osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Link Harvest: Today's Washpo

Two items of interest on the front page. One is the report on the AAUW study on gender and primary education. The other is this on the complication on the switch to DTV.

The AAUW study: The reporting is interesting in no small part because while the actual study seems to indicate that gender is much less relevant in determining educational outcomes in primary school than income, and that there do appear to be significant measurable differences in secondary education (men account for only 43% of college graduates, and on average have significantly lower grade point averages) the reporting and the motivation for the study (according to quotes from the chief researcher) are really about politics. To wit "dispell the notion" that there is a "crisis" in boys education. Thus, while the statistics for primary school seem to bear out that income is more determinative and that the gaps that persist are persistent over 3 decades (e.g., girls do better on average when tested for literacy/reading comprehension, boys do better on average when tested for math), the reporting is done in such a fashion as to make me raise an eyebrow and question the study and its conclusions. For example, the report concludes:
¿ A literacy gap in favor of girls is not new, nor is it increasing. Over the past three decades, the reading gap favoring girls on NAEP has narrowed or stayed the same. Nine-year-old boys scored higher than ever on the reading assessment in 2004; scores for 13- and 17-year-old boys were higher or not much different from scores in the 1970s.

¿ A gender gap still exists favoring boys in math, especially among 17-year-olds on the NAEP.

Bullet one and bullet two, when you clear aware the verbiage on bullet one, say basically the same thing: there is a persistent gender gap for boys for reading, and for girls for math on the standardized measure. That's actually an interesting observation for over 3 decades worth of varying teaching styles and teaching environments. But that point is obscured by the phrasing, which is designed to minimize the gap on literacy testing and emphasize the gap on math testing (a point stressed again in the article, which discusses the analysis for the "math gap" at length and generally lets the "literacy gap" fall by the wayside.

And, I confess, I am troubled by this buried in Paragraph 15 or so.
AAUW's study does show female students outperforming male students in some measures. Women have earned 57 percent of bachelor's degrees since 1982 and outperformed boys on high school grade-point averages. In 2005, male students had a GPA of 2.86 and girls, 3.09.

The proportion of young men graduating from high school and earning college degrees is at an all-time high, the study notes. "Perhaps the most compelling argument against a boys crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace," the report says.

That's a very significant difference, particularly as measured by GPA. I cannot imagine a study that found that women got a "B-/C+" average in college while men got a "B" average, or that women only constituted 43% of all college degrees, being treated in such a blase fashion. Especially in light of the study's other finding that there is virtually no gap between men and women entering college.

To me, that points to something going on in college. Somewhere along the line, a statistically significant number of men drop out of college, and appear to to worse in college over all. That may have nothing whatsoever to do with primary school education. (For example, if higher earning power for men influenced the decision on remaining in college or leaving college for employment.) The arguments offered in the second paragraph are, to be frank so utterly unrelated to the phenomena studied as to suggest a strong desire to arrive at a predetermined result. "The proportion of men graduating from high school and earning college degrees is at an all time high" merely tells us we are at a population boom. It is like saying "we have never had more people in America working" when the unemployment rate is rising. Mixing comparatives and absolutes is a classic "lie with statistics" technique, and a sudden unjustified switch from one benchmark to the other trips my bogousity meter.

Similarly, statistics about post-college graduation pay gap are not relevant to the quality of education. The statement "Perhaps the most compelling argument against a boys crisis is that men continue to outearn women in the workplace," is the most absurd sort of misdirection and is even more of an indicator of ideological bias trumping research. As an initial matter, it would be relevant to break out the wage information by classification of employment to determine where the wage gap enters. It is rather different if the problem is that a disproportionate number of men are graduating from programs that rely on math and hard science and therefore have higher salaries because programming for Google pays better than the kind of job you get with a history degree, whether graduation statistics from elite universities are different from graduation statistics as a whole, or whether the it is simply that gender has impact on base salary even within the same field or the same company.

But I can find no way to connect back salary information to quality of education, particularly in light of the troubling secondary education statistics. It appears to be an argument that "there isn't a crisis in educating boys because men earn more than women and therefore don't need a good education."

On the positive side, what the study appears to show is that there is no crisis in education -- at least not in primary education -- based on gender. Indeed, the reading gap favoring girls and the math gap favoring boys appears quite constant over three decades, despite consistent efforts to address the matter. Whether we like the educational outcome or not, something 3 decades old can hardly constitute a crisis.

Still, if the goal is to displace "myths" with "facts," as the chief researcher is quoted as saying, the study hardly inspires confidence.

DTV Transition: Worth a read on the problem of the digital "cliff effect." DTV is an all or nothing signal. When it comes in, it's great. But when it fails, the signal breaks up rather than getting fuzzier. The result is that people used to getting out of market signals are losing them -- a matter that has generated considerable debate in policy-land as to whether broadcasters are entitled to extend their official coverage areas to match their unofficial coverage areas and what signals need to be protected to allow unlicensed devices to operate in the television white spaces. This policy debate is not covered in the Post story, which is focused on consumer impact. But it is still interesting.

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