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Three Unexpected Data Points Describe Elementary School Quality 343

Posted by timothy
from the real-estate-value-is-a-simpler-proxy dept.
garthsundem writes with a link to his story in Wired, according to which "Test scores and student/teacher ratio are nearly meaningless. But three new numbers do describe school quality: 1. (Test Scores/Parent Education): How do scores outpace expectations? 2. Test Score Growth: Any single score can be socioeconomics, but growth is due to the school. 3. (Teacher Salary*%Highly Qualified/Teacher Age): The best teachers will become highly qualified early, and will gravitate toward the best paying jobs." These factors seem to be at least interesting starting points; if you've shopped around for elementary schools, what else did you consider?
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Three Unexpected Data Points Describe Elementary School Quality

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  • Test Score Growth (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ShavedOrangutan (1930630) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @11:32AM (#38981821)
    My wife is an excellent teacher who left a prestigious private school for gifted kids and went to a school in a very low socioeconomic area. Why? She said the kids at the gifted school "Just got it" and there was no challenge for her, professionally. Now the students can't spell their names the first day, but thanks to the hard work of a lot of very good teachers, they are average when they leave. Sure, test scores are lower than at the gifted school, but the kids have made a lot more progress.

    Oh, her #1 advice to parents of her students: READ TO YOUR KIDS EVERY DAY!
  • I shopped around (Score:5, Interesting)

    by davidannis (939047) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @11:34AM (#38981859) Homepage
    and put my child in an inner city school because they have an immersion program for a foreign language. This gives him a chance to learn while his brain is still primed to acquire language. Sure, I pay a price - they sent him home once with pages xeroxed from a book because they didn't have enough money for books for all of the kids (with a note asking me not to let him color on the pages because they couldn't really afford copies either) but he is ahead of where either of his two older brothers were at the same age (in an affluent suburban district). There is more about my choice here: [] In general the education establishment pays little attention to what they know works. There is plenty of evidence that later starts for high school, teaching language earlier, abolishing DARE, and feeding kids healthy, less processed foods would help and be inexpensive. Unfortunately the schools are aught in culture wars and battles over union rights.
  • by Walter White (1573805) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @11:42AM (#38982023)

    I've always considered the single most important determinant in scholastic success to be my involvement in our childrens education. I didn't consider home schooling because I didn't have the time or inclination to do so and I wanted our children to be in the social situation that school provides. My involvement was twofold. First is helping with homework and asking about what is being taught. Second is adhering to practices that emphasize the value of education. For example, we never pulled our children out of school for an extra day or two of vacation. That simply sends the wrong message.

    I suspect the parent was not meant to be funny.

  • by Picass0 (147474) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @11:59AM (#38982313) Homepage Journal

    It's unfortunate that politicians and bible thumpers have added a stigma to the idea of parents helping their children learn. I also get sick of parents who pretend they are doing their kids a favor by sheltering them from big bad public schools. I imagine the majority of parents who home-school are really dropping a stack of books in front of their kids and telling them "do it".

    Parents involving themselves in their children's learning makes a difference. I don't pretend to be an educator and I think my kids have decent teachers. My two very bright girls attend a public school and there's no doubt in my mind they will someday plot to take over the world.

    I have two children in 3rd grade at a local elementary. A typical evening it takes ~one hour to help them both with homework. That homework always includes a short book followed by writing a paragraph about the story. Next there's a list of 20 spelling words they must memorize for a Friday quiz. Recently we've been working on division and multiplication flash cards as they are doing timed tests. I also stuck an app on their itouchs with timed math games. They also bring home a "blue sheet" which must be signed every evening where my wife or myself pledge we reviewed and assisted with homework.

    Every semester my wife and I are surprised by the number of other parents who skip parent-teacher conferences.

  • Nuns (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Stargoat (658863) * <> on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:12PM (#38982495) Journal

    I expect that the very best education comes from nuns. I found that Catholic school prepared me for the real world far better than my public school counterparts. Catholic school students learned more and were better at applying their learning to real world situations.

