The Science component of “The Nation’s Report Card” was released today and clearly indicates that we have moved one step closer as a nation in two of our most important goals: Building a large and complacent poorly educated low-pay labor class, and increasing the size of our science-illiterate populace in order to allow the advance of medieval morality and Iron Age Christian values.


The “Nation’s Report Card” is meant to report academic achievement of K-12 students, and is conducted by the US Department of Education as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The current report covers 4th and 8th grade science results, and has some information on 12 grade science, for urban school districts in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore City, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Fresno, Houston, Jefferson County Kentucky, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, Milwaukee, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Diego.

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For fourth grade science, Austin, Charlotte and Jefferson County look like the rest of the nation … scores are statistically the same. For eight grade Austin looks like the rest of the nation. For both grades, all other cities performed below the average for the nation.

The fourth grade results are summarized in this chart:

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The 8th grade results are summarized in this chart:

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The study clearly shows the expected: Poverty determines the outcome of the results, and this is probably exacerbated in urban zones where private schools siphon off the small number of higher-income kids. Just to be clear, it is not the case that low performing students thus become poor, but rather, conditions of poverty cause innumerable problems in school and generate poorly funded schools, which in turn cause low performance, which can then feed back to cause lower performance and sustained poverty.

This is an ideal situation if the objective is to maintain a poorly educated low paid working class.

What is being tested?

The so called “New Science Framework” outlines specific knowledge to be covered in schools and tested on tests such as this one. Here is a summary of the Science Content Areas:

Physical science includes concepts related to properties andchanges of matter, forms of energy, energy transfer and conservation, position and motion of objects, and forces affecting motion.

Life science includes concepts related to organization and development, matter and energy transformations, interdependence, heredity and reproduction, and evolution and diversity.

Earth and space sciences include concepts related to objects in the universe, the history of the Earth, properties of Earth materials, tectonics, energy in Earth systems, climate and weather, and biogeochemical cycles.

The test uses multiple choice and “constructed-response” (open ended) questions. Here’s a couple of examples:

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So, what does the report say needs to be done?

Well, nothing. The report includes the word “poverty” twice in the same paragraph and never does that word occur on the same page as the word “cause” which, in turn, occurs only once. Here:

Although comparisons are made in students’ performance based on demographic characteristics, the results cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between student characteristics and achievement. Many factors may influence student achievement, including educational policies and practices, available resources, and demographic characteristics of the student body.

Clearly, the US Department of Education is keeping their lantern under a hat. The report makes no mention of the success that the increased disparity in income has had in reshaping our educational system. Since the US Department of Education has not bothered to discuss this link, I’ve done it for you. The following is a simple regression of data from all of the districts, showing average fourth grade test score per district on “free and reduced lunch” percentage, which is a very good indicator of poverty:

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For social science data, that’s pretty damn good. Poverty causes lousy education. It’s working great!

Now, if only we can finally do in the Teachers Unions. That is the last thing keeping us from having a true Peasant Society. Almost there. Keep an eye on Wisconsin.

Here’s the website for the report card.

UPDATE: I just attended a press conference with the DOE marking the release of this report. I and others asked questions about causality and what to do about the low scores. All such questions were responded to with a two-pronged approach: 1) We can’t speak of causality because correlation does not equal causality and 2) We think really cool programs in schools will fix this. A third comment was made as well which is encouraging: The data are available for further study.

I asked the specific question: “Can you say anything about increasing wealth disparity and poverty in general and these low scores.” And of course, they won’t say that. This is a Bush-era study after all. The idea of any link between poverty and education was rejected because the present study did not have that in the sample design.

I did not ask the obvious follow-up question: “But… do you not know that performance in schools and poverty have been liked in countless studies?” A small sampling of studies linking SES, health, and education:

Hannon, Lance. 2003. Poverty, Delinquency, and Educational Attainment: Cumulative Disadvantage or Disadvantage Saturation? Sociological Inquiry. Volume 73, Issue 4, pages 575-594, November 2003

Data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) were analyzed to test two competing hypotheses regarding how poverty affects the relationship between delinquency and educational attainment. The cumulative-disadvantage perspective argues that poor youth suffer greater consequences for their involvement in delinquency than middle- and upper-class youth in terms of their educational attainment. Contrary to this perspective, the disadvantage-saturation thesis predicts that delinquency is less con-sequential for the educational attainment of poor youth than it is for nonpoor youth. Results from ordinary least squares and logistic regression analyses support the latter hypothesis. Theoretical and policy implications are discussed.

Brown, Ryan et. al. 2009. Family and community influences on educational outcomes among appalachian youth. Journal of Community Psychology. Volume 37, Issue 7, pages 795-808, September 2009.

