Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Today's Random Thoughts

I promised I'd have a slew of thoughts when I started going through the massive pile-up of posts in my Google Reader, but I didn't expect to find so many so soon. I think all of these are from just the past 24 hours.

-Jay Matthews writes that less well-known small schools often provide a better education than big-name or Ivy League schools. I have no research expertise in this subject, but I do have practical experience -- and I couldn't agree more. I'd strongly recommend that any student looking at colleges give a lot of thought to attending a liberal arts college or someplace similar that emphasizes small classes, good teaching, and strong community. Ben Miller says The Princeton Review ratings are lacking, but on the right track. Their lists of the schools with the best classroom experience and such are always littered with liberal arts colleges.

-Miss Eyre shares my frustration with policy wonks whose solution is to blame teachers. I was once a teacher-blamer, and then I tried my hand at it -- it's not as easy as it looks. She's upset with Kenneth J. Cooper for faulting teachers and unions too heavily, though I'm not sure I agree with the critique. He falls into the trap of believing that just because teachers are the most important part of a school that they're the only reason our schools are failing, but he also argues that unions are at fault b/c they should've negotiated higher pay.

-I've written before (I'll try to find the link later) about a speculation of mine -- that teachers enjoyed school more when they were kids than does the average student. For this reason, I fully support people with slightly different experiences becoming teachers. Jay Matthews has the story of one teacher wannabe who was removed from the Stanford teacher training program because he was too acerbic. I don't know the facts, so I'm not going to pass judgment. But his description sure makes it sound like it's a shame.

-Debra Viadero has a good piece wondering whether people are paying too much attention to think tank research and not enough attention to the work of more neutral researchers. You'll get no argument from me, and I don't think the problem's unsolvable by a long shot. One of my pet peeves with education research is that too little research filters down to schools and policymakers -- and I blame the researchers more for this than the schools and policymakers. The fact is that academia takes far too long to churn out a high-quality piece of research, and when they do it's written in language incomprehensible to most of the general public. I hope to make a small dent in that problem with this blog.

-Speaking of things that interest only researchers, my fellow ivy tower dwellers might want to check out this piece, also by Debra Viadero, on discussions of the Institute for Education Sciences board regarding future directions, and publicity, of research. I'd score this battle as Easton 1, Hanushek 0. I think IES spends too much time analyzing interventions, and arguing that other things aren't "researchable" is thinking too much like an economist, and not enough like somebody trying to improve our education system.


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