“This Study PROVES..."
The fine folks at B4K have a great advantage over schlubs like me: they are unencumbered by the doubts that come from thinking about stuff...
WHAT HAS MORE IMPACT ON POOR KIDS: NEIGHBORHOODS OR SCHOOLS?
A RECENT HARVARD STUDY SHOWS SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS MATTER MORE.02/12/13This is the question asked and answered by Harvard economics professors Roland Fryer and Lawrence Katz in their recent study (here). The short answer is: good schools and good teachers matter more.
Oh, well, that's settled then! On the basis of one study, we now know that teachers matter more than neighborhoods! Great! Let's move on...
Uh, but before we do, could we look at page 10 of the actual study?
So when per capita income increases for a neighborhood, test scores rise in what appears to be an incredibly strong correlation. Hmm... do you think there might be more to this than the "short answer" B4K is selling?
I was less interested in the paper than the citations, which included some really interesting studies. There does seem to be some good evidence that if you change a child's neighborhood - but don't change his family circumstances or the family income level at his school - there won't be much of an effect on his test scores.
Should that really surprise anyone? And does this at all show that teachers "matter" more than neighborhoods?
In one of the studies cited, families got vouchers to move to higher-income neighborhoods -but the schools weren't populated by students whose families had higher incomes. Well, that suggests to me that the new neighborhoods weren't that much different from the old neighborhoods. Yes, there were changes in other outcomes like adults' physical and mental health - great! But maybe larger changes are necessary to affect educational outcomes; maybe incremental changes in environment just aren't enough.
But that doesn't mean that environment isn't important. If you're going to argue that the chart above doesn't matter - and, indeed, that is exactly what B4K is saying - you need to put forward a logical counter-theory. You need to spell out the differences between high-performing and low-performing schools other than socio-economic status.
Now, B4K has a pretty simple agenda when it comes to public schools:
- Charters, vouchers, and various other forms of "choice."
- Merit pay.
- Value-added teacher evaluations.
- Gutting tenure and pretty much eliminating seniority.
- Weakening credentialing standards.
- Publishing teacher evaluations (no, really, they want that. Honest.)
- The neighborhood the child lives in is a reflection of his or her family's socio-economic status (SES).
- The neighborhood school is a reflection of the neighborhood families' SES.
- Moving a family to a marginally "better" neighborhood - a neighborhood not "better" enough to have a "better" school - will have little impact on academic outcomes, especially if the SES of the family doesn't change.
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