Jan

23

 There are some interesting observations in this little piece "5 Big Ideas in Education that Don't work":

1. Spending for education, as for health care, is high in the US, especially compared with the results.

2. All the thinking about charter schools and the like should probably be focused instead on other topics. In 5 days, of course, that won't much matter as we will have a SecEd who sees charter schools as one solution to the problems of the US primary and secondary education systems. Then again, maybe she may be too busy shutting the DoE down to care much.

3. Class size doesn't likely mean anything close to what advocates of smaller classes claim it does.

But hey, why let facts get in the way, right?

Mr. Isomorphisms writes: 

I believe if you look into those "facts" you will find they are contentious.

To orient yourself there was a counter-documentary produced against "waiting for superman" by some brooklyn area elem. ed. teachers.

Think about 3 things to start:

a) spending varies widely, covarying with parents' success/$

b) "spending on education" itself is ill-defined. do you pay teachers more (and for what? more degrees? VAM*?) or pay for better science lab? Or pay for support staff (which is what the counter-documentary advocates) to help keep the kids quiet? Greg Wilson posted a book claiming that "what works in education" shows the highest returns to removing the most disruptive child from a classroom.

c) the metrics for success itself are bad. You can read the College Board's own rhetoric about the S.A.T., which they say measures "college and career readiness".

* The American Statistical Association says value-added modelling is not sufficiently good for decision-makers to rely upon it.

There are several EconTalk episodes dealing with education. You can look into the work of the researchers interviewed; I found those analyses wanting. As with the economics literature on college earnings (eg David Card). There is a reason Angrist & Pischke call the study of returns to education an econometrician's pastime rather than a success.

John Taylor Gatto: "Trying to change education is like wrestling a pig. The pig is going to get away and you're going to get dirty." (from memory)

I recommend Gatto's book (lauded by the WSJ) An Underground History of American Education for those who are interested in the topic. There is also some Brookings research finding, eg, poor students with few-to-no family members who attended university, will apply to Harvard only (1 moonshot, and it's the same moonshot for all), when they would be better served applying at -1, 0, +1, +2 deciles above their SAT-score ability — for example a solid state school or the best community college. Those students often cannot tell the difference between 3rd decile and 8th. 

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

From Gatto's wonderful screed:

"In 1899, James spoke to an idealistic new brigade of teachers recruited by Harvard, men and women meant to inspirit the new institution then rising swiftly from the ashes of the older neighborhood schools, private schools, church schools, and home schools. He spoke to the teachers of the dream that the entire planet could be transformed into a vast Chautauqua."

James' Chautauqua dream is what textbooks, in fact, became: the sanitized politically-acceptable consensus opinion. Those made my father his - at one time - considerable fortune; and had almost nothing to do with his own education.

At the end of his life my dear father fully came to terms with how he himself had actually been "taught". He had had tutoring from his own father almost from the day he was born. As soon as he could wear pants, he would set out every morning with grandfather and his work crew; he would be sat on the porch of whatever house they were working on, literally with an apple and a reader. When he was 5 1/2, he got rheumatic fever so he was spared having to go to school; instead he spent the next 2+ years at home, reading. By the time he was ready to go to school, he was doing a daily reading for his father and mother and two older sisters in whatever newspaper or magazine they wanted to hear that evening, whether it was in Polish, Serbo-Croatian or English.

"I had a 19th century aristocrat's home schooling," he told me. By the time I actually had to sit in class each day, my mind was already fully formed so I could learn from the good teachers and ignore the bad ones AND follow the cardinal rule for both."

That brought the usual laugh from both of us. For those who don't know it, the cardinal rule in schooling is: "write down everything the teacher says and then write it back down again when you take the examinations."

What was sad, for him and for me, was that his John Stuart Mill education was not to be repeated.

What saved me, at least somewhat, was growing up in post-WW II Bronx and Harlem. The schools were on double-sessions and the education bureaucracy that now rules almost every school district was already in place. If you really didn't care about your "permanent record", you could literally skip out on entire semesters and go to the Polo Grounds. I didn't have to "go to school" until Dad started earning a respectable executive salary and we moved to Westchester. I don't think, until recently, that I ever fully forgave him for the tortures of being sent to "good" schools.


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