While we're on the topic of math and science, there's a new Public Agenda report worth a brief perusal. The report highlights the contrasting views between parents and education reformers on the need for more and better math and science education in public schools.
The report's findings are notable but not surprising: most parents believe that their children will be ready for college and work and that their children's schools are better and more difficult than the ones they attended. This harkens back to the student surveys from the last round of PISA and TIMMS testing showing that American students felt far better about their academic abilities than did their peers in countries like South Korea and Japan--even though those peers beat them handily in math and science. Parents likewise have a fairly sunny disposition on these matters: they want to make sure that our schools can compete internationally, but they're also convinced that their children's schools already are.
Some parents aren't so complacent. Brian Jacob and Lars Lefgren (our favorite researchers apparently!)reveal in yet another fascinating paper that parents with low incomes, as well as minority parents, are more likely to request teachers they've heard are effective, rather than asking for the ones their children will like the best. Higher-income and white parents do the exact opposite, seeking out someone who will find little darlings as adorable as they do.
The authors speculate that high-income parents might simply be assuming that the teachers in their children's schools are all good. However, Jacob and Lefgren have value-added data on teacher performance to show that they're wrong. The variance in teacher quality within any given school in the district they studied was greater than that between schools. Eric Hanushek has made a similar finding in his most recent research out of Texas. It's a counterintuitive finding--and not particularly good news for those who are advocating for differential pay to correct the problem of poor schools reportedly getting the worst teachers.