I was re-reading the opinion piece in which Stanford professor Sean F. Reardon said “It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students”, and I was thinking of some of the other references to data which make the same claim. So I picked up the book “Freakonomics” and I noticed these references to outcomes related precisely to the urban/suburban school issue. (Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind here is that the authors have no dog in this fight, the “urban v suburban” living typology, the point of the book is to show where popular wisdom is demonstrably wrong.)
p 158 “So what did the data reveal? The answer will not be heartening to obsessive parents: in this case school choice barely mattered at all….the students who won the lottery and went to a ‘better’ school did no better than equivalent students who lost the lottery and were left behind.”
p159 “What appears to be an advantage gained by going to a new school isn’t connected to the new school at all. What this means is that the students-and parents-who choose to opt out tend to be smarter and more academically motivated to begin with. But statistically they gained no academic benefit by changing schools.”
On pages 160-166 the “black-white testing gap” is analyzed wherein the authors claim that most of the “gap” is explained by the fact that a disproportionate number of black students come from low-income, low-education households, but even when those factors are accounted for “bad schools” explain the gap which persists. The issue there is that the logic is circular, though I wouldn’t disagree with the claims: students in “good schools” do better than students in “bad schools”. Isn’t that the definition of a good school? What the Donahue Institute data from the MCAS program showed is that sometimes “good schools” (Ones that improve on the outcomes demographics would indicate are probable) are located in cities, and “bad schools” (Ones in which students underperform their demography) are located elsewhere.
Continuing on with the authors of “Freakonomics”:
p168 “A child whose parents are highly educated typically does well in school; not much surprise there.”
“Matters: The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status
Doesn’t: The child’s parents recently moved to a better neighborhood.”
“A high socioeconomic status is strongly correlated to higher test scores”
p 169 “But moving to a better neighborhood doesn’t improve a child’s chances in school…because a nicer house doesn’t improve math or reading scores any more than nicer sneakers make you jump higher.”
(He should have replaced “nicer house” with “better” school. That is really the point, no parent moves to a “nicer house” in a “better neighborhood” because they believe the wainscoting will improve their child’s education! Notice “better” means assumed to be better because test scores are higher because the students who attend the school come from wealthier homes, better WITHOUT the quotes means that the school improves on demography…the only definition which has any educational significance.)
The authors conclude by saying: “It isn’t what you do as a parent; it’s who you are.”
An example of a thing you “do” would be choosing to live in an urban neighborhood, and that is one of the things which “it” isn’t.