This provocative new study from Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance and Education Next debunks the myth that “other people’s children” are the ones who are lagging behind where achievement measures are concerned. That myth is pervasive and one that brought me to the table of education activism more than a decade ago.
I continue to have a very tough time convincing school officials that “other people’s children” aren’t the only ones not reaching their educational potential. The results of this study further that argument.
While this study focuses on international and state comparisons, I have pulled out the information relevant to Alabama.
In this article about the study, the authors purport the following:
Lacking good information, it has been easy even for sophisticated Americans to be seduced by apologists who would have the public believe the problems are simply those of poor kids in central city schools. Our results point in quite the opposite direction. We find that the international rankings of the United States and the individual states are not much different for students from advantaged backgrounds than for those from disadvantaged ones. Although a higher proportion of U.S. students from better-educated families are proficient, that is equally true for similarly situated students in other countries. Compared to their counterparts abroad, however, U.S. students from advantaged homes lag severely behind.
Comparing Countries and States
In order to compare countries and states, the study crosswalks the 2011 8th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores (an American non-high-stakes benchmarked test) with the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores (an internationally-benchmarked test given to 15-year-olds).
Those two groups collectively represent the Class of 2015. The authors further break down the results by the level of education of the parent(s) of the student. Their reasoning for doing so is simple:
The important question to ask is: Do students of similar family backgrounds do better in the United States than in other countries? It is that apples-to-apples comparison that we undertake….
The resulting crosswalk is fascinating, as the authors produce rankings that include countries and states. See the example for “all students” (no differentiation by parental education level) below. Other country/state charts are available in the full study.
Charts are also produced by parental education level. Parental education levels are as follows:
- Low – No parent received a high school diploma
- Moderate – At least one parent received a high school diploma
- High – At least one parent obtained a college degree
Here is an example of one of those charts. See the full study for the rest of the charts.
Comparing States Only
We all understand rankings, right? So rather than list all of the countries and states that Alabama’s 8th-grade students lag behind, what we need to understand is portrayed in the following table:
Alabama’s students in families with a low level of parental education actually seem to be doing better, as indicated by rank, but not proficiency, than a lot of other states (particularly in reading). But the students from families with a moderate or high level of education still fall near the bottom.
What does this mean to you? The reality of the data should mean something. Thoughts are roaming through your head. What are you thinking? Let’s discuss!