Saturday, December 13, 2008

Matthew Yglesias is so broad that he even writes about things I know something about

The Inequality Cycle

Achievement gaps in the US education system are an important cause of economic inequality, which is especially unfortunate when you consider that economic inequality is also a leading cause of achievement gaps in the US education system. Chad Alderman writes about the latest TIMSS results:

Despite this progress, the biggest difference in the scores of US students is not between countries, but rather remains within our own. In fourth grade math, the effect size of US students attending high-income versus low-income schools is 1.4 times as large as the difference between US students and the highest performing country. In science, the effect size by income is three times what it is between the US and the leading nation. Income gaps continue to persist at levels higher than all others, and that should be the real story out of these results.

In Finland, by contrast, they’ve happily gotten themselves onto the good equilibrium. Relatively low levels of background inequality and poverty make it relatively easy to deliver fairly egalitarian educational outcomes. Add to that a determination to target in-need students with a degree of extra resources, and this becomes even more the case. And those relatively egalitarian educational outcomes help maintain a relatively egalitarian distribution of wealth and income. Lather, rinse, and repeat. The United States, by contrast, is becoming more-and-more of a class-bound society in which parental SES dominates other factors in determining economic opportunities, helping to reinscribe patterns of inequality over and over again.

I comment

Excellent point. The striking fact about the USA from earlier versions of the study was the extraordinary variance of scores.

Click this link for the gruesome details.

Oddly your wide ranging blog has hit upon one of the very few topics on which I am expert. I have discussed the issue with the heads of the US TIMSS team. They described the experience of discussing their results in Miami. This was not fun, although Miami schools did rank above South African Schools. I would have been irritated discussing them at the self proclaimed "Worlds best School district" which is near Chicago (North Shore or somethind) probably still bragging about TIMSS (plus high school teachers there get paid more than college professors here in Italy).

By the way, the acronym TIMSS originally stood for "Third International Math and Science Study" but the acronym took over so they had to decide it stood for "Trends In International Math and Science Study". Otherwise you would be blogging about FIMSS (notice I don't have to reveal my ignorance as to whether it is the fourth or fifth except I just did).

Seriously though, it is very clear that to fight inequality in the USA the Obama administration has to equalize at least budgetary differences with federal money. Calling it a measure to improve average performance is the way to sneak it past Southern reactionaries (whose constituents will benefit). Actually, they are showing some rationally egoistic regionalism in standing up for Toyota vs GM, so they *might* accept the cash.

1 comment:

reason said...

I remember when you talked about this before, I forgot(?) to comment that the test concentrated only on maths and science and ignored that many countries try to cover a greater range of subjects.