The Union’s Value-Add
Congratulations to the National Education Association’s Pat Crowley for managing to push his story about Governor Carcieri’s Florida condos onto (astonishingly) the front page of the Providence Journal, which used it as a contextual gotcha against the backdrop of the union healthcare story. (Gee, I didn’t realize that the governor is rich!)
Normally, I wouldn’t have considered this feat worth mentioning, except for a “meanwhile” education story relegated to the Rhode Island section:
College-bound Rhode Island students performed about as well this year as last in the SAT, AP and PSAT tests, it was announced Tuesday by the College Board.
Seniors scored 495 in critical reading on the SAT test, down 1 point from last year; 498 in mathematics, unchanged; and 493 in writing, up 1 point. About 66 percent of seniors took the exam. The scale for scoring ranges from 200 to 800.
Rhode Island students fell below the national average, which is 502 in critical reading, 515 in mathematics, and 494 in writing, the College Board said.
Rhode Island did not fare well when compared with nearby states. Figures from the Associated Press showed that Connecticut’s students scored an average of 507 in math, 506 in writing, and 503 in critical reading. Students in New Hampshire averaged 523 in math and 502 in critical reading. The score for writing was not available.
In Vermont, students scored 519 in critical reading, 523 in math and 507 in writing. The figures for Massachusetts were 525 in math, 514 in critical reading, and 513 in writing.
Scores for Rhode Island seniors who attend public schools were 483 in critical reading, unchanged from last year; 487 in mathematics, down 2 points; and 479 in writing, up 1 point. About 59 percent of the public school seniors in the state took the exam, the 13th-highest participation rate among the states. Figures for private schools were not available.
The College Board said that after two years of declining scores for public school students, the 2008 national scores — 497 in reading, 510 in mathematics, and 488 in writing — stood unchanged. Rhode Island scores, which declined only 1 point in the aggregate, have mirrored that national trend.
In summary, Rhode Island is below the national average in every subject, and our students are even further behind students in the two states by which we are surrounded. Plumbing the data for the public-school/overall distinction for our neighbors, the tale is even more bleak for RI families that can’t secure freedom from RI’s government/union schools:
So, not only do Rhode Islanders in general perform more poorly on the SATs, but there’s a much greater discrepancy between public and private school students, here. Yes, congratulations are certainly due to Patrick Crowley and the NEARI!
I was actually holding off on a trail of analysis that I’d begun because there are more subtle points to be made, and I wanted pondering time, but since Brassband points out in the comments that the above chart shows public school and overall SAT scores (i.e., public school students are included in both), here’s a chart comparing public with private schools:
Apart from the fact that there are relatively few non-religious private schools in Rhode Island, one reason I held off — and the reason I break out religious schools separately even though they are also included in the “all private” column — is that they seem more likely to be a refuge for the average family fleeing the public school system. Note that RI religious schools do better than religious schools in either of the other states.
In the comments, Thomas Schmeling calls the two visuals above “gee whiz graphs” because I zoomed in on a score range. Frankly, that sort of point, when made in isolation, strikes me as rhetorical sleight of hand. Examining the axes to discern what’s being shown is a critical step in reading any graph, but deciding whether it is deceptive requires consideration; it isn’t a given. Schmeling illustrates the validity of my rejoinder by failing to make any argument about whether the tighter distinctions are merited, just implying that they are not.
So here’s the second graph starting from zero:
Except to the degree that it is more difficult to read accurately, that doesn’t cool my response any, because (probably in common with most Anchor Rising readers) I learned from self-interested experience how to read and compare SAT scores. We all look to the labels, approximate a 200-point difference, and know that to be large (although those of us who took the two-subject version might have a skew). Indeed, Schmeling points out the percentage difference of the public and private categories, but the SATs aren’t graded by percentage; they’re graded by point, and comparisons of results in practical situations often come down to 50 points per test. People pay for test-specific training to achieve less advantage than that.
Schmeling’s second point — that controlling for socioeconomic status makes the difference go away — is even more apt to elide the very point under discussion. Firstly, that private schools are able to educate students at a lower cost per student (and a much lower cost per teacher, to my experience) suggests to me that even an equivalent score brings into question the government/union model.
Secondly, consider the method of calculating “socioeconomic status” used in one study that Schmeling cites:
She determined students’ socioeconomic status (SES) by looking at six factors students were surveyed on in the NAEP assessment: eligibility for free or reduced lunch, eligibility for Title 1 funding, reading material in the student’s home, computer access at home, Internet access at home, and the extent to which a student’s studies are discussed at home.
Four of those six measures relate to parental motivation, not to household wealth. My family, for example, sacrifices hugely in order to claim items three, four, and five (and now to afford private school). And although I haven’t seen any studies to this effect, it seems reasonable to me to suggest that the presence of such children has an effect on their peers’ performance. If, as I implied above, motivated working- and middle-class families like mine are going that extra sacrificial mile to escape an unsatisfactory public school system, then those children who are left behind have fewer models for better academic behavior among their classmates.