The Real Lesson of Singapore Math!

By now you’ve probably heard that Singapore and Shanghai are the two places on earth with the smartest kids in the entire world. We can see their PISA scores (go to page 5) are right at the top.

Case closed, right? Whatever they are doing in education, we in the US need to emulate that in order to catch up! Common Core! StudentsFirst! Teach for America! Race to the Top! PARCC! Bust those teacher unions! No more recess! All test prep all the time! Charter Schools! Turn the schools over to the billionaires (Gates, Bloomberg, Koch family, Walton family, and their hirelings and shills)!

But wait a second.

Have you noticed that an ENORMOUS fraction of the low-skilled, low-paid people living in Singapore are temporary foreign workers from various parts of Asia and Africa and are not allowed to bring their kids with them? Those kids are raised back in the workers’ homelands by various relatives, far away, and only get to see their parents at long intervals (somebody has to fly somewhere); back home, jobs are even scarcer and worse-paid, so the parents go elsewhere to try support their families.

Now, everywhere in the world, family income is very, very closely linked to children’s test scores in school. It’s one of the tightest correlations there are in the social sciences, as you can see in the simple scatter-plots I have repeatedly shown in this blog over the past 4 or 5 years. (Try using terms like “poverty” “income” and “scores” together in the search box on this page and be prepared to look through a lot of posts with such graphs, from all over!)

If one-quarter to one-third of the population of a country was legally not permitted to have children in the schools, and it was the low-paying 1/4 to 1/3 of the population, then the scores of the remainder of the kids would, quite naturally, be pretty darned good, since the bottom 1/4 to 1/3 of the distribution just got cut off.

If we systematically excluded the poorest quarter or third of our American student population from taking PISA, we know that our scores would be pretty darned high as well.*

Hmm, maybe the leaning tower of PISA hype is falling.



*Let’s remember that this WAS official policy in many states of the USA up until 1865: a large fraction of the population (guess which one!) was forbidden to send their kids to schools at all and it was explicitly forbidden even to teach them to read privately. When Jim Crow was established from the 1870s to the early 1960s, school facilities for Blacks and Hispanics, BY DESIGN of the racist authorities, so inferior to those for whites that they were a national disgrace. Which is why the calls for going back to the good old days should be so infuriating. There WERE NO GOOD OLD DAYS.

Even more on the widening achievement gap!

Some folks have told me they don’t think the evidence so far of a widening of the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” is statistically significant or even real.  I will let the readers make up their own mind, but the evidence so far definitely belies the boasting, everything-is-wonderful, I-fixed-DCPS propaganda of Michelle Rhee.

Here are two tables and graphs that show how the gap is widening when you compare students in DC public schools, all big cities, and the entire nation who are at the 25th percentile with those at the 75th percentile, in the 4th grade, and in the 8th grade.

(That is, we compare the scaled NAEP math scores of students who only score better than 1/4 of their peers, with the same scores students who score better than 3/4 of their peers. Students at the 25th percentile are also said to be at the first quartile, and are not very high achievers. Likewise, students at the 75th percentile are also said to be at the third quartile; they are relatively high achievers.)

First, the fourth graders:

As before, the green line is for DC public schools. The gap is not huge here, but we do see that the gap in DC public schools seems to be getting a bit larger over the past few years.

Now, the gap for 8th graders:

Here, the recent increase in the size of the gap for DCPS between the top quartile and bottom quartile is larger than in the 4th grade, and to my unsophisticated mind, appears more significant, especially since the ones for the rest of the country look pretty stable. And it’s sad that DCPS no longer beats the average for other large cities.

In the 8th grade, in Washington, DC public schools, there are simply not enough white students for NAEP to present any statistics at all, so I don’t have anything to show you, either.

However, we do have data on income levels, as shown by whether the child’s family is deemed to be eligible for the National School Lunch Program or not. If they are eligible, that generally means a lower family income level (especially per person) than if they are NOT eligible.  First, the data for both 4th and 8th grade students across the nation, in large cities, and in DC public schools, taken directly from the NAEP TUDA report. Remember again that in 2009, charter schools are NOT included.

and, now, a table and graph showing the actual gaps in match achievement at the 4th grade level between students eligible for the national school lunch program, and those who are not:

and, for the 8th graders:

Really remarkable, isn’t it? By race, by percentile ranking, and by income level, during the last 2 years, on every single measure, the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has dramatically increased. But this same trend is NOT found in the nation as a whole, nor in large cities as a whole. That is, it has happened only in DC public schools, ever since Michelle Rhee (and Adrian Fenty) took over.

How and exactly has this happened????

Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 4:22 pm  Comments (9)  
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