dollars to over a trillion dollars. For example, take a district that is spending $8000 per student and has an API of 750. Using the cost function estimates, a fifty-point increase in API (to 800) would require an increase of only $181 per pupil. Using the production function estimates, the same fifty-point increase in API would require an increase of $11,600 per pupil, that is, 64 times as much. And “total estimated costs from the California production function are $1.5 trillion.” Such disparate estimates resemble those coming from the global warming computer.

As a great counter-example, consider the liberal Kansas City judge who ordered that the failing local school district be given whatever amount of money was necessary to succeed. The spending per student skyrocketed to the neighborhood of $40,000. Everything was first class. The result: Grades dropped even lower and the drop-out rate increased.

The most discouraging thing is the realization that five years after “No Child Left Behind,” the major CA accomplishment is the establishment of world class standards and a system of assessment and accountability for schools and students. The problems that existed in 2000 have barely budged.

Parsing the Achievement Gap by Paul Barton synthesizes a large body of research that identifies those factors associated with educational attainment. The picture is daunting because it is clear that educational achievement is associated with home, school, and societal factors, almost all having their roots in socioeconomic forces affecting the country.

Parsing lists 14 correlates of elementary and secondary school achievement, six related to schools and eight related to families.

School correlates are (1) rigor of the curriculum, (2) teacher preparation, (3) teacher experience and attendance, (4) class size, (5) technology-assisted instruction and (6) school safety.

Family correlates are (7) weight at birth, (8) exposure to environmental hazards such as lead, (9) hunger and nutrition, (10) reading to young children, (11) the amount of TV watching, (12) parent availability, (13) student mobility (how frequently children change schools) and (14) parent participation.

Data show that whites (62% of the student population) take 66% of the AP classes while blacks (17%) take 4% of the AP courses. The percent of 8th grade math teachers lacking certification is 13% in non-poor schools but 22% in poor schools. The percent of teachers with class sizes above 24 kids is 22% in low-minority schools but 31% in high-minority schools. Low minority classrooms come 94% equipped with computers compared to 77% of high minority classrooms. The percent of students reporting gangs in school is 16% in predominantly white schools but 29% in black schools.

The teacher issues can be easily solved by assignment and extra pay. Only the unions stand in the way. The AP courses and gangs in schools are related to families.

The percent of babies born with low weights is white 7%, black 13% and Hispanic 7%. Lead poisoning is more likely in black homes (22% contain lead based paint) compared to white homes (6%). Only 2% of white children are regularly hungry compared to 7% of black children. The percent of third grade children who have already switched schools 3 times is 13% among whites but 27% among blacks. Over 75% of white children live with two parents compared to 38% of black children. The percent of children who are read to daily is 64% of white kids compared to 48% of black kids. On the other hand 42% of black kids watch 6 or more hours of TV daily compared to 13% of white kids.

The school system is nearly helpless in addressing these family issues. And these are the issues that drive achievement far more that the school issues. The family issues can only be solved by changing black and poor culture and that has to be done by those communities themselves. We definitely need more Bill Cosby’s.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill -
Fantastic analysis of an exceedingly complex topic. The roots of the problem trace directly back to Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society welfare programs. That made it economically advantageous to be a black mother with out of wedlock children and no job. It allowed black males to skip out of all family obligations. It took 30 years of this until the Republican Congress in 1994 passed the Welfare Reform Act started to turn the welfare ship around. It may well take another 30 years to right the wrongs. Meanwhile we have two generations and probably a third generation on the way whose culture is tied to this welfare state mentality and the accompanying victimization complex of their hypocritical “leaders”. Until a new generation can be weaned off this, I see no hope.


6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, again, I'm proud of you, Bill. I'm going to read the Parsing book.

Coupla questions:
1. If a huge part of the problem is black (and unfortunately also white) culture---and in my mind that's the NUMBER ONE problem--- how much is society going to gain by making it easier to get rid of poor teachers (even tho I agree that'd be a good thing). Will that suddenly fix the problem?
2. Is there anything else that can be done, and what, to fix our nationwide problem, our obviously 2nd rate nationwide problem of how everyone's kids can and want to perform at capability? I'm framing the question, but I sure don't have any good answers other than importing 100 million Chinese--real fast!

3. If the lousy low SES school graduation rates (and poor capabilities of even those who DO graduate) makes a danger for society (more and more education-less kids out there to prey), is the answer just to increase our numbers of prisons and prisoners? say move on up to 4mm from 2mm? I hope your answer is that we can't wait for society to "fix itself."

Now I'm not needling you, but I really think we need a president (Obama/Edwards?) who will bully-pulpit our leaders from all directions of society from religion to commerce to start a'changin our culture (yes, marriage--and yes, perform at their highest possible level).

