"Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do." -Jobs
Public Policy Honors Thesis
May 21, 2014
American students vary significantly in academic achievement: students in some states like Massachusetts and Minnesota far outperform students in other regions such as Washington D.C., Alabama, and Mississippi. This paper explores student achievement through five broad categories of independent variables: student and family background; schools and teachers; finance; government/policy; and unions. Scores from the eighth grade mathematics National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) serve as the dependent variable. Through both a cross-sectional analysis of the 2011 eighth grade mathematics NAEP scores and panel data analysis of eighth grade mathematics NAEP scores from 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013, I conclude that student and family background factors explain most of the variation in student achievement. In addition, the panel data analysis underscores the impact of schools and teachers while the categories of finance, government/policy, and unions have little explanatory power. Although the student and family background factors explain the most variation, the discrepancy between worst performing states and established levels of proficiency may be impossible to remedy by focusing on these factors alone. Based upon the extensive evidence presented in this study, policymakers should adopt a two pronged approach to reforming American education, focusing on both student and family background and school and teacher factors.
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