Friday, September 23, 2005

Lies, Damned Lies, and . . .: No Child Left Behind statistics? That's how it's looking. I'm currently working on a project that requires sorting and analyzing data reported under NCLB requirements. (The data for Massachusetts are here, sorted by county, if you're interested.) The system is pretty straightforward. You can see figures like enrollment, poverty level, MCAS scores (that's our standardized test, for you non-Massholes), and percent of teachers considered "highly qualified." Two things jump out from the data.

First, the "highly qualified" techer percentage doesn't appear to correlate at all with school success. I think it's probably an empty designation, like the teacher with the master's degree who sleeps through class, versus the paraprofessional-certificate teacher's aide who is awake and contributing.

Second, the poverty rates at inner city schools are astounding, which leads me to believe they're being fudged, or the designation is wide-ranging. It's not unusual to look at an inner city school (this "magnet" school, for instance) and see an 83.9 percent "low income" figure. That means that you are buying lunch for 83.9 percent of the kids at that school. Look, I understand poverty. I used to live in the very neighborhood where that magnet school is located. It's not pretty (and neither were the hookers). But I'm sure that more that 16 percent of the families can afford to make lunch for their kids. A hell of a lot more than 16 percent of the kids who went to that school had clothes that were no more than a degree off the fashion curve. Their older brothers all had plenty of bling and enough money for gin or Cisco.

The odd thing is that, while poverty seems to correlate with low MCAS scores, it's not a simple relationship. One school with a 7 percent poverty rate had 40 percent profieciency in 6th grade math. (Statewide average for 2004 was 42.) Another school with a 48 percent poverty rate showed higher profieciency (45 percent) for the same grade and subject. Those aren't the rule, mind you, and it's certainly easy to see how a typical social scientist would look at these figures and "see" the evidence of low-income Americans getting shafted in school. My feeling is that it's more subtle than that.

Another thing: alternative schools. Would you expect a technology-focused school called the "Accelerated Learning Lab" to feature higher math scores? Only 9 percent of their 6th graders were proficient on the math test. Privitization fans? City charter schools were almost uniformly well below average, though not as low as their neighboring public schools. Magnet schools did no better either. (Though, it seems to me, that the argument for both charter and magnet schools still holds water.)

Anyhow, if anything interesting turns up in the analysis, I'll mention it.


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