Sunday, October 31, 2004

Great New Education Blog

I've blog-rolled a new education blog called Professor Plum's Relentless Rants on Eduquackery. Looks like a lot of outstanding stuff, such as this post:
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The huge gap in school achievement and later quality of life between minority and white students is usually explained by things that are largely irrelevant --culture, "race," family structure, the percentage of minority children in a school, socioeconomic status, students' self-perceptions and teachers' expectations. I’d like to think that focusing on the wrong things is simple laziness--a person looking for keys under a streetlamp; it’s the easiest place. But now I think it’s more because “social reformers” are happiest dealing with vague abstractions—their “big picture” of how “society oppresses the poor.” This enables them to conjure up gaudy schemes (which elicit hormonal secretions. The bigger the scheme the more important they feel.), to get long-running grants and high prestige positions, hire friends, write articles, and end up with nice retirement annuities.

Let’s get serious about improving achievement. You aren’t going to change anyone’s “race” or culture. No “program” is going to raise children’s self-esteem and children’s and teachers’ expectations—for very long. And we aren’t going to “make the distribution of wealth more equitable or equal” — even if we knew what that meant. These sorts of efforts to create a “new man” and to revolutionize society almost always yield disaster. [Think “Soviet Union.”] But by then the reformers are long gone. Besides, their kids are in private schools. But don’t tell that to the reformers. They’ll get testy. After all, you're taking away their stock in trade — the false promise of edutopia — if we’d only give them power, money, our kids, and all the time in the world.

Reformers almost never consider the obvious. What is closest to student learning is not race, social class, culture, school size, and all the other factors the reformers tout, but communication with the teacher — organized as instruction within a curriculum. The reason poor kids don’t learn much in school is that they come to school less prepared and because most schools use curricula that are horrible (superficial coverage, illogical sequences, little built-in practice) and teaching methods that miscommunicate information — as discussed here.

And there are tons of good data showing that well designed curricula and logically clear instruction can override the effects of social class, minority group status, and family background.

In the mid 1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration created Head Start—a large number of preschool programs primarily for disadvantaged children. After a few years he also funded Follow Through, to see which Head Start models (curricula) yielded the most beneficial change. Pretty rational. Find out what works best and promote it. Find out what fails and dump it. That’s how they do it in medicine, engineering, and other serious professions.

That’s NOT how they do it in education.

Read the rest.



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