Newsflash! “Middle Class Schools” score… uh…in the middle. Oops! No news here!

I’ve already beaten the issue of the various flaws, misrepresentations and outright data abuse in the Third Way middle class report into the ground on this blog. And it’s really about time for that to end. Time to move on. But here is one simple illustration which draws on the same NAEP data compiled and aggregated in the Middle Class report. For anyone reading this post who has not already read my others on the problems with the definition of “Middle Class,” and related data abuse & misuse please start there:

My NEPC Review

My NEPC Response to Third Way Memo regarding Methods

My blog response to the argument that I’m simply a Status-quo-er

Again, the entire basis of the Third Way report is that our nation’s middle class schools are under-performing… not meeting expectations… dismal…dreadful… failures!  Now, setting aside the absurd methods used for classifying “middle class” and setting aside that the report mixes units of analysis illogically throughout (districts vs. schools vs. individual families, regardless of district or school attended) and mixes data across generations of high school graduates, how did they really expect middle class schools to perform? Did they expect them NOT to be IN THE MIDDLE? That seems rather foolish. No, wait, it is entirely foolish!

Here’s one very simple example showing the NAEP 8th grade math mean scale scores of children in 2009 by the percent of children in their school who qualify for the National School Lunch Program:

Rather amazingly, what we see here is that as school level % low income increases, NAEP mean scale scores decrease. Interestingly, the NAEP reporting tool chooses to include anomalous categories of 0% and 100%, which, not surprising, don’t fall right in line. Across the low income brackets, but for the anomalous endpoints, the relationship is nearly linear – with mean scale scores declining incrementally from the 1 to 5% low income group to the 76 to 99% category. Note also, that consistent with my previous explanations, the supposed “middle class” is actually to the right hand side – poorer side – of the distribution.


Whether we as a country are, or whether I specifically am happy with the level or distribution of outcomes in the above figure is an entirely different issue. I might want to see higher outcomes across the board. Personally, I’d love to see the resources leveraged to begin to raise the outcomes on the right hand side of the graph – to reduce the clear linear relationship between low income concentrations and student outcomes.  But I also understand that the national aggregate relationship shown in the figure above has underlying it, the embedded disparities of 50 unique state education systemssome where states are making legitimate efforts to provide resources to improve equity in educational outcomes, and others quite honestly, that have done little or nothing for decades and in some cases have systematically eroded the equity and adequacy of resources over time (well before the current fiscal crisis)!

Fixing these disparities is a large and complex task and one that is not aided by small minded rhetoric and flimsy oversimplified analyses.

9 thoughts on “Newsflash! “Middle Class Schools” score… uh…in the middle. Oops! No news here!

  1. I know I appreciate all of your efforts to bring clarity to topics so grossly misrepresented by those with an agenda.

  2. I think their expectations are that all schools should have high college-going rates and college-graduation rates because, in their world-view, being low-income and all the health and social issues related to that are not really barriers. They are just low expectations on the part of the crappy teachers and status quo unions that support crappy teachers with low expectations. Of course, there is enough research on the effect of poverty on educational attainment to fill Texas stadium n Dallas, but they can’t get approval and foundation money without toeing the corporate line that poverty is only an imaginary barrier that can be overcome through positive thinking and “no excuses” mantras.

    1. And therein lies the difference between desires or preferences and statistical expectations. I do assume that their underlying story line is as you describe it – that low expectations and bad evil lazy teachers are no excuse for a higher poverty group of schools to have lower outcomes than lower poverty schools. But, without full consideration of the various forces at play, that story line, which ignores the relevance of poverty and importance of resources for overcoming poverty related barriers doesn’t really advance the policy conversation – or education “reform” conversations (with a small ‘r’) for that matter.

      1. Nope–it does not advance education reform conversations. But it sure is good for business if you are looking to raise some cash from billionaires in the ed reform game (and I do mean game in the literal sense because I don;lt think these people really understand that they are messing with adults’ and kids’ lives).

      2. Sadly, I actually do think many involved in these efforts – involved in efforts to tear down public education systems by undermining public confidence in them – know full well that they are messing with the lives of adults and kids. My personal encounters suggest to me that many of these hired policy wonks and their funders simply possess an arrogant and condescending disregard for the “workers” in the public education system, as well as a similar condescending disregard for other peoples’ children.

  3. I’m new to the blogosphere so I’m probably just out of touch, but . . .A main purpose of this blog seems to be to make a call for more careful use of evidence and sound reasoning in education policy debates. I applaud this mission and appreciate the considerable effort Bruce puts into moving it forward. (I’ve yet to find a serious bone to pick with Bruce’s entries on substantance.) However, I believe the mission is best served if we are vigilant about painting folks participating in the debate with a broad bush and casting aspersions based on unsubstantiated impressions or suspicions. It seems to me that it would be more constructive to assume, even if we might be wrong, that people who offer opinions and arguments have good intentions. When people who we think should know better draw illogical inferences from data or make plainly fallacious arguments, it is only natural to think about what their motives might be. Arrogance does seem to me a plausible explanation for some of the clap trap coming from some of the reformy types. But still it seems better to me, given the purpose of this blog, to avoid making inferences about motives or personal shortcomings that are difficult to substantiate, and keep the focus on the substantive arguments. But maybe I’m being naive or missing the point of blogging.

  4. I’m enjoying the blog very much since I started reading a few months ago, and am waiting for an opportunity to weigh in. So far, however, most everything you have posted is so well argued, I don’t have much to add. I could be a ditto-head, but I’d much rather find something I could argue with you about. Until then I can only offer comments on style. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks again for keeping me in line. And… if you’d like to start a topic you are more than welcome! I’d be happy to have you ring in first… do a guest post… and let me be the ditto-head.

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