Thursday, February 12, 2015

Support/Illumination? Causation/Correlation? Questions/Educators

Hall of Fame baseball announcer Vin Scully, among others, once said: Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination. When it comes to studying the recent school grades handed out for North Carolina public schools, there are some drunks using the facts to support theory without looking deeper at the issue.

A statistical look at the results show lower performing schools had students from lower income levels. The schools with fewer students receiving subsidized lunches, wrote one reporter, did better than the high poverty schools. That’s one statistical analysis of the report card, and the facts are used to support a theory that lower income based schools do not perform as well as schools with higher income levels.

But, is increased levels of subsidized lunches, is attendance by children from lower income homes the reason for the low performing schools? Are these stats pulled from the report card the reason for the results? Is the drunk using the lamppost to prop up a theory but not for elucidation? Lower income families may not have the required resources outside the school system to educate children outside the classroom, an important part of educational development. But is that the problem? Maybe it’s the staff and teachers.

Apex High School in Wake County received an “A” and had a 10% free/reduced lunch rate. Southeast Raleigh High received a “C” and had a 55% free/reduced lunch rate. Is the issue the level of free/reduced lunches. Again, maybe, it’s the staff and teachers. Maybe the teachers at Southeast do not know how to teach in “high poverty” schools, if Southeast is such. As an experiment, next year, transfer the staff and teachers from Apex to Southeast Raleigh and move the staff and teachers from Southeast Raleigh to Apex. Then look at the results. Or it just may be the students. Compare the test results of the 55% of the students who had free/reduced lunch rate against the other 45% to see if it’s the students or the teachers. Maybe there’s illumination in that study.

There’s another old saying that can also be applied: When confused about the difference between causation and correlation, remember that beating a tom-tom during an eclipse will always bring back the sun. Think about it. Is an abundance of students who receive free/reduced rate lunches the reason for low performing schools or is it that those students just happen to be attending low performance schools which receive low grades for some other reason? Or maybe, the low grades received by the schools are due to bad teaching and that leads to lower educated students who grow up to have lower income levels, poverty and free/reduce lunches for their children. And the cycle continues.
-------------------- word of the day
skookum (adjective) [skoo-kuh m]: excellent; first-rate; large; powerful; impressive

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