Monday, January 19, 2009

Some Random Thoughts

I've gone AWOL as I've been absorbed in a few different projects, but here are a few things I've noticed lately:

-The Economist randomly slipped a section on school discipline into this week's column on America, which reads in part: "In New York City, where more than 60 bureaucratic steps are required to suspend a pupil for more than five days, teachers are so frightened of violating pupils’ rights that they cannot keep order."

-In a travesty, the 2008 Weblog awards for Best Education Blog includes neither Eduwonkette nor Bridging Differences, which I consider to be the two best education blogs around (the former for its quick-hitting insights and the latter for its unsurpassed thoughtfulness).

-I was, however, sent a link to this ranking of education blogs (which I'm 50/50 on whether or not it was spam intended to get me to click on their ads) that includes both Eduwonkette and this blog.

-Social promotion is often villified -- and I find it hard to disagree with much of the criticism -- but I have yet to come across a single piece of research that finds benefits from holding back students (note: I have not conducted an exhaustive search, so this doesn't mean it's not out there). Has anybody else seen something?

-The absurdity of the rhetoric from some people who consider themselves part of the "no excuses" crowd seems to increase on a consistent basis and is really starting to irk me (which is part of the reason I've taken the last month two off from reading most of the education blogs). I might just insert this into every post from now on: if there's anything upon which education researchers agree it's that student achievement is influenced more by non-school factors than in-school factors -- and the evidence is overwhelming. Please don't call me a defeatist for saying that if you want me to take you seriously.

-I plan on rolling out a few new features this year and hoping to start the first one this weekend. Stay tuned.

12 comments:

Sherman Dorn said...

What about Karl Alexander et al.'s 1995 book, On the success of failure? He's changed his mind in some regards (see a 2001 article with him as primary author), but that's a reputable book, even if I think they overgeneralize.

Roger Sweeny said...

I might just insert this into every post from now on: if there's anything upon which education researchers agree it's that student achievement is influenced more by non-school factors than in-school factors -- and the evidence is overwhelming.

But that's not how we market education. Education, we say, is the great equalizer, the great source of social mobility. Spend money on education and the children of the poor will become productive and middle class.

If you are right, we are far from being a source of social mobility; we are a source of reinforcement of the status quo.

And it's not how ed schools market themselves. We know what works to teach anyone, say the schools. Our graduates have the skills to make everyone learn.

If you are right, that's a pile of s**t.

Our marketing would seem to be inaccurate, bordering on fraudulent.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

SD- Thanks, I'll check it out.

RS- Schools attempt to be the great equalizers because society (outside of school) creates inequality. I wouldn't be in education if I didn't think it possible for schools to accomplish this to some degree, but it's important to realize that the problem wasn't created inside schools.

Roger Sweeny said...

Corey,

There seems to be a great disconnect here. When we argue for money and power, we say that schools can do great things. But when we argue against being held responsible for student outcomes, we say that we really don't have much power at all, compared with what happens out of school.

I wouldn't call it hypocrisy because most of us don't even realize that we're doing it.

If "student achievement is influenced more by non-school factors than in-school factors," then schools can't be "the great equalizers."

Trying to do the impossible doesn't seem noble to me. Better to think hard about what we really can do.

KDeRosa said...

if there's anything upon which education researchers agree it's that student achievement is influenced more by non-school factors than in-school factors -- and the evidence is overwhelming.

Corey, I do not believe this is an accurate statement. Non-school factors certainly affect achievement, but I don't think one can say with any certainty that non-school factors outweight in-school factors. Moreover, the evidence is more non-existent than overwhelming unless you've lowered your standard of evidence quite below even the low standard we tolerate in the social sciences.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

RS- schools can do great things, but they're not the largest influences on peoples' lives

KD- 99.9% of research conclusions are not firm -- and I'll be the first to call somebody out if they claim otherwise. But I see no way around this one. I see no possible, or even plausible, argument that this is not the case. You're welcome to send me any reputable research study that finds in-school factors to be more strongly associated with achievement than non-school factors, because I have yet to see a single one.

KDeRosa said...

You're welcome to send me any reputable research study that finds in-school factors to be more strongly associated with achievement than non-school factors

Here's the problem. Finding correlations in datasets isn't science. It might lead one to form a testable hypothesis, but the hypothesis still need to be confirm with a properly controlled experiments. As far as I know these controlled experiments have not yet been carried out. Am I wrong?

Corey Bunje Bower said...

The notion that we can only learn through randomized field trials is utter hogwash. In this case, I see no possible (ethical) way to run such an experiment.

The fact is that children from more well-to-do families tend to out-achieve children from poorer families that enroll at the same school. And that gap between them is larger than the gap between children of similar SES status in higher- and lower-performing schools.

We need to find ways for schools to help close such gaps, but we need to start searching for such solutions with a firm grip on reality.

KDeRosa said...

The notion that we can only learn through randomized field trials is utter hogwash.

I don't remember making such a claim, Corey. There are other alternates. Quasi-experimental designs are one possibility in the social sciences. We also have quite a few adopted twin studies and cross-racial studies that seem to have been ethically performed.

The fact is that children from more well-to-do families tend to out-achieve children from poorer families that enroll at the same school.

There is a mid-sized correlation that may account for, at best about 20% of the variance. But, it is also true that we do not yet know the causation.

And that gap between them is larger than the gap between children of similar SES status in higher- and lower-performing schools.

I'm not sure what this is supposed to be telling us, if anything. The premise that SES is the cause of this gap hasn't been established. So, I'm not sure you're conclusion is valid at this time.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

KD- I'm not really sure what evidence you're waiting to see. Nor am I sure what evidence their is that the conclusion is backwards.

We know that students in different types of communities and families are raised very differently. We know that students come to kindergarten with a large achievement gap already in place. We know that race, income, wealth, prestige of parents' occupation, and a myriad of other factors are strongly correlated with achievement. We know that achievement varies more within schools than across schools. We know that toddlers from families of different SES acquire vocabularies at vastly different rates. All of this and thousands of pages of more findings point to the conclusion that non-school factors matter more than in-school factors. And we have a pretty firm grasp on why.

When I started teaching I firmly believed that schools were more important than outside life, and I searched for reasons why they must be mistaken when I learned about the Coleman Report and the thousands of studies that have replicated parts of those findings. All I can say is that I was wrong. Research and logic both say that non-school factors influence student achievement more (on average, of course) than do in-school factors in our country.

That doesn't mean that a school can't make a difference. It means that that's the way it is under our current system.

Suzanne said...

Corey-
I completely agree with you. It has taken me almost five years of teaching to realize this - a child's home influences them much more than school. What goes on at home can either allow for success at school or can lead a child to failure, no matter how good the school or teacher. If a child has to listen to his mom yelling on the phone all night, sleep in the same bed as his five siblings, eat cheetos for breakfast and move homeless shelters each month, there is no way he will do well at school. Home is where the change needs to happen. After that, we can focus on changes at school. Until then, we teachers are trying to do the impossible. And it's really hard and frustrating.

Noah said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Kaylee

http://www.clpostingguide.info