Most Students in Big Cities Lag Badly in Basic Science, and the reason seems largely based on economics and race:
while Atlanta was below the median in the ranking of urban performance, its white fourth graders not only did better on the exam than did 86 percent of fourth graders across the country but also outperformed the nation’s white fourth graders as a whole, who reached only the 62nd percentile. At the same time, the city’s black fourth graders were in the bottom 22 percent of fourth graders nationwide — two points below the national average for blacks.
I’ve seen studies (and can’t recall where now) that show parental income to be the best predictor of a child’s academic achievement and of lifetime income. Racial disparities in income can make it difficult to parse out those differences in practice.
The finding that urban areas do worse than other areas is not novel. The assessment of Kansas educational costs last year found that getting comparable achievement from high-density urban areas would cost more than in less urban areas with comparable racial/ethnic and income levels.
Addressing that disparity ought to be a major focus of educational policy, followed by efforts to raise the overall quality of education. After all, education should raise all boats, and it won’t do that until we understand why low-income, high-density areas underperform other areas.
Which is why I found it odd that the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents the nation’s largest school districts, “call[ed] for national standards in science, and in reading and math as well.”
Michael Casserly, the group’s executive director, acknowledged that political resistance to national standards was strong in a nation that generally considers education a prerogative of localities. But Mr. Casserly said such standards would lend clarity to efforts to improve achievement.
What would really improve achievement would be better support and training for teachers. Recruiting the best teachers for urban schools is a perennial challenge, and it won’t be solved by national science standards.
That said, I can’t say I understand why the outline of school curricula is not standardized. Science, math, history and literature are all the same in Kansas as in New York, and there’s no reason that someone moving from one state to another should have to worry about getting out of sequence as far as basic knowledge. The insistence that educational decisions be made as locally as possible seems anachronistic and counterproductive.