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The Scripps National Spelling Bee: Some Cool Statistics

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Scripps National Spelling Bee: Some Cool Statistics

(This is an article I originally wrote for, to be published on the same day as the finals).

We are in the midst of the 84th Scripps National Spelling Bee Week in the Washington, D.C. area. I've watched the competition with interest most years -- although not with the same enthusiasm my family watches the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest every July 4th! I find it especially cool that ESPN chooses to air the finals every June and this year the preliminaries will stream live on ESPN3.

Over the years I've noticed some interesting trends. I'm a statistics girl, and I find it easier to present you some fascinating facts about the spelling bee:
  1. Are the winning words getting more difficult? Check out the list of winning words here. Do you see a trend from mostly Germanic words that (to me) are seemingly straightforward to sound out, use in context and use basic some serious Latin, Greek and other Romantic language-based words? Consider words such as fracas (1930), intelligible (1935), and therapy (1940). Compare those to antediluvian (1994), chiaroscurist (1998) and appoggiatura (2005). I think this speaks volumes to the increased diversity in the English language as well as the capabilities of America's 8-14 year olds' spelling skills over the years. We trust that our kids are more capable than ever before!
  2. Homeschooled students are demonstrating their excellence! According to this article published on May 31st featuring San Angelo, Texas's National Spelling Bee contestant, even though homeschooling accounts for only 2.9% of American schoolchildren, 9.8% of this year's 275 contestants are homeschooled. Homeschooled students have won the spelling bee four times -- will they take home the prize a 5th time this year?
  3. Gender. I don't consider 45 female winners vs. 41 male winners overwhelming, but it still put a smile on my face.
  4. Diversity, at least among Indian-Americans. I have to admit, before I found the statistic elsewhere (see link in #3), I attempted to discern the split of the genders of the winners over the past 83 years by manually counting the male vs. female winners. I also have to admit, when I got to 1985, I didn't know whether Balu Natarajan of Chicago, Illinois was a male or female. (He's a male). Then there were nine more names whose genders I simply didn't know (sorry!). It turns out they are all Indian-Americans.
  5. More diversity. In 1998 Jody-Anne Maxwell of Kingston, Jamaica became the first (and only) non-American resident to win the bee.
  6. The Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS) sends contestants. Sponsored by the Stars and Stripes newspaper, which is published for American servicemembers living overseas, students can enter through their on-base schools. Twelve-year-old Anuk Dayaprema, whose father is serving in the US Army in Vicenza, Italy, is representing DoDDS Europe schools.
  7. He's HOW OLD? There is an 8-year-old third-grader competing this year! I think about my own 8-year-old being able to spell xanthosis (1995) and my head spins!
  8. Want more statistics? Visit this link to view even more statistics about this year's 275 contestants. They've broken down everything from how many are only children vs. with siblings, how many are repeat performers, as well as age and grade distributions.
I certainly plan to watch the spelling bee with the kids this week. Will you?



At Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 7:37:00 AM CDT , Blogger Annie's Dish said...

Hi! I popped over here from Brandie's blog to say Hello. Anyone who's blog name is a David Bowie reference is a winner in my book!

I too am a stats girl and found some of those numbers pretty amazing. In particular the home schooling ones were very interesting.

At Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 8:08:00 AM CDT , Blogger Major Mom said...

Thanks for visiting Annie! I first noticed the preponderance of homeschooled students 4-5 years ago watching the National Geographic Bee on ESPN. I was attempting to keep this post "judgement free", but I do think that homeschooled students have more flexibility to focus on preparation.

As for the blog name, some of my earliest posts (from late 2007/early 2008) cover the origins of my blog name...and whether I was citing the David Bowie or Peter Schilling. My husband prefers the Peter Schilling version (Shiny Toy Gun's version is cool too), but I'm a purist and I was totally thinking David Bowie :-)

At Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 9:13:00 PM CDT , Blogger Bengela said...

thanks for posting the stats...i love watching the spelling bee...i tried out for it one year at LTHS (I think they called it the Forensics team?) and did miserably at spelling those BIG (underutilized) words, but I did win the 6th grade spelling bee when I correctly spelled Guatemala (of course, I can't do that now b/c I'm just getting dumber in my old age! :P )

At Thursday, June 2, 2011 at 10:20:00 PM CDT , Blogger Major Mom said...

@Bengela: Interesting you were able to do the spelling bee. I never did a spelling bee in my entire life. I don't remember the opportunity for the Scripps event presenting itself, although I'd see representatives from the Virginian Pilot every year.

On the other hand, I was on a MathCounts team at Rosemont and remember going to a state finals. That's now the math equivalent of Scripps or the NatGeo Bees, but when I did it, the program was but a couple years old.

(Again, I feel OLD!)


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