BUFFALO, N.Y. -- American students score lower on international
mathematics tests than students from countries that are poorer but
with more equal distributions of family income, such as Finland,
according to a University at Buffalo professor who has found links
among income equality within countries, school equality and higher
mathematics achievement in 41 countries.
"In countries with more equal incomes, governments tend to spend
more money on better public schools and teachers," says Ming Ming
Chiu, the author of an international study that explains this
connection, and a professor in the Department of Learning and
Instruction in UB's Graduate School of Education. "This typically
helps poorer students more than richer students, who often have
more computers and better-educated parents at home."
The study, "Effects of Inequality, Family and School on
Mathematics Achievement: Country and Student Differences" analyzed
country inequalities, family inequalities, school inequalities and
almost 108,000 15-year-olds' math tests (including nearly 4,000
U.S. students) in 41 countries. It was published in the winter
edition of the sociology journal Social Forces. The educators used
data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development's Program for International Student Assessment.
"While money matters, equality also matters," says Chiu, who
says that his study found that students' math scores are highest in
countries that are both rich and equal.
"Wealth and equality are not enemies," he says, "Many countries
have become both richer and more equal. Hence, government and
school leaders can improve student achievement through both larger
education budgets and more equal distribution policies."
The study showed into how country, family and school
characteristics were linked to mathematics scores. In countries
with more equal distributions of income, students scored higher in
Chiu also found that books and other physical educational
resources were linked to higher math scores in all countries, but
intangible educational processes (family communication and
teacher-student relationships, for example) had stronger links to
math scores in richer countries. "In richer countries, everyone has
access to books, so discussions with teachers or parents about
those books become more important," says Chiu.
Chiu's study also explains the puzzling Heyneman-Loxley problem.
Professors Stephen Heyneman and William Loxley found that family
characteristics have a stronger effect on student achievement in
richer countries than in poorer countries. This result was puzzling
because richer countries typically have more public resources such
as library books that are substitutes for family resources like
books at home, which would reduce their importance.
"After distinguishing between physical vs. intangible
educational resources, such as books vs. discussions," says Chiu,
"the results show that public vs. home substitution does occur for
physical resources, but not for intangible resources. For example,
teachers in poorer schools do not adequately substitute for the
educated parents in richer families."
To request an interview, call Chiu at 716-868-6352, or email him
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