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Education and Poverty

Jonathan Livengood writes:

There has been some discussion about the recent PISA results (in which the U.S. comes out pretty badly), for example here and here. The claim being made is that the poor U.S. scores are due to rampant individual- or family-level poverty in the U.S. They claim that when one controls for poverty, the U.S. comes out on top in the PISA standings, and then they infer that poverty causes poor test scores. The further inference is then that the U.S. could improve education by the “simple” action of reducing poverty. Anyway, I was wondering what you thought about their analysis.

My reply: I agree this is interesting and I agree it’s hard to know exactly what to say about these comparisons. When I’m stuck in this sort of question, I ask, WWJD? In this case, I think Jennifer would ask what are the potential interventions being considered. Various ideas for changing the school system would perhaps have different effects on different groups of students. I think that would a useful way to focus discussion, to consider the effects of possible reforms in the U.S. and elsewhere. See here and here, for example.

P.S. Livengood has some graphs and discussion here.

2 Comments

  1. Mark Palko says:

    As I commented at Jonathan's blog, it's important to look at PISA and TIMSS and other measures when discussing international ranking, particularly given that I believe PISA data only goes back to 2000. This doesn't invalidate his analysis but it is one of those standards we need to start adhering to.

  2. statc says:

    I definitely agree. For, myself, have observed kids in different parts of the U.S. and saw how poverty has played a role. But I was wonder, can poverty be a motivation factor for the kids.
    The kids who had to try their hardest often end up getting farther.
    For another example, in NFL, some of the best players were drafted in 6th rounds. Conversely, the ones drafted in the 1st round, were very good, but un-coachable in the end.