The Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin – Madison is a nonprofit, nonpartisan center for research on poverty and social inequality. The current director, Timothy Smeeding, is La Follette faculty and an alum of UW-Madison’s economics department. He was a student of Robert Haveman, who most of you remember from his stellar lectures in PA 880. This week, Professor Smeeding and the IRP are hosting their 20th annual Summer Research Workshop.
I attended one of the keynote speaker sessions on higher education yesterday. Eric Hanushek from Standford University gave a lecture entitled “How Well Do We Understand Achievement Gaps?” Professor Hanushek, who is famous enough to have his own Wikipedia page, gave an excellent lecture about the achievement gap, teacher quality, and racial concentration in schools and school districts. The foundation of the lecture was the difference in reading and math test scores between black and white 17-year-old students. However, I found Professor Hanushek’s work on teacher quality is especially interesting. He finds that the current measures of teacher quality (education, years of experience, certification) are not good measures of the quality of a teacher. A recent RAND report on urban education in Los Angeles touted the same thing.
UW-Madison professor Robert Hauser, also on Wikipedia, delivered a response to Professor Hanushek’s lecture. Professor Hauser took issue with Professor Hanushek’s use of test scores to measure achievement, especially those of student so late in their academic careers. Professor Hauser also pointed out that for a long time ability was thought of as a broad construct that could not be captured in a single variable, like a test, and suggested it still should be treated as such. When analyzing college graduatation and life expectancy, Professor Hauser found that both depend on grades in high school and not test scores. And all three of these factors depend on skills gained in childhood. Professor Hauser’s recommendation is to do the right thing at the right time in the right place meaning there needs to be a reorientation of education policy to identify and focus on broader variables would contribute substantially to quality of adult outcomes.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to hear the discussion that took place after the lecture and left early as a result, but overall, the lecture and response were excellent and really got me thinking about education, achievement, and ability. Did you attend the lecture? Do you have an opinions on the issue? Let me know in the comments!
The IRP Summer Research Workshop continues through the end of the week. This link will take you to the schedule. I highly encourage you to stop by and enjoy the incredible intelligence, understanding, analysis, and work that these researchers are doing. The IRP is an excellent campus center and allows for invaluable and unparalleled access to innovation and ideas in poverty research.
** Some of the words may be direct quotes, but I didn’t indicate them in my notes as such and did not want to falsely attribute quotes.