Are Entrepreneurship and Test Scores Inversely Related?

Yong Zhao had a story earlier this summer about the correlation between entrepreneurship and test scores as measured by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. Based on his statistical research (and really just looking at the darn graphs), there is a distinct negative correlation between the scores on the math section of the TIMMS tests and general entrepreneurship levels as rated by the Kauffman Foundation.

I will accept these numbers as they are. However, I would like to make a handful of observations:

  1. It is difficult to use TIMMS to make comparisons between the United States and other countries. South Korea, Norway, and to some extent, Singapore, all benefit from strong central governments with relatively homogenous populations. The United States has this horrible bi-modal skew in its data: while our average performance is fairly low compared to many other industrialized nations, we simultaneously have a lot of top and bottom performers. This nuance is lost when we merely look at averages. This problem of averages also applies to the entrepreneurship ratings as well.

  2. As an alternative hypothesis, I would like to emphasize this point when it comes to entrepreneurship - diversity is good. Silicon Valley is one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse places on Earth. That doesn’t mean every group is represented, but as a region (if not in the workforce), this region draws people from around the world. Vivek Wadwha has shown that about 25% of engineering companies are founded by immigrants in the United States. This is interesting in light of the homogeneity of the top countries in terms of test scores.

  3. Given this alternative explanation, I think it is healthy to note the reality of the data. These sorts of correlations are interesting, although there are probably a dozen of potential reasons why the graph turns out with the relationship seen. We must be cautious in reading too much into the data.

I am relatively opposed to testing in schools - I think it forces teachers and students to focus on the wrong metrics for the sake of “the system” rather than individual growth. I still believe that I am quite fortunate to have moved through the public school system just a year or two before No Child Left Behind would have come into effect. The correlation between entrepreneurship and testing is interesting, but should be seen as a call for more intensive studies on what kinds of education curricula encourage entrepreneurship - and which do not.