We do have a great country GDP-wise, but in many respects we're 2nd rate goin' on 3rd rate. Maybe we could profit from not waving the flag so much and instead focusing on how we can do better--black and white.


6:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are suggestions on how to "fix it":
1. Make study hall mandatory in schools. Teachers roam the study halls helping kids who need help. parents can no longer help their children and many don't know or won't care to do so.

2. Require longer periods than 50 minutes on a subject. An hour is minimum for each subject. This means a longer day - when kids go to school at 8 and get out at one -it isn't long enough!! I used to teach from 8:30-3:30 and that included a study hall and lunch. The same can be done today.

3. Make kids responsible for doing their additional homework beyond study hall.

4. Shut off TV and educate parents in the pitfalls of TV!! Babies brains are being wired to the short ten minutes of programming and there is no one there to discuss with them what they see - check the book, the "plug in drug" and see the effects of TV on kids -including the vaunted Sesame Street which is ineffectual for learning unless a parent is there to help the kids learn!

5. Require parents to sign a form each night specifying that their kid did homework.

6. Cut out so much extra curricular - one activity per week is enough. Kids should play! They don't need Chinese school, karate, ballet and piano all in one week!


9:45 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Thanks for the comments and questions.

1. Yes, while poor culture is the major problem with education, there is still the school side. Retaining bad teachers and paying them more than younger, better teachers has a demoralizing effect on the other teachers, students and parents. It is time we turned the teaching industry into a profession. The big problems are fixed incrementally.

2. The first step in fixing the problem is to be honest about the root causes. Yet the education industry's self-analyses are full of dishonesty. For example, the introduction to Parsing contains this remarkable statement: We know that skin color has no bearing on the ability to achieve. We know that they are aware of the 15 point mean IQ difference but they feel it is OK to base a strategy on lies. The revised educational system that we discussed before (the Finland model) does not pretend that all kids can be successful in college and provides a more robust path to trades. It also enables a more challenging high school experience for the top 10% that we need to be highly educated. It would help a lot.

3. Absolutely, we need a president, congressmen, university faculty, intellectuals, who will proclaim in loud voices what the real problems are and demand that they be fixed. I must have missed the Edwards and Obama voices. Moaning about the plight of the poor (Edwards) and giving lip service to reparations (Obama) do not address the root causes. Have you heard Obama praise Bill Cosby or criticize Jesse Jackson? Their solution to the problem is increased welfare. Fortunately, Edwards/Obama have no chance.

Meanwhile, Republicans worked to get people off the welfare rolls, finally starting to break the cycle of generational poverty. Bush vigorously promotes the ownership society, and Black home ownership is at an all time high. Bush encourages marriage and family values as the way out of poverty. Democrats pay no attention, pretend that single motherhood is just the fault of inadequate funding for sex education, and complain that NCLB is not "fully funded." I have little respect for liberal solutions.

I reject the hypothesis that America is second or third rate in many respects. The K-12 educational system is one of the remaining vestiges of soft America, and will be fixed as soon as Americans get fed up with it. All institutions in America, even the military, went through a soft phase but have been hardened by competition. Schools and public employees remain.

12:39 PM  
Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

03 26 07

Bill it isn't Black culture. It is poor culture. The culture of poverty is entrenched among many, regardless of race but hits Blacks particularly hard. This doesn't mean that acting like an ass and making poor life choices is part of Black culture, no more than whites who make poor choices aren't reflecting white culture.

I think we should get away from racial or ethnic classifications when discussing education because nine times out of ten it depends upon mindset. If someone is poor but has motivation and their family values education, they will suceed. The generation of my Grandparents and great grandparents is a testament to that.

I think the first commenter was closest to the truth; there was a shift in the sixties somewhere. The focus became "getting over" on the government, rather than doing FOR the government.

When we moved to Modesto in 1989, I had never seen so many poor whites up close before. This is because the whites that I was exposed to in the Bay Area were often affluent and lived in another part of town. But in Modesto, I met white kids on welfare that lived in trailer parks. You can bet that they engaged in quite similar behavior to what I saw in the ghettos of East Oakland.

Unfortunately, with the mass popularization of NEGATIVE rap and NEGATIVE rock and roll, plebian, gut bucket, baby mamma having, concubining, drug selling and doing foolishness is glorified, rather than condemned as in previous generations.

And I don't believe in beating a man when he is down, but at some point you gotta call a spade a spade. I wish there were more Bill Cosby's who had the CREDIBILITY among all ethnic groups to motivate them into action.

I am sick and tired of seeing people who choose a life of ignorance because they are trying to 'be Black'. All of my Black ancestors would roll over in their graves if they knew folk were acting like this!
Good post.

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget for 300 years they were forced into you want them to act like white people...they don't want to meld into a psychologically sick society and I don't blame them...Brown vs Board of Education came 80 years too late.......

11:17 PM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home