Recent research has shown how quantifiable aspects of community context affect a wide range of behaviors and outcomes. Due partially to the historical development of this field, currently published work focuses on urban rather than rural areas. We draw upon data from a longitudinal study of families and health in Appalachia–the Great Smoky Mountains Study (GSMS), and an ethnographically based interview tool–the Life Trajectory Interview for Youth (LTI-Y), to examine the impact of community and family poverty and educational attainment on educational goals and attainment among rural white youth (n=200). Exposure to family poverty and more educated parents were associated with youths’ educational attainment. Meanwhile, both community education levels and parental education were associated with college goal-setting. These relationships were particularly strong among rural white males. This evidence suggests that more attention should be focused on how rural environments affect the lives and life chances of their inhabitants.

Conroy, Kathleen MD; Sandel, Megan MD, MPH; Zuckerman, Barry MD. 2010. Poverty Grown Up: How Childhood Socioeconomic Status Impacts Adult Health. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: February/March 2010 – Volume 31 – Issue 2 – pp 154-160 doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3181c21a1b

Socioeconomic status and health status are directly related across the world. Children with low-socioeconomic status not only experience greater health problems in childhood but also aspects of their socioeconomic status become biologically incorporated through both critical periods of development and cumulative effects, leading to poor health outcomes as adults. We explore 3 main influences related to child’s socioeconomic status that impact long-term health: the material environment, the social environment, and the structural or community environment. These influences illustrate the importance of clinical innovations, health services research, and public policies that address the socioeconomic determinants of these distal health outcomes.

Most of the other questions were from local reporters seeking interesting things to say about their own district’s results.

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Comments

  1. #1 Paco
    February 24, 2011

    I’m having your opening paragraph bronzed. Perhaps in a million years aliens will find it, decode the language, and figure out why our civilization collapsed.

  2. #2 TomS
    February 24, 2011

    You might want to replace the adjective “populous” with the noun “populace”.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    February 24, 2011

    TomS: I always get that rong!!!

  4. #4 UPDATED...
    February 24, 2011

    Updated with info on press conference.

  5. #5 KeithB
    February 24, 2011

    Whoever made that map did not do well in geography. Fresno is no where near the California coast.

  6. #6 Jay
    February 24, 2011

    I have two kids in the Jefferson County, KY school system right now – 6th and 9th grades. There are 22 high schools, of which 4, maybe 5 are generally considered high performing and half a dozen of which have had their senior staff replaced recently for what can euphemistically be called “inability to succeed”. The school assignment plan currently in play for the majority of students breaks the county down along income boundaries (special/magnet programs are excluded from this plan), and the high performing schools are in precisely the areas you’d expect based on what you’ve expressed above, Greg. (The previous assignment plan was based on racial balance, but in Jeff. Co., race and income are, to a close approximation, proxies for each other.)

  7. #7 Stephanie Z
    February 24, 2011

    I got annoyed about that “really cool programs” idea earlier this month: http://almostdiamonds.blogspot.com/2011/02/innovation-or-implementation.html

  8. #8 sdreal
    February 24, 2011

    I have the solution to fix all of America’s problems. All they have to do is make the tests easier! Checkmate World!

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    February 24, 2011

    This was also a fascinating look at U.S. schools and poverty (Mike the Mad Biologist linked to it shortly after I wrote my post, or I’d have incorporated it): http://nasspblogs.org/principaldifference/2010/12/pisa_its_poverty_not_stupid_1.html

  10. #10 Carlisle
    February 24, 2011

    I would be afraid there are people who don’t get the irony.

  11. #11 Brian G.
    February 24, 2011

    Yup. SES matters. It is hard to believe that this needs to be reproved in every study. Or do they not know that this has been done before?

  12. #12 Jared
    February 24, 2011

    Poverty determines the outcome of the results, and this is probably exacerbated in urban zones where private schools siphon off the small number of higher-income kids.

    What about race?

  13. #13 Isabell
    February 24, 2011

    Yeah, Fresno is not an Island off the coast!

    I hope you delve into the data and make more pretty graphs.

  14. #14 Stephanie Z
    February 24, 2011

    Jared, what do you mean?

  15. #15 Charlotte Teacher
    February 24, 2011

    Go Charlotte! We may be in the south but we are not necessarily that stupid!

  16. #16 AliceB
    February 24, 2011

    Witches! Withes!

  17. #17 Jared
    February 24, 2011

    Stephanie: how did race play a factor in the statistics for performance and how did it relate to FRL?

  18. #18 AliceB
    February 24, 2011

    (sorry … see the test questions!)

  19. #19 Stephanie Z
    February 24, 2011

    Jared, in the city data, the performance gap between black and white students was not significantly different than the performance gap between those who do and don’t receive free school lunches. Would you expect it to be?

  20. #20 Mark
    February 24, 2011

    There is a disconnect between saying that you can’t talk about causes but that there are many causes. The null model should be no causes, the data are random.