    If it weren't for the anti-Catholic bias in America society (a bias that rivals that of African Americans: and I can easy prove it. 40% of American is Catholic, but we've had only 1 Catholic President, whereas 13% of America is African American, and we've had only 1 African American President), Catholic students would be ruling the country.

  • by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:18PM (#38982615)

    yup. Books in the home is another interesting metric.

    Steven Levy addressed this in his book "Freakonomics". He found that although "books in the home" is correlated with better performance in school, once you correct for the IQ of the parents, it actually makes no difference at all.

    People come up with a lot of "theory of the day" explanations for improving education, but the biggest determinants of a child's performance are the IQ of the biological parents, and their birth weight. Instead of spending billions on the schools, maybe we should first spend 0.001% of that on folic acid supplements for pregnant women, and encouraging breast feeding. It would make a bigger difference.

  • by hierofalcon (1233282) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:22PM (#38982667)

    If you want to know where to send your kids to elementary school, get to know some junior high or middle school teachers and find out which elementary students are best prepared for junior high or middle school. You can do the same thing at high school if you need but the choice of the middle grades is less important than elementary. Obviously, you need to know the teacher making the comments, but the teachers I know will give you an honest opinion if you ask. You may have to cut through some bureaucratic double speak.

    Obviously this really doesn't matter if you don't have open enrollment. If you don't, then you have to decide where to live first as that will determine everything else.

    This isn't a guarantee. The teacher that was doing a great job might leave or retire. Several might get fed up with the administration and leave. Great new teachers might transfer in somewhere else. But it will give a general overview as a starting point.

    One of our elementary schools decided to try a radical new approach to teaching. Everything would be electronic. No books. The kids hated it. The school system is still trying to give it a chance - bureaucracy and institutional inertia being what it is. Few enroll there since it isn't working and they can't understand why.

    All parents should be involved in their kid's education and should pick up the slack teaching concepts the kids aren't getting at school. Having said that, I'm a firm believer that home schooling is the wrong approach for 90% of the kids and parents who try it. It gets worse the more kids you have and the higher the grade level you try to teach.

    My wife and I have four degrees between us, but you can't be an expert in enough things to teach them all subjects well. Trying to teach multiple kids at the same time holds the older kids back (but may help the young ones). Worst, if you can't actually teach or one of your kids just doesn't connect with you as a teacher, they are doomed. At least a bad public school teacher is just for one course or one year at the most. If they're all bad, find a way to go private or move someplace where the schools are good.

    My last pieces of advice - make sure to get your children's eyesight tested if there is any doubt. Make sure their eyes track properly (take a pencil and slowly move it towards their nose and then from side to side a few times watching their eyes to make sure they track smoothly). Make sure they hear. Make sure they attend school. Check on their performance and keep them working. Help them to develop a love of books and reading - it will do them a world of good in school and in life as well. Get your noses out of your cell phones and video games yourselves and demonstrate good traits yourself to your kids.

  • by networkBoy (774728) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:25PM (#38982691) Homepage Journal

    We seriously considered homeschool, we settled on one school and entered open enrollment. We were waitlisted, so we went homeschool, until our position in the waitlist came up. The tipping point was that in homeschool it is harder to give your children a real world social education. You will sign them up for Soccer, Swimming, Baseball, Whatever, but this will be full of kids with reasonably like minded parents, which means your kids will be exposed to a relatively homogenous social environment. The world is not like that.
    Our outlook is that school is primarily for the social education: pecking orders, dealing with bullies, understanding that differences in race, creed, socioeconomic status are not bad. Hard education (reading, writing, arithmetic) are actually secondary and are taught at home through the "unschooling" methodology whenever possible.
    In a nutshell unschooling is the idea that simply drilling math, science, etc. into a child's head is likely to make them resentful of the subject. Instead use applied math when doing fun things like cooking (an excellent way to teach reading, fractions, weights, measures, burn treatment, and first aid). Similar applied education when shopping, going to the zoo, having a pet and accounting for the costs involved, etc.
    The upside: Very smart, reasonably well adjusted children. The downside: requires over double the effort as a parent compared to just dropping your kids off at school every day. The way I look at it, you are a parent, this is a job you are morally required to do.

