Thursday, February 17, 2011

Study's result shouldn't surprise us

Conservatives attacked Clegg for backing “quotas” and “social engineering,” and said admissions decisions should be based strictly on “academic merit.” But backers of the plan suggest that it is more meritocratic to consider economic disadvantages alongside grades and test scores rather than raw scores in isolation. As I noted in a recent blog post, the argument is supported by new British research which finds that public school students with lower entrance exam grades performed as well in college as private school students with higher entrance exam grades.

The article is here.

Two reasons this should no shock anyone. First, private school students can afford tuition so they can probably afford test prep. No student has shown test prep works but it would shock everyone if it didn't. In the U.S. elite schools also tailor their curriculum to tests, or the tests align with elite school curriculum. Either way, that could be a factor in England.

Second, and more importantly, we can think of "education production" as a function of resources, effort, and innate ability. Private school students have more resources in high school, so they have higher standardized test scores, all else equal. When a private and a public school student attend the same college, however, the resource gap closes. If the scores used to be equal then the public school student's output is now going to be higher than the private school student's. Private school students also tend to have better parents, who force them to put in more effort. A public school student with worse parents will put in less effort, on average, which means they must have more innate ability to achieve the same test scores. The resource gap leads me to strongly back school-based affirmative action. The effort gap makes me a little cautious about a strong policy since it incentives a shift toward lazy parenting.

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