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How Prioritizing Number Skills Can Act as a Mediator for Socioeconomic Inequality within a National Math Compulsory Curriculum

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Abstract

Although prior knowledge is an important predictor of futureperformanceinmathematics,fewstudieshaveanalyzed which areas of the subject are most critical. Most evidence is based on small- and medium-scale studies fromdevelopedcountries,withresultsthatcannotbegeneralized. We explore which areas of mathematics are the mostimportantpredictorsoffutureperformancebyconsidering the sociodemographic and academic factors of Chile. Scores from a standardized test for eighth-grade mathematics and fourth-grade language arts were analyzed for a sample of 158,818 students, together with data on different areas of fourth-grade mathematics. The results reveal that the association of future performance in mathematics with number skills is as strong as the association of future performance in mathematics with attending an elite private school, in comparison to attending a state-subsidized school. Literacy skills also proved to be an important predictor of future performance in mathematics.

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The low performance of Chile in the TIMSS 1998/99 international study of mathematics and science achievement was a great disappointment for that country. To investigate the likely causes for low performance in mathematics, this study (1) compared Chile to three countries and one large school system that had similar economic conditions but superior mathematics performance, and (2) examined how important characteristics of the Chilean educational system could account for poor student achievement in mathematics. The study finds that, compared to South Korea, Malaysia, the Slovak Republic, and Miami-Dade County Public Schools: (a) Chilean 8th graders had parents with fewer years of schooling and with fewer educational resources at home; (b) the Chilean mathematics curriculum covered less content and fewer cognitive skills; and (c) the meager official curriculum translated into a weaker curricular implementation. Hierarchical linear models found that, in Chile, school assets were unequally distributed across social classes, with schools in socially advantaged areas more likely to have their own mathematics curriculum and better prepared teachers who emphasized more advanced mathematics content. Schools with their own mathematics curriculum and whose teachers covered more advanced content had significantly higher student achievement in mathematics.
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About 80% of the world's children live in developing countries. Their well-being as adults depends heavily on the education they receive. School enrollment rates have increased dramatically in developing counties since 1960, but many children still leave school at a young age and often learn little while in school. This chapter reviews recent research on the impact of education and other policies on the quantity and quality of education obtained by children in developing countries. The policies considered include not only provision of basic inputs but also policies that change the way that schools are organized. While much has been learned about how to raise enrollment rates, less is known about how to increase learning. Randomized studies offer the most promise for understanding the impact of policies on learning.