  • by Mr. Theorem (33952) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:31PM (#38982787)

    I realize TFA is more like the author's off-the-cuff musings and less like a rigorous study, but it does recommend looking at test score growth, and in the process fails to mention something that's both nearly obvious but almost always overlooked when discussing test score growth. When test scores grow, one is by definition comparing the scores that one group of students took on one test to the scores that another group of students got on a different test. With that in mind, there are 5 principal ways that test scores can "go up":

    1. students cheat on the second test
    2. the second test is easier
    3. students who score low on the first test don't take the second test
    4. students, who score high on the second test, were added to the testing group but did not take the first test
    5. more individual students score better on the second test than perform worse on the second test

    Cheating does happen, but it's probably rare. Tests can be psychologically validated to ensure constant difficulty, but this isn't done as often as it should. Nevertheless, #3 is by far the most common and least talked about way for test scores (particularly relative test scores) to improve. TFA recommends looking at the relative standing of a schools 2nd graders and 5th or 6th graders. We'd like to think that the students are being educated so successfully that their performance improves, but anyone making such a claim ought to be required to (rigorously and mathematically) prove that changes in the student population are not the primary cause. There is pretty good evidence [], for example, that the high-profile improvement in the charter school that Michelle Rhee worked at was rather effective at "counseling out" the consistently low scoring students to have apparent test score gains that had little to do with their instructional program. I can well imagine the administrative staff of a school "working with" the parents to help find a school that's "a better match" to their kid's "unique learning style."

  • by Kozar_The_Malignant (738483) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @12:36PM (#38982863)
    The one number that gives you a quick read on an elementary school is the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced cost school meals. This number is readily available. While this is a socio-economic index, it is reliably inversely proportional to the amount of parental involvement you can expect to find in the school population; and parental involvement is one of the most important factors in elementary education. (Yes, my family is full of educators.) While there are obviously going to be exceptions to this, it is a good, quick measure of the school. If you have a choice of one school with 25% free and reduced and one with 85% free and reduced, pick the former. Far more of its kids will be going to college. Far fewer will have parents strung out on methamphetamine or what have you. Far fewer will have serious behavioral issues that disrupt education for everyone.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 09, 2012 @01:19PM (#38983629)

    I think the whole social experience thing is bullshit. When I was in school, I basically got bullied constantly, first for having glasses and I thought that was pretty bad, but it only really started when somehow the word got out that I liked to read. (And this was at a school with a good reputation; I shudder to think what might have happened at a bad-- worse school.)
    The experience has fundamentally put me off people, which may have been a good lesson because people aren't all that great, but there must be less painful ways to learn it. And as I now swim around in professional life, I find that the group dynamics are so utterly different that I find it's been for nothing.
    Where I live home schooling is illegal (for very good reasons that even I, with the horrible experience still a relatively fresh memory, can accept) so, yeah. What I look for in a school is:
    a) No religious education, creationism, &c. in the classroom.
    b) Better science education than I had. The bar was set too low for us and everything we learned can be taught in two weeks, as I found out in university when some friends turned out not to have had any maths to speak of at all. No wonder all the pupils were bored to death.
    c) Good language education. Of all the things I learned this has proven the most useful. Even Latin, surprisingly enough.

  • by snowgirl (978879) on Thursday February 09, 2012 @01:45PM (#38984161) Journal

    Instead of spending billions on the schools, maybe we should first spend 0.001% of that on folic acid supplements for pregnant women, and encouraging breast feeding. It would make a bigger difference.

    Eh... I was born before folic acid supplements were common, and my mom was discouraged from breast feeding (long story, medical condition, her health was more important than any benefits from breast feeding). I am however on the IQ scale a "genius", and I regularly aced tests in education. Standardized tests regularly place me in the top 99%.

    You seem to be to advancing a "theory of the day" as well that folic acid and breast feeding help. Meanwhile, as you noted, the parent's IQ has more correlation with the child's IQ than anything else. This could be because of genetic stock, but as well, just a whole culture and attitude about learning. A high IQ parent has both nature and nurture to maximize their child's IQ.

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