About Those Numbers

I posted last week about the Education Equality Index, first posting their press release and then some analysis based on a post from Bruce Baker.

Today, Education Cities and GreatSchools issued the following statement acknowledging some of the limitations of their data:

“Education Cities and GreatSchools have identified limitations in the interpretation of state-level Education Equality Index (EEI) scores. Our goal is to highlight states, cities and schools that are more successfully closing the achievement gap than others. We are confident that school-level and city-level EEI scores are highlighting success stories across the nation, but we have concluded that the state-level EEI scores are not the best way to compare states. Because states’ absolute EEI scores are highly correlated to the percentage of students in the state who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, we have removed the rankings of states based on the EEI score and pace of change pending further review. We want to ensure that the EEI adds value to the national conversation about the achievement gap, and we plan to further develop the EEI by exploring the possible incorporation of additional national measures. We welcome feedback and will continue to work to improve the Education Equality Index and its methodology over time.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Analytical Gap


Earlier today I posted a press release on the Education Equality Index and its claims about schools in Memphis.

I posted the release without comment or analysis.

Fortunately, Bruce Baker provided some analysis regarding this index and other attempts to compare achievement gaps among schools from different states.

Here’s the bottom line: Income gaps explain achievement gaps. That is, states with relatively large income gaps tend to have relatively large achievement gaps. Likewise, states with more income homogeneity tend to have smaller achievement gaps.

I wrote about this on a Tennessee-specific level when talking about the achievement gap and BEP funding increases:

Additionally, during this same ten year time period, the gap between the highest and lowest scores among districts is clearly explained by the gap in per pupil expenditures among those districts. You spend more, you get better results. The impetus for all this spending was the new BEP formula that sent more money to all school systems. Those districts already at the top were most able to take advantage and boost ACT scores while those at the bottom saw an increase in the number of students taking the ACT, resulting in the statewide slight ACT decline Dunn references.

The districts at the top in spending tend to also be the districts with the highest incomes. Thus, TCAP results often serve as good indicators of the relative income level of Tennessee school districts.

Here’s what Baker has to say:

But these assertions – both the old and the new – presume that comparisons of achievement gaps, either by race or income, between states are valid. That is, they validly reflect policy/practice differences across states and not some other factor.

Quite simply, as most commonly measured, they do not. They largely reflect differences in income distributions across states, a nuance I suspect will continue to be overlooked in public discourse and the media. But one can hope.

Achievement gap analysis is interesting and it tells us something. But, as Baker points out, it is important to be clear about what such gaps reveal.

For more on education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

Bruce Baker on Tennessee

Bruce Baker has taken notice of all the exciting education reforms happening right here in Tennessee. He thinks they are so great, he’s calling them a smokescreen.

You’re welcome to read the whole post. It has neat graphs and everything.  Here’s what I found most interesting:

…what do we know about the great state of Tennessee?

In short, Tennessee is simply NOT investing in schools.  And historically, the state hasn’t invested in schools.  As others have noted, all the education reform in the world won’t do anything without significant investment.

Baker concludes with this brilliant statement (admonition)?

My point here is that we all need to start looking at the BIG PICTURE regarding these state systems of schooling – the context into which new policies, new strategies, “reforms” if you will, are to be introduced. As I’ve noted previously, even if some of these reform strategies might be reasonable ideas warranting experimentation, whether charter expansion or teacher compensation and licensure reform, none can succeed in a system so substantially lacking in resources, and none can improve the equity of children’s outcomes unless there exists greater equity in availability of resources.

Perhaps it is no coincidence, then, that Bluff City Education noted yesterday that Tennessee’s high school graduation rate dropped by 2.2% and that since 2010 (when Tennessee “won” Race to the Top) the state’s ACT scores have remained relatively stagnant.

What Tennessee needs is not more reform for the sake of reform.  Tennessee needs a sustained commitment to investment in its schools.