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Contradicting "politically popular" beliefs about the effects of school spending, two Princeton University economists have concluded that men who were educated in states with "higher- quality" school systems tend to earn higher post-school income.

David Card and Alan Krueger point out that previous studies, such as the landmark "Coleman report" of 1966, have found that school spending has little effect on student achievement. But they note that few researchers have examined the relation between school quality and earnings. "We believe," they write, "that success in the labor market is at least as important a yardstick for measuring the performance of the education system as success on standardized tests."

Analyzing school and learning data for a sample of 265,618 men born between 1920 and 1949, the authors estimate that a decrease in the pupil-teacher ratio of five students is associated with a 0.4 percent increase in the "rate of return to schooling," and that a 10 percent increase in teacher pay is associated with a 10 percent increase in the rate of return. Such increases, the economists add, take into account differences in family background and region.'

Asked about the policy implications of the study, Mr. ) Card said: ''I am confident that if a school system with 28 students per teacher drops down to 20 student per teacher, it will make an important contribution to children's welfare later in life."

Copies of the report, "Does School Quality Matter? Returns to Education and the Characteristics of Public Schools in the United States," Working Paper No. 3358, may be obtained by sending $2 per copy to Working Papers, National 7 Bureau of Economic Research Inc., 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass. 02138.

Arguing that policymakers lack information on "what schools really teach," the federally sponsored Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing has prepared a guide suggesting ways states might develop better indicators of student coursework.

Citing previous national studies, including the center's school- reform-assessment project, the report outlines sample coursework indicators and data-collection strategies. It notes, however, that states should develop measures based on their own information needs.

The report also warns that, "Indicators," are available for 48 $7.50 each from the rand Corporation, 1700 Main St., P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif. 90406-2138.

Compared with their peers " from China and Japan, American children show deficiencies in mathematical knowledge as early as the 1st grade, and their performance does not improve through elementary school, a ( three-nation study concludes.

The study, based on a test administered to 5,524 1st and 5th graders in Sendai, Japan; Taipei, Taiwan; and the Chicago metropolitan area, found that there was "no area" in which the American children were competitive with their Japanese and Chinese counterparts.

In addition, the study notes, the gap between Americans' performance and that of their peers widens over time. The Japanese children "maintained their superiority at both grades," it states.

The study's authors--James W. Stigler of the University of Chicago and Shin-Ying Lee and Harold W. Stevenson of the University of Michigan--also found that, contrary to popular perceptions, the Americans, not the Asians, tended to use a routinized approach to solve problems. The report concludes that the American pupils' deficiencies are "so pervasive" that they are ill-prepared for secondary-school mathematics.

Copies of a report on the study, "Mathematical Knowledge Japanese, Chinese, and American Schoolchildren," are available for $12 each from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1906 Association Drive, Reston, Va. 22091. Discounts are available for orders of 10 or more copies.

The characteristics of effective secondary education for language-minority students are similar to those identified in "effective schools" research, a preliminary study of six high schools concludes.

Based on studies of urban elementary schools in low-income neighborhoods, researchers have concluded that "effective schools" have high expectations for students, a high degree of parental involvement, strong leadership, and a commitment to staff development.

Successful high schools for language-minority students share these features, the new study's authors conclude. In addition, they state, the schools also place value on students' language and culture, provide an array of courses for language-minority pupils, and offer support services, such as counseling.

A report on the study, written by Tamara Lucas and Rosemary Henze of arc Associates, an Oakland, Calif., firm, and Ruben Donato of Texas A&M University, was published in the September 1990 issue of the Harvard Education Review.--rr

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