  21. #21 Jared
    February 24, 2011

    “Still, the report reveals significant achievement gaps among racial/ethnic groups. For the 16 districts with samples of White and Black students large enough to report results at grade 4, score gaps between the two groups ranged from 26 points in Philadelphia to 56 points in Atlanta. Among the 14 districts with large enough samples at grade 8, the White-Black gap ranged from 27 points in Philadelphia to 43 points in Houston. “

  22. #22 Jared
    February 24, 2011
  23. #23 Stephanie Z
    February 24, 2011

    How charming that the board is willing to discuss race but not poverty.

  24. #24 Gabe
    February 24, 2011

    I’m surprised the kids didn’t intercept the report card on its way home as per usual!

  25. #25 OgreMkV
    February 24, 2011

    Just like every research report ever concludes that kids do better in smaller class sizes. The US could probably increase it’s success on these test by 30% just by reducing classes from 30 to 20.

    Yet, what’s the first thing that happens in any budget crisis? Teachers get cut.

    No correlation? Yeah, OK. Whatever.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    February 24, 2011

    Jared, there may not be enough data in this particular study to separate out race but it is generally known that SES is a better predictor of educational attainment than ethnicity or race. In this particular study, and the numbers you show indicate this (I think that reporter was asking about this at the press conference but by that time I had become distracted) there might be a LOT of variation across school districts in race-separated scores, indicating that something about teaching in different districts is more important than race.

    The other variable not touched on in the study but brought up at the press conference is test prep. The tests are designed to be hard to prep for by rote memorization, but they can be prepped for … and, interestingly, in desirable ways. If an inquiry based test is “prepped for” by leaning a bout inquiry based approaches and practicing inquiry based learning, then we are doing something right!

    Anyway, that sort of thing may explain some of the quirkier variations. That and different demographics and arrangements of school districts. Note in the graph I made that there is actually a pretty wide range in Free and Reduced Lunch values. These districts are not all the same at many levels.

  27. #27 Patricia
    February 24, 2011

    I am sure race or ethnicity is a factor in relation to income and all the usual urban-poor related effects. Like the OP says this is a topic with many studies.Disappointing that the people at the press conference live in a Bell Jar.

  28. #28 Greg Laden
    February 24, 2011

    Stepanie, true, but that had more to do with the question. I was the only one at the press conference who asked about poverty. When race was asked about the exact same answer was given. So, I started writing up my UPDATE for the blog post while the actual reporters kept asking their questions (about race and other things) in different ways until finally the DOE people broke down and started babbling.

    No matter what bloggers like to say, there is a difference between a blogger and a reporter. I’m sure they had all had a class in Journalism school in “hounding the source at a press conference” or something.

  29. #29 Stephanie Z
    February 24, 2011

    Actually, Greg, it’s worse than that. I was talking about the official release that Jared linked to.

  30. #30 JL
    February 24, 2011

    Jefferson County, Kentucky (Louisville) gives credit to a grant from General Electric for its high scores. The school board terminated the superintendent at the helm at the time the high scores.

    http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20110224/NEWS01/302240058/1008/NEWS01/JCPS-students-outpace-peers-national-science-test?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Local News

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    February 24, 2011

    So … it turns out throwing money at problems can work! 35 mil is not peanuts.

  32. #32 Kristina
    February 24, 2011

    It would be interesting to see the money part of this study if there is one.

  33. #33 Steve
    February 24, 2011

    The foodweb example question is not inquiry. That can be known wiht simple rote learning.

  34. #34 soothsayer
    February 24, 2011

    We are doomed if our science abilities are so bad.

  35. #35 Jared
    February 24, 2011

    It sounds like race is a large factor, then.

  36. #36 Zach
    February 24, 2011

    So, poverty determines whether a group of school children totally suck as science vs. totally absolutely really suck at science. Dismal.

  37. #37 Andrew
    February 24, 2011

    Jared, it sounds like race is rather important to you!

  38. #38 Donna
    February 24, 2011

    I thought the US was better than that in early grades. I am surprised to see relatively little difference between earlier grades and later grades.

    It might matter that different samples (states) have different timing of when the students take math and science classes.

  39. #39 TracyF
    February 24, 2011

    I taught high school chemistry for 2 years. When I first started I immediately found that the students were not prepared to work and would give any excuse not to study and learn. So I adopted a tough love attitude in which the students had to work hard to pass my class. There were a few students that rebelled all year long, failed my class, and failed the state exam. 99% of my students passed my class, passed their state science TAKS test, and learned how to study. At the beginning of the year, only about 40% of my students were able to pass the last years science exam. I still get emails from my students thanking me for teaching them how to work.

