Emails I Write That No One Answers.

I sent this email to someone up at the Big House in New Jersey back in April 2014 and no one replied.

I was at the AP Calculus reception in New Orleans. I was the one who spoke about the cultural differences between the north east and the south. Cultural differences especially with respect to time needed to process and complete tasks. But of course the issue is much more complex than just the time factor.

I moved to Mississippi 14 years ago so this is not a new phenomenon for me.

You called for ideas to improve performance in the struggling states and so here are my thoughts.

When I was in grad school and took regression analysis, whenever we compared data to try to measure student growth and achievement AND to try to see which variables were responsible for that, we always controlled for socio economic status by using the median home price in a particular district or county. Everyone knows that the best predictor of kindergarten readiness all the way up to AP score and college success is one’s socioeconomic status. Hence, we controlled for it. (The second best predictor is teacher content knowledge.)

To compare Mississippi students’ scores on AP calculus exams to Massachusetts students’ exam scores is all kinds of wrong.

I am sure the statisticians at The College Board could level the playing field and compare states by controlling for socioeconomic status. Better yet, why not compare incredibly rich districts with each other (Wellesley MA, Scarsdale NY, Highland Park TX, Beverly Hills CA) where the median home price is over 1 million dollars and see how they like it. Then you could also compare districts where kids live in public housing or trailers. Then we would be getting somewhere.

The fact is that growing up in poverty doesn’t just mean you don’t have access to books as a two year old and opportunity for summer enrichment as an 8 year old. It means your family has no idea what the road map to college looks like and they doesn’t even have time to figure it out. The teacher quality is not as high, and even more bleak are the recent medical findings (I read about both of these this year in the NYT) that growing up in poverty creates stress that leads to health problems and may even alter one’s brain.

Here’s a fun number to let you ponder. The Per capita income in Water Valley Mississippi (which is actually not that poor compared to other areas in Mississippi) is
$13115. The per capita income in Woodside CA is $120000. That is almost ten times as much.

Virge Cornelius
April 2014

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