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Friday, May 1, 2009


Today's Buggy Topic

It's found in a thread in one of the NY Times blog-forums, this one on education.  The thread itself, which started three days ago --- and has hundreds of posts --- was inspired by a Times' article on the educational achievement gap between white American school kids compared with their black and Hispanic colleagues . . . at any rate, through grade 12.  Click here for that article and be sure to click on and enlarge the diagrams in the box on the left sidebar.

The Discouraging News

What the article shows --- nothing new for those who follow the topic, but well presented and with some useful interview-quotes --- is that the gap between black and white school performance as measured at ages 9, 13, and 17 noticeably narrowed between 1970 and the end of the 1980s, only to grow again and to remain more or less stuck where it was at that point. 

At the educational blog of the Times, four educational specialists commented on the failure of the gap to narrow . . . followed by the hundreds of posts that ensued.  By the time prof bug had found and posted in that thread, it was already filled near the bottom of page 9.  What he tried to show with his bugged out analysis was that there was a confusion in most of the posts between two topics: the one inspired by the article on the black-white-Hispanic gap, and the topic of alleged American educational mediocrity compared to other countries.  The latter, just assumed --- and backed by no hard evidence and lots of anecdotal stuff --- happens not to be the case. 

How So?

If you deal with the ethnic-racial gap in the Times article, then if you go to the results of the international exam in scientific, mathematic, and literacy performance across 57 countries --- 30 of them industrial countries in the OECD (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development) --- you will find that those results for the latest of these exams, administered in 2006, shows a very different outcome of the American educational performance for white school kids age 15 compared to their black and Hispanic counterparts.

Specifically, as prof bug shows following the same breakdown by ethnic/racial classification that the Department of Education provides, the US overall performance in scientific and mathematics literacy raises the US comparative performance from 21st from the top --- and about 13 points below the average for the 30 industrial countries in Europe, North America, and Pacific Asia --- to 7th, with American white 15 year olds outperforming Koreans  and just a tad below the Dutch and Australians.  (As prof bug observes in his post, the differences between these three countries may not be statistically significant: you can't be sure with a likelihood of 5% or less that those differences aren't due to random chance).

Click here for the buggy post, with all the evidence and the link to the Department of Education study of the 2006 exams (known as Pisa and administered every 3 years).

Please Note

Prof bug's post is found at the bottom of page 9, no 214, with a date of May 1, 2009 at 4:44 pm.  The link to the thread should take you to that page, and the post is under the name of Michael Gordon, the alias for the buggy professor.  For the moment, the post --- probably because of its length --- has to be approved by the Times moderator, and prof bug will check tomorrow to see that it was approved.  No reason why it shouldn't be.  It's straightforward factual analysis, drawing on our Department of Education findings. 

Some of you might want to go to page 1 of the thread.  It's there that you'll find the comments of the four educational specialists.