What doesn’t explain US education outcomes

Really liked this post from Amanda Ripley summing up all the reasons that do not explain educational outcomes in the US relative to other nations:

2. Class Sizes

Around the world, class sizes are not predictive of education results. In the U.S., small class sizes seem to be better for very young students, but as usual, it depends on the teacher and the principal.

3. Time in School

Despite popular belief, most U.S. schools require at least as much instructional timeas schools in other countries. The quality of that time matters more than the quantity. I have seen a lot of time wasted in schools all over the world…. More time may be useful, particularly for kids from low-income families, but only if that time is used wisely (i.e. by giving teachers more time to watch strong teachers teach).

4. School Choice

Around the world, there is no clear relationship between the amount of school choice and competition and students’ performance on a test of critical thinking in math, reading and science. In fact, if anything, school choice seems to be related to greater levels of segregation in some countries.

Here again, the quality of choices appears to matter more than the existence of choices. So investing in the supply of great teachers and principals seems to be more effective than relying on parental demand.

So what matters?  Challenging our students (Common Core anyone?) and investing far more in good teachers:

So what does matter, now that we’ve covered what doesn’t? Rigor matters: the work that kids do, the quality of teacher training, the seriousness of the entire system. That matters in every time zone.

There is more than one way to get rigor, of course. In my experience, the best approaches start at the beginning–focusing on how teachers get selected and coached, how principals are developed and chosen, and how schools and parents work together to challenge all kids to think for themselves.

 

Daily Show on Fox and race

This is awesome:

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s animal photos of the week:

A man rows a makeshift raft to evacuate a pig from a flooded village in Lishui in east China's Zhejiang province

A man rows a makeshift raft to evacuate a pig from a flooded village in Lishui in east China’s Zhejiang provincePicture: AP

Science vs. status quo (high school edition)

Ugh, I’m tired.  Why?  My oldest started high school this week, complete with it’s utterly absurd 7:25 start time.  My own high school started school at 7:30, but I did not recognize until years later that I basically spent my entire high school years chronically sleep-deprived.  Then I got to college, never took classes before 9:10, and knew what it meant to be sufficiently rested.

I don’t know the history of the early high school start times, but when these decisions were first made, we did not have scientists and doctors telling us that these times were simply not compatible with optimal adolescent health.  But now we know.  The evidence on the inappropriateness of these early start times keeps piling up and school districts just keep ignoring it.  Status quo bias is a very, very powerful thing.  Very nice piece in the Atlantic summarizing the evidence on the matter:

These early school start times result in sleepy kids and frustrated parents. But, as of Monday, those kids and parents have the formidable weight of the American Academy of Pediatrics on their side. The organization released a new policy statement saying that “insufficient sleep in adolescents [is] an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.”

“The empirical evidence [of] the negative repercussions of chronic sleep loss on health, safety and performance in adolescents … has been steadily mounting for over the past decade,” wrote Judith Owens, a pediatrician and the lead author of the report, in an email. “For example, an important recent study published this spring by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom documented the positive effects of school start time delay in over 9000 students from eight high schools in three states, including improved grades and standardized test scores and up to a 65 to 70 percent reduction in teen car accidents.”

Lest you thing, “those damn whiny kids (and their whiny parents) just need to go to bed earlier,” it is not so simple:

Moving bedtimes earlier is not going to fix the problem, particularly for adolescents. Teens stay up later not because they don’t want to go to sleep, but because they can’t. Due to the delayed release of melatonin in the adolescent brain and a lack of “sleep drive” in response to fatigue, teens do not feel sleepy until much later at night than young children or adults and have difficulty falling asleep, even when they are tired.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is focusing on school start times. “Although many changes over the course of adolescence can affect the quality and quantity of sleep, one of the most salient and, arguably, most malleable is that of school start times,” it says.

We actually give David supplemental melatonin every night and it generally works (he’s predispositionally prone to insomnia plus he’s got remaining Adderall in his system).  I honestly wonder if parents of most high school kids with these 7:30 and similar start times just shouldn’t be given their kids melatonin every night.  Now, of course, the obvious solution is right in front of everybody with moving the start times, but that is a lot of change.  I do understand the reluctance, but I wish people would listen to the science and their over-tired teenagers.

I think at some point enough school districts will make a change and show a clear relationship to rising test scores that it will finally catch on widely (that would be one good effect of our standardized test obsession).  Hopefully before Sarah goes to high school, otherwise I’ve got 15 years of these early start times ahead of me.

Photo of the day

So, Itchy shared a link to this amazing gallery in a comment in yesterday’s photo.  Apparently a couple of Russian guys love to take photos from the rooftops of skyscrapers in Hong Kong.  Pretty amazing stuff.  This one blows me away:

US vs. UK (police shootings edition)

The Economist on police shootings in America vs the UK:

In 2012, according to data compiled by the FBI, 410 Americans were “justifiably” killed by police—409 with guns. That figure may well be an underestimate. Not only is it limited to the number of people who were shot while committing a crime, but also, amazingly, reporting the data is voluntary.

Last year, in total, British police officers actually fired their weapons three times. The number of people fatally shot was zero. In 2012 the figure was just one. Even after adjusting for the smaller size of Britain’s population, British citizens are around 100 times less likely to be shot by a police officer than Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 the police force of one small American city, Albuquerque in New Mexico, shot and killed 23 civilians; seven times more than the number of Brits killed by all of England and Wales’s 43 forces during the same period.