    What appalled me the most during this, was that the parents responses were not supportive to nightly reading assignments and homework, weekly quizzes, bi-weekly major exams, and a project every six weeks. I’d say that at least half of the parents I spoke to stated that I was working their child too hard. I believe that the parenting population in the US has turned into too many parents wanting to be their child’s friend and not their parent.

  40. #40 PoxyHowzes
    February 24, 2011

    A factor not explored here was brought home to me a couple of years ago in Baltimore City, one of the studied sites.

    I was recruited to do a mindless exercise required by the School Board that involved transferring student data from one paper form (the “OLD”) to to another paper form (the “NEW”). This exercise resulted in NO increase in the amount of data, NO evident increase in the data’s usability (e.g., no conversion to optical or other machine-readable form.) It also involved no obvious data-checking (how could it?) such that I had amenuensic control over grades, attendance records, and the like for any number of young folks. I was never vetted for this job in any way!

    What became obvious to me over the course of several days of dealing with dozens of student records was that attendance is a major negative factor in urban schools. Time and again I dealt with a record that showed the student with good attendance and good grades in, say, first through third grade, then a steadily deteriorating attendance record in say, grades 4, 5, and 6. And I mean SERIOUS attendance problems: a (non-contiguous) month or more missed from school in the 9-month school year!

    I concluded that old-fashioned Truant Officers might do more for test performance than anything else I’ve heard talked about on this thread or elsewhere.

    My next hoo-rah with the Baltimore City Schools came when the School Board submitted an internally inconsistent, un-interpretable budget, proving that even the Governor of Maryland and the Mayor of Baltimore couldn’t find fifteen citizens who had enough arithmetic and reading-comprehension skills to run their family finances, much less the School Boards’

  41. #41 kerrie
    February 24, 2011

    might I suggest “Waiting for Superman” for those who are interested in this topic? waitingforsuperman.com

  42. #42 Anonymous
    February 24, 2011

    kerrie, might I suggest Diane Ravitch’s article on “Waiting for Superman”?
    http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2010/nov/11/myth-charter-schools/

  43. #43 Mike from Ottawa
    February 25, 2011

    Of course throwing money at a problem works. If the problem is that not enough criminals are getting locked up, throwing money at police and jails works wonders! Or if the problem is foreigners getting stroppy, throwing money at the military always works. If the problem is the financial system tanks because the financiers fouled up, then throwing money at them in the form of tax cuts works. The only time throwing money at a problem doensn’t work is when the problem is that some people don’t have enough money, i.e. are poor.

  44. #44 Stephanie Z
    February 25, 2011

    Jared, yes, race is a factor–if by “race” you mean differential rates of poverty, differences in interaction with authority (school districts count) based on historical differences in treatment by authories, differences in the degree to which students are subject to direct and indirect racism, differences in parental education, differential rates of being targeted by law enforcement that lead to differences in familial stability, etc. Or did you have something else in mind?

  45. #45 harold
    February 25, 2011

    Hi Jared –

    It certainly seems that you are a coy little racist.

    However, in your zeal to reach and hold racist conclusions, you show yourself incapable of understanding the data or making logical replies.

    Thus, you are either stupid, dishonest, or both. Most likely both.

    Stupid, dishonest and a bigot is no way to go through life, son.

  46. #46 Jonathan
    February 27, 2011

    You’ve just opened up a whole new rabbit’s hole for me to explore! It just devastates me that this is happening. I think it’s clear that we cannot rely on the public school system for much these days.

    Something that kind of sparks some hope is that mobile devices/computers are getting cheaper and more readily available even for lower income people. If kids could find a way to plug into those sources they could get on the web and actually learn something useful. Self-study educational materials online would be great, no?

  47. #47 Jeff
    February 28, 2011

    Jonathan,

    Where in the world do you get “We can’t trust the public education system.” from?

    It seems that the public education system does just as well educating your kids as you do raising them. Most of the children I’ve taught (and I work in a district where over 90% of the students at the high school get free/reduced lunches) that defy the poverty/achievement correlation have families that put them first.

    Read with your kid, do homework with them, and they’ll usually be fine.

  48. #48 Chris B
    March 4, 2011

    Sorry, I guess I am showing my ignorance here, but I just looked at the report data and I am kinda confused. How can the average score for the nation as a whole be 149 at both grades 4 and 8? There are only a couple of scores represented at 149/150 in both datasets, but plenty more down in the 111-121 range – how does that work out to an average of 149?

    The only answer I can come up with (in my ignorance, please let me know if I missed something in the report that can explain this) is that there are many other school districts not represented in this dataset (well, of course there must be) – but if that is the case, then to get an average national score of 149 when the data includes plenty of scores in the 110-130 range, then by inference that must mean there are scores in the 160-170 range. And if that is the case, then why are those data not being trumpeted along with Austin, Charlotte, et al?

    Anyone help? Bueller? Bueller?