December 13, 2010

Bad apples and bad ideas

An interesting survey of public opinion on education found that most Americans--68 percent--bear a heavy share of the blame for problems in the nation's public school system. Only 35 percent set a great deal of blame on teachers.

That's quite a different perspective than one finds in recent efforts to promote education reform, including those coming from the Obama administration, where a "if we purge teachers, things will improve" mentality seems to prevail. Some reform initiatives from the administration encourage firing of teachers in poorly performing schools, without taking into account all the other factors involved.

Nobody I know, including people represented by teachers' unions and those who work for them, denies that there are some bad teachers out there. But problem teachers should be dealt with on a case by case basis, not by blanket purges that punish the competent along with the incompetent.

The blame-teachers-first mentality seems to view teachers as the sole or primary cause of poorly performing schools. But as I've said here before, to establish causality, one needs three things, two of which are easy and one of which is hard. First, the cause and effect need to be associated (teachers and schools, in this case). Second, the cause must come before the effect (the teachers were there before the kids were). Third--and this is the kicker--you need to be able to rule out other factors. And here is where that train derails.

There are all kinds of factors affecting poorly performing schools and students, including poverty, family, nutrition, health, community issues, distance from school and enrichment activities, parental and community involvement, etc.

A friend of mine, the Rev. Matthew Watts, actually did the math and calculated that from a child is born until he or she reaches age 19, only 9 percent of the time will have been spent in school. The other 91 percent is spent in the home or in the community. To really address these issues, we need to look at the other 91 percent as well.


KLEPTOCRACY lives. And more from Krugman here.

A DOWN PAYMENT ON HEALTH CARE REFORM. West Virginia is launching a new pilot program to provide low cost primary care to the uninsured.

VIRAL CAT VIDEO DEPARTMENT. By way of Youtube, patty cake will never be the same.



Anonymous said...

Yes, the parents and the community matter - a lot. But that doesn't explain the fact that even our top-performing kids are not doing as well as in other countries. And that, as the Washinton Post article points out, socioeconiimic status doesn't seem to matter as much in other countries. Much of the problem is in the increasingly inequality of our society, where kids don't get what they need outside of school to be successful. But part of it is in the schools, which in general do not have high standards or expectations for any students, and lower for the poor ones.

I have my grandmother's grade book from when she taught in a one-room school in Upshur Co., before World War I. There are eighth-grade civics questions in it that high school students today aren't taught.

Jason said...

I assume you're familiar wtih "Cat vs Printer - The Translation"

hollowdweller said...

I think that we need to change what is being taught.

Like Ideg says people need to be educated on how to be citizens.

Also on the cultural front our culture used to sort of make being an adult what everybody shot for.

So people wanted their drivers, a car, their own place.

Now from the highest realms of government and finance to the lowest kid in school it's all about getting OUT of responsibility, and doing what you want without regard for how your actions affect society.

Individualisim with personal responsiblity is what built the US I think.

However now we have individualisim to an extreme degree where a person has not responsibility to others or society in general yet there is a dependency there too which is not compatible with being a citizen.