Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Exceptions are Exceptional

Many people noted the article on the turnaround of Brockton HS in yesterday's NY Times.  But I didn't notice anybody critiquing the headline.  The piece is titled "4,100 Students Prove 'Small is Better' Rule Wrong".

Yipes.  Regardless of whether or not small schools really outperform larger ones* or whether or not Brockton has really turned around, the headline is absurd.  Exceptions don't disprove rules in social science.  Exceptions are, by definition, exceptional.  Can we please take that into account when we discuss education?

Someone driving home safely while drunk doesn't prove that it's not dangerous to drink and drive.  A sole survivor of a plane crash doesn't prove that plane crashes don't kill.  A child from a troubled neighborhood graduating from Harvard doesn't prove that growing up in a troubled neighborhood doesn't impact one's educational performance.  And one large school excelling doesn't mean that small schools aren't generally better.

update: GothamSchools outdoes the Times yet again by linking to the article with a far more responsible phrase -- "Brockton High School in Massachusetts dispels the myth that only small schools can improve."

*the evidence that small schools actually are better is, to my understanding, weak at best -- but that's not relevant to the point I'm making

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