WRITING about the same analysis of Los Angeles public school teachers my colleague referenced yesterday, Matthew Yglesias points to the NAEP mathematics 8th-grade test rankings of different major-city public-school systems, which shows Los Angeles performing below average for black, hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students, as well as for low-income students. Los Angeles did okay with middle-class white students. This reminded me of something I learned a couple of months ago: there are other, perhaps better ways of categorising students than race and income, for the purpose of deciding whether they are being well served by their schools. Specifically, parents’ educational attainment. Taking parents’ educational attainment as a baseline is a very effective way to measure whether a “good” school is really doing a standout job of educating its kids, or whether it’s simply benefiting from a student population that has a head start.
This is largely how the Netherlands’ educational inspectorate (Onderwijsinspectie) has been measuring student baselines for the purposes of evaluating schools since 2006. How they got to this measurement is an interesting story, as Helen Ladd and Edward Fiske of Duke University explain in this paper. First, starting 25 years ago the Dutch instituted a system of funding schools based on “weighting” students: students who came from backgrounds presumed to be educationally disadvantaged got more funding, and schools with large populations of “weighted” students ended up with more resources to try and make up the disparities. Initially, the high weights were given to children from immigrant backgrounds, or to children of poor native Dutch parents with very low educational attainment. But as Dutch politics became more right-wing in the 2000s, the idea of giving more funding to children of immigrants than to children of native Dutch parents became unpopular. Hence the idea of weighting children chiefly according to parents’ educational attainment, which was amenable to both right- and left-wing parties: it still tends to weight children from immigrant backgrounds more heavily, unless their parents are wealthy, highly-educated immigrants, in which case they probably didn’t need the extra help anyway. It also directs more resources to children of native Dutch parents from underprivileged backgrounds, and it defuses some of the racial tensions over school funding.