TIMMS, Alabama, and Massachusetts: States Matter

Yesterday I argued that, if we want a good national educational policy, rather than ‘reform’, we should just have other states copy what Massachusetts does. When it comes to education, the completely unacknowledged issue is the state-to-state gap. Until we begin to grapple with that reality, all of our education ‘reforms’ are, at best, going off half-cocked.

In the past, I’ve compared Alabama to Massachusetts (the snarky version is here; the serious version here). If we break down demographically the TIMMS data for both states, we find us very disturbing trends–these are the science scores:



Across the board, Massachusetts flattens Alabama, irrespective of demography. If we look at ‘benchmark peformance’, which is a fancy way of saying ‘assign cutoff scores’, it’s still pretty stark (for Alabama):


One thing that’s worth noting is that for the less poor schools (< 10% and 10.1% – 25% eligible for school lunch), the standard error around the Alabama scores is high because very few Alabama students attend such schools. That, in and of itself, is a tremendous problem. That aside, this is a catastrophe: the effect of being a white student in Alabama is as great as the historical legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, and discrimination that African-Americans have suffered (and before people argue that Massachusetts whites are wealthier, the NAEP data are broken down by parent education and socioeconomic status, and the same pattern holds there too).

This is a tragedy, and yet there is no discussion of this. Perhaps the answers would be too inconvenient? Maybe things like curriculum matter, and busting teachers unions shouldn’t be a high priority?

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