Wow.  And what could account for this?  How about more guns equal more police getting shot and more police shooting people:

The explanation for this gap is simple. In Britain, guns are rare. Only specialist firearms officers carry them; and criminals rarely have access to them. The last time a British police officer was killed by a firearm on duty was in 2012, in a brutal case in Manchester. The annual number of murders by shooting is typically less than 50. Police shootings are enormously controversial. The shooting of Mark Duggan, a known gangster, which in 2011 started riots across London, led to a fiercely debated inquest. Last month, a police officer was charged with murder over a shooting in 2005…

In America, by contrast, it is hardly surprising that cops resort to their weapons more frequently. In 2013, 30 cops were shot and killed—just a fraction of the 9,000 or so murders using guns that happen each year. Add to that a hyper-militarised police cultureand a deep history of racial strife and you have the reason why so many civilians are shot by police officers

Now, I realize that gun-wise, we are culturally a million miles away from the UK and wishful thinking is not going to get us there.  But in the UK, where for the most part, only criminals have guns, a hell of a lot less people get shot.  And a lot less of those people are police or victims of “justifiable” shootings on the part of the police.  Call me crazy, but that sounds a lot better than America’s gun-infused culture.

 

Where did all the teen moms go?

Loved this post from last week at Vox looking at the rather dramatic, and not well-understood, decline in the teen birthrate.  Sarah Kliff systematically explores each hypothesis and the evidence in favor and against.  Now that’s good stuff, damnit, and hard to imagine many places other than Vox where you’d find analysis like this.  First, the decline and why it’s a good thing:

For five years now, America’s teen birth rate has plummeted at an unprecedented rate, falling faster and faster. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of babies born to teens annually fell by 38.4 percent, according to research firm Demographic Intelligence. This drop occurred in tandem with steep declines in the abortion rate. That suggests that the drop isn’t the product of more teenagers terminating pregnancies. More simply, fewer girls are getting pregnant…

The massive decline in teen birth rates is undeniably good news for public health advocates. Teen mothers are significantly more likely to drop out of high school. Most teen mothers do not receive financial support from their child’s father; 48 percent live below the poverty line. Avoiding early motherhood undeniably opens additional doors in a teen’s future.

But there’s something uniquely frustrating about the recent, steep decline in teen birth rates: nobody knows why it’s happened.

So, why has the teen birth rate gone down so much?  Best guess is a perfect storm of a whole bunch of factors working in concert:

We may have just gotten lucky.

It’s not an especially scientific answer, but it’s one that seems to describe how teen pregnancy researchers view the dramatic slowdown in the birth rate: a collision of lots of trends that all serendipitously happened in the late 2000s and early 2010s.

The recession, the uptick in IUD use, a hit MTV show that deglamorized teen pregnancy — each of these factors could have have caused a small decline on their own. Taken together, it’s possible they caused a much bigger change.

And if that is the case, that doesn’t portend especially well for the fast decline continuing. A few of the factors might: use of IUDs, for example, might continue to rise as the health care law eliminates co-pays for the contraceptive. Cost has often been a barrier to IUD use, as co-pays could range between $500 and $1,000.

The other particulars, however, seem less likely to forecast long-term change. The economy is recovering, and so is the birth rate among older women — it’s possible that younger women could follow. Teen Momstopped airing in 2012  (a Teen Mom 2 series still does exist) and 16 and Pregnant, which wrapped up its fifth season this year, doesn’t deliver the blockbuster ratings it used to.

Researchers are waiting for the other shoe to drop: there’s a general expectation that at some point the statistics have to turn around. “A 10 percent decline per year is not something that happens forever,” said Levine. “I don’t know that it’s necessarily a bad thing if it goes back to the 2.5 percent declines we saw before.”

Anyway, good news for teens and public health, a a great example of Vox doing truly value-added journalism.

Also, Jon Cohn builds off the piece to make the point that free birth control is a really, really good thing (sorry, curmudgeonly conservatives):

Maybe this is a good time to remind everybody why this requirement [the contraceptive mandate] matters so much to those of us who support it. Many conservatives look at the price of oral contraceptives, available at places like Target or Walmart for as little as $9 a month, and wonder why anybody except the very poor would need help paying for it. But numerous studies have shown that even modest co-payments can reduce use of medications, particularly when you’re talking about less affluent people who must be careful with every dollar they spend. That’s the whole point of making certain drugs that prevent medical conditions cost-free. It works that way for diabetes and hypertension and, yes, it works that way for pregnancy. Besides, the most effective and, for some women, the most medically appropriate forms of birth control are intrauterine devices (IUDs). Those cost $500 or even $1000 out-of-pocket. Reducing their cost can have fairly dramatic effects on their usage, if the available research is correct…

Late last week, lots of people were talking about a story by Sarah Kliff, of Vox, on why teen pregnancy has been declining in just the last few years. It’s a great article, well worth your time, but the part that jumped out at me was the much bigger decline in teen births that occurred many decades agoin the 1960s, when the teen pregnancy rate fell by about 25 percent. What changed? The big factor, as social scientists (and friends of QED) Harold Pollack and Luke Shaeferreminded me over the weekend, was birth control. The Food and Drug Administration first approved the pill in 1960.

Birth control.  Good for the users.  Good for society.  Bad for conservatives who want to control women’s sexuality.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 514 other followers

%d bloggers like this: