Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 1, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

QUOTE OF THE DAY....From Ezra Klein, reacting to the news that Reading First, a program begun in 2001 that mandates "scientifically-based" reading instruction, has had little success in improving reading scores:

"This fits into the larger pattern in education reform efforts which is that most ideas fall short of expectations."

Now, who knows? Maybe RF was poorly implemented. Maybe it just happened to be a bad idea. But it's astonishing how many efforts to improve K-12 instruction turn out not to work. Even the ones that do seem to work usually turn out to fail if you just wait a few years or try to scale them up beyond pilot size.

This is one of the reasons I don't blog much about education policy even though it's an interesting subject. For all the sturm and drang, in the end nothing really seems to matter. After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to. Early childhood interventions, if they're really early and really long lasting, seem to have some effect, but beyond that the only thing that works consistently is getting poor kids out of schools that are 90% poor. Unfortunately, the former is really expensive and the latter is well nigh impossible in most places.

It must be a discouraging field to work in.

Kevin Drum 5:32 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (95)

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Given the excessive amount of negative press that education recieves, it seems amazing that kids learn anything. When people expect the worst, they often make the worst happen. I think public schools do a great job in most places. I've seen it first hand.

Posted by: bill on May 1, 2008 at 5:37 PM | PERMALINK

Sure we do know how to educate kids. We just don't know how to so in a system that takes as its starting point that the first lesson is to sit down and be quiet. I don't know about you, but I coulda skipped sixth and seventh grade. They were contentless, mere reinforcement of social behavior norms. Adding up 4 columns of figures is no harder than adding up 3. The way to learn how to read is to read at that point. There's a reason homeschooled kids are generally way ahead of grade level for their age.

Posted by: jayackroyd on May 1, 2008 at 5:47 PM | PERMALINK

Hm, getting kids out of schools that are 90% poor. Who has proposed a policy solution that might do something like that? Not the conservatives with their crazy voucher plans?!?!?

Posted by: jamie on May 1, 2008 at 5:51 PM | PERMALINK

Remember folks, it was the "The Pet Goat" that our president was reading on that fateful 9/11 day. Why? It was one of the "scientifically based" reading books developed by the king of scientific reading eduction, Carl Bereiter--he of the "teacher-proof" reading instruction world.

This book, this president, this Carl Bereiter have all been unmitigated disasters for education, our society and the world!

There are but two books in the new George Bush presidential library. The above mentioned "Pet Goat" and "Cutting Brush for Pleasure and Profit."

PS. I thought George Bush was a dim bulb but he stands heads and shoulders above John McCain, the the dullest and oldest knife in the drawer.

Posted by: Sid, the white-shoe humanist on May 1, 2008 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

I agree in part with bill that public schools can do a terrific job. The trouble with education initiatives is that they affect kids only when they're in school. Poverty, lack of family support, nutrition, etc. can be more influential on educational progress than whatever goes on in the classroom. Isn't the most reliable predictor of educational success the income level of the child's household? Sure, individual success stories can be found, but overcoming home life can be next to impossible on a mass basis. Kids aren't little empty vessels that come to school ready to be filled up with learning.

Posted by: jrw on May 1, 2008 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Poverty, lack of family support, nutrition, etc. can be more influential on educational progress than whatever goes on in the classroom.

Yes. I can vouch for that from the flip side. I went to an elementary school that basically sucked. But both of my parents were omnivorous readers, and seeing them take so much pleasure in reading made me eager to learn. A better school would have been good, no doubt, but with a much better school and parents who didn't love reading, I suspect I would have learned less.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK


Posted by: mhr on May 1, 2008 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

And you didn't even mention the fads in education, that shift policy and plans around every three to five years. Nor the way that requirements to get a teaching certificate just keep increasing, more hoops to jump through with each passing year. Sigh.

Posted by: jame on May 1, 2008 at 6:19 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, we know what works: the best teachers produce the best outcomes. How do we get better qualified teachers? Make teaching a more attractive proposition to our best college students by (Gasp!) increasing salaries. A total free market solution but cue Republican talking points about evil teacher's unions, teachers getting full salary for only working 9 months out of the year, etc. etc. Instead, school boards pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the latest "miracle" reading or math programs and then throw everything out for the latest miracle program a few years later. Yes, it's maddening, but the important thing is making sure that those lazy teacher's aren't getting rich!

Posted by: From a teaching family on May 1, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, we know what works: the best teachers produce the best outcomes. How do we get better qualified teachers? Make teaching a more attractive proposition to our best college students by (Gasp!) increasing salaries. A total free market solution but cue Republican talking points about evil teacher's unions, teachers getting full salary for only working 9 months out of the year, etc. etc. Instead, school boards pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the latest "miracle" reading or math programs and then throw everything out for the latest miracle program a few years later. Yes, it's maddening, but the important thing is making sure that those lazy teachers aren't getting rich!

Posted by: From a teaching family on May 1, 2008 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

The effects of good teaching vs bad teaching are pretty small compared to the effects of socioeconomic status. That's what the data show. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to improve instruction, just the problems with our schools won't be solved through better teaching.

Posted by: chris on May 1, 2008 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

If good teachers made just a fraction of what top CEOs made, we'd have people lining up to become teachers, and we'd have the best schools in the world.

But then we'd have an educated and informed populace, and they wouldn't continue to put up with the clowns who run this country. So there's your reason why Washington and the states won't pay teachers well.

Posted by: Speed on May 1, 2008 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

"... starting point that the first lesson is to sit down and be quiet."

Remember that the 'modern' education system was designed to produce compliant factory workers.

When the bell rings, you get to move!

Posted by: Buford on May 1, 2008 at 6:36 PM | PERMALINK

How about a reading policy that relies on books featuring cartoon characters that are most popular with kids, and children's books that are determined to be kids favorites?

If everything kids have to read in school is something they really really like, then it stands to reason they would be more interested in reading.

It doesn't have to be all fluff, either. Just, instead of a boring textbook article on rocks and minerals or what have you, it would be "Elmo Teaches Rocks & Minerals" or "Pikachu Teaches You About Sea Life" or whatever.


Posted by: Swan on May 1, 2008 at 6:37 PM | PERMALINK

I read a hell of a lot in elementary school, and I have to admit it was mostly due to comic books.

Even when I was an elementary school pupil (in the '80s) comics had become less popular then they used to be. If more kids were exposed to comics, then they would read more. A lot of super-hero comic writers seem to be kind of stuck between this childhood adventure world, and wanting to be more serious writers, too, so the comics I reads weren't entirely stupid, and were probably better for developing my vocabulary and stuff that if I had read only what my teachers prescribed for me.

Posted by: Swan on May 1, 2008 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

There is a recent study done by Mckinsey regarding successful schools that was featured in the Economist. Briefly, they say the best schools attract the best teachers, teach the teachers, and intervene early and often with students. Its posted on McKinsey's website.

Posted by: wonk on May 1, 2008 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

It is a discouraging field to work in.

Posted by: ed researcher on May 1, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Even when I was an elementary school pupil (in the '80s) comics had become less popular then they used to be. If more kids were exposed to comics,

I mean now kids have more interesting TV shows and video games and stuff, so they are less likley to become exposed to or seek out comics in the first place, whereas when my dad was a kid, there were loads of different comics, and kids read them more.

Posted by: Swan on May 1, 2008 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

Although it precedes the war by a year, I have no doubt that, when conceived, NCLB had basically the same "fuck you" mindset as the Iraqi adventure. It was designed to castrate Republican bête noires like, well, the entire public school system, but more specifically teachers unions & whole language reading instruction advocates. (The phonics-whole language divide is basically a Hatfield-McCoy thing when it comes to reading instruction, but a consensus among the less partisan emerged some time ago which indicates that you need to combine the best of both in order to be effective.) Clearly, the administration's attempt (Reading First) completely lacked any thoughtfulness in its approach to the problem it identified. From the article:

Reading First, aimed at improving reading skills among students from low-income families, has been plagued by allegations of mismanagement and financial conflicts of interest. But the Bush administration has strenuously backed the effort, saying it helps disadvantaged children learn to read.

Mismanagement & financial conflicts of interest in the Bush administration -- who knew?

Sorry, but the first clue that this was doomed to failure was the fact that an administration so famously anti-science were claiming to approach the problem scientifically.

Posted by: junebug on May 1, 2008 at 6:43 PM | PERMALINK

The fact is, parental involvement has more to do with educational achievement than any other single factor, once you account for environmental factors. There isn't a lot you can do at the curriculum level to change that.

I do have an interesting anecdote, however. When I was in school, every year we studied American History. We started with the early settlers, and by late May, we had progressed to post-civil war reconstruction. The next year it would start all over again. All those years of school, from first grade through high school, and we never got beyond reconstruction. My wife, 6 years younger, and educated a thousand miles away, had a similar experience. Twelve years of repetition seems a bit excessive, and there is no excuse for ignoring more recent history.

Finally, having employed a number of younger folks, I have to say that no matter what the shortcomings of our educational system are, the kids have turned out to be fine adults.

Posted by: Dave Brown on May 1, 2008 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

By far the best, smartest and most knowledgeable professor I ever had once told me that his brother was in the textbook business. The brother said that he routinely read educational studies, and that in 30 years in the business, he had not seen a single one that wasn't seriously flawed.

There is some evidence, though,that the most important factor in determining whether students do well in school is...having parents who value education.

Finally, let me note as I always do: education majors are renown for being among the...um...least intellectually impressive college students. Their education is wasted on education classes rather than classes with actual content. Even in states in which education majors have been eliminated, new majors are developed that emulate them.

Posted by: Winston Smith on May 1, 2008 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's the Johnson Effect, which is that any pilot program where the teachers buy in, believe in the program, and really dedicate themselves works better than business as usual, but when you apply it to a school district of normal teachers, it doesn't scale up.

But I think the problem isn't bad schools or bad teachers. I mean, there are a lot of bad schools and more bad teachers, because teaching is hard, and, as the employment corollary to Sturgeon's Law says, 90% of everybody are bad at their job, so why should teaching be any different?

But the problem isn't bad teachers, because they teach the middle class and rich kids just fine. The problem is a lot of the kids they start with as raw material. Kids born into impoverished families hear 30 million fewer words from their parents by age 3 than kids in better off families, and by the time their language ability matures, by the time they hear the words they need to know, they're so far behind in school they never catch up, and that sets the course of their life. It's not just the language, but the milieu the language fills, being read to, looking at books, talking about the color of the sky.

There seems to be a threshold of mental stimulation a kid needs to maximize its mental development, and your basic middle class family easily meets the threshold. If Y is development and X is income, the curve slopes up at first, but the right side of the curve is flat.

A lot of effort should be put into the kids on the sloping part of the curve.

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say at least one reason why education reform "fails" is that Americans cannot agree on what they want from their schools.

Is the goal to teach facts or to teach "ways of learning"?

Is the goal to produce very good results at the high end or acceptable results at the low end?

Is the goal to actually teach what is most honestly known about a subject, or to inculcate a set of values via telling stories that are known to be false?

These are just three dimensions of controversy, and they are not minor technical issues. But every discussion of education "reform" I've ever seen starts off pretending that these distinctions don't really exist, that, "we all agree that we wants what's best for our kids" and this warm fuzziness will steer us in the right direction.

Or, to out it in terms of that old standard, "If we can land a man on the moon how come we cannot reform education?" Suppose we had one group at NASA planning a robot mission to Jupiter, while a second was designing an LEO space shuttle, and a third was working on Saturn Vs. Suppose each time they met they all agreed that the goal was "we want was is best for the US in space" and never got beyond that to actually discuss something as basic as whether what planet is being targeted. Now suppose that, partway through the mission it is decided that, well the space shuttle body looks good, while we also like the instrumentation of the Jupiter mission, so we'll put the Jupiter instrumentation of top of the space shuttle, launch the result at the moon, and hope that somehow the resultant hybrid will get us the first man on the moon.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 1, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Finally, let me note as I always do: education majors are renown for being among the...um...least intellectually impressive college students. Their education is wasted on education classes rather than classes with actual content.

Depressing & true. They also consistently have the lowest GRE scores among those taking the test. And not by a little.

Posted by: junebug on May 1, 2008 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin says:
"After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to. "

to which is replied
"We just don't know how to so in a system that takes as its starting point that the first lesson is to sit down and be quiet. I don't know about you, but I coulda skipped sixth and seventh grade. They were contentless, mere reinforcement of social behavior norms. Adding up 4 columns of figures is no harder than adding up 3. "

And this is the kind of random redirecting of the goals that I was talking about.
I've seen little evidence that this kind of hippy let-it-all-hang-out self-directed learning provides any real value once you strip out the fact that it generally used by wealthy middle-class and upper-class families that can afford Montessori and have already had their kids internalize a sense of discipline.

In other words what we have here is someone proposing their pet theory as optimal for the entire US, based on fsck-all evidence and an incoherent idea of what the goal is --- pretty much standard for education policy.

We do, in fact, know quite a few things about how to teach some classes of kids well. But many many people are unwilling to believe these things.

For example we know that for weak students, generally from poor backgrounds, and with little self-discipline, directed learning, or the related topic of B F Skinner's learning machines works better than anything else that we know of.
We also know that leftwing idiots, (and I say this as a left wing supporter of John Edwards who thought he was not radical enough) as exemplified by jayackroyd, refuse to accept this fact, and refuse to allow the method to be used widely in schools where it is appropriate.

We also know that the right way to teach foreign languages is to teach them as early as possible in school, ideally starting in kindergarten and 1st grade. We know that the countries that do this (eg the Nordics) have very wide fluent bilingualism. We also notice that right wing idiots in this country, based on xenophobia or whatever it is, barely tolerate the poor teaching of foreign languages in high school, and certainly won't allow it to go lower.

And so it goes.
In fact this field is not some sort of weird mystery where no-one understands policy. It's rather like many other fields of policy, say economics or energy policy, where experts no perfectly well what is going on, but the stupidity of the average American prevents sane policies from being implemented.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on May 1, 2008 at 7:13 PM | PERMALINK

According to Ben Stein, scientifically-based reading instruction will lead to gassing the Jewish people in showers.

Posted by: AJB on May 1, 2008 at 7:43 PM | PERMALINK

Look at what Thersites said above.

We know what works. Kids do not learn in the factory-education system we have tried to impose on them since the factory-based industrial age occurred. Kids learn from examples they see and from mentors. Schools provide neither. Those come from parents and family sources, and as the child moves towards puberty, from the families that they live around.

As long as America ghettoizes our poor people, the schools will fail to teach most of their children.As long as families with children must depend entirely on the wage-earner's income to stay in the same home for long periods of time, the children will both fail to stay in the same school long enough to adapt (children's success is closely associated with how many moves they undergo and how many schools they attend) and as the wage-earning parent loses and gains jobs, the child loses respect for what the parents do and fails to use that parent as a model for behavior.

Consider how America has been protecting corporations from risk by using government face while at the same time transferring risk to the individual workers in the name of free enterprise. The conservatives sell this by saying they are giving choices to individuals. Then the individuals get all these choices, no information on what are the best choices, and no protections from the inevitable frauds. that's the transfer of risk away from corporations to the individuals. Failed choices become more devastating to families since there is no effective social safety net. Those who make the wrong decisions or who are unlucky are then stigmatized in credit ratings, job opportunities, and places they can live.

Then the landlords in better neighborhoods turn down applications from people with bad credit as well as minorities and people with criminal records even when those records were a long time in the past. Such families have to go into ghettos with high rents for poor quality housing and bad schools. Their neighbors are those who are also relegated to such neighborhoods and so you perpetuate ghettos. Such neighborhoods find that the only businesses that stay are liquor stores, payday loan stores, check cashing stores for those with no bank account (the banks don't give accounts to anyone who has an unpaid bounced check to other banks or who has bad credit) and ripoff insurance stores.

We ghettoize out poor and those who work irregularly, usually in different ghettos for Blacks, Whites and Hispanics, and we are surprised that the schools in those areas (paid from property taxes) don't succeed in teaching the children who grow up in those locations with all their mentors and role-models stigmatized as failures??

This is the conservative ideology at work. YoYo. You're on your own. Then we ghettoize the inevitable failures, stigmatize them forever, and we are surprised that the schools in those ghettos fail to teach the students they get from that environment??

It's the conservative philosophy at work, and then the conservatives blame the schools for not being able to deal with the conditions that the conservative philosophy inevitably creates?

You don't solve the problem of the schools without solving all the other problems simultaneously. That's a big, expensive, difficult job that would pay for itself within a single generation.

Posted by: Rick B on May 1, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

I think that teaching whole-word reading has been very destructive. That's much like teaching Chinese characters for words. Sure, English spelling does not have regular pronunciation, but it isn't so awful that you can't learn most of the rules (and pick up only the stragglers separately) in a reasonable time. Don't make fun of phonics just because for some reason lots of conservatives like it and rail against whole-word, this time they're right.

Posted by: Neil B. on May 1, 2008 at 7:51 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say at least one reason why education reform "fails" is that Americans cannot agree on what they want from their schools

Neil Postman, in his The End of Education, put it roughly like this -- given a sufficiently strong 'why' to learn, most students will flourish or at least survive, under every 'how' to learn.

There certainly is little consensus on 'why' -- and what little there is changes every few years. Are we creating workers? Training citizens? Developing each individual's potential? Inculcating a common world-view? Americanizing immigrants?

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 1, 2008 at 8:03 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, May 1 isn't over yet; by now I would have expected a pro-labor commenter such as you to say something about it.

"Eight hours to work, eight hours for rest, eight hours for what we will."

Posted by: Joe Buck on May 1, 2008 at 8:15 PM | PERMALINK

Swan, I grew up in a family with books, and my parents read to me (especially my father.) When I asked him to read me a comic book he told me to learn to read that trash myself. So I did. And I have read voraciously all my life since.

Comics are still the only Spanish I read regularly. It's a lot harder to read Spanish without pictures.

But my motivation to read English was my parents reading to me. Like all pack animals, small human cubs want to emulate the pack leader as long as they respect that leader, and the cubs will do whatever the human pack leader pays attention to. Watch small children in a restaurant with their parents and watch what the children are most pleased with. It is being treated like a valued pack member.

Human cubs learn exact the same way that wolf cubs do. They watch the older members of the pack and do as their elders do and they especially do what the older pack members approve of. All they want is attention and they will do anything to get it. The parents are reinforcing the behavior they give attention to.

Any observant parent will recognize that children emulate what they see done and ignore what they are told to do. Learning in children is much more an observation process than a spoken one. By the time they are learning effectively from speech, they are looking at the peer group as teachers rather than at the family (thus, gangs where the parents are poor role models.)

That's the same age - middle school - that children are emotionally breaking their dependence on the family. Our education system does not deal with that at all well when the family has failed to provide adequate role models and examples.

Posted by: Rick B on May 1, 2008 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

From the teachers I know, and my brief adventures in teaching, I've found that no matter what the teacher's defined job, in the end he/she is really acting as a morale booster, referee, and therapist. Or essentially, as a parent to each student. Every hour of every school day. And starting over from scratch every year. Which is an incredibly difficult and exhausting task. The actual lecture is the easy part.

Right now, I'm helping out with my son's kindergarten class a couple times a week. And this has been the first time I've actually enjoyed working in education, because 5-year olds can get excited about anything. Not so much with 15-year olds.

Which is why I go into a rage any time I read something that puts down teachers. My friends think I have a difficult job, but my job is difficult only in a technical sense -- I know how to do the work well, so for me it's just a job. But for teachers, especially teaching grades 7 - 12, there is no mastering of the craft. They have to grind at it every goddamn day. That is hard, hard work.

Posted by: PapaJijo on May 1, 2008 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

We know exactly what we need to help children learn, and contrary to the poster upthread who laid at all at the feet of teachers, it's not teachers. It's involved parents.

Outside of parental involvement - which translates to parents who value education, see that their children are rested and fed and get to school on time, and help with homework - smaller class size helps a lot, too. Good teachers are gravy.

Posted by: cmac on May 1, 2008 at 8:35 PM | PERMALINK


History in the public schools is not an academic subject. It is intended as propaganda to teach American nationalism.

I found history totally boring until after college with the Army sent me to Germany and I suddently learned that history explained why real events happened. It was a cause-and-effect discipline. If you ever find a public school teaching it that way, They will find their funding cut. Too many Lynn Cheneys demanding that history be taught their way.

Memorizing propaganda is both boring to students of all ages and also fails to teach real historical thinking. But that's all you get with the repetition of the same subject over and over as you described. Propaganda.

Don't forget that the public schools were designed to turn the children of immigrants into loyal American citizens. That came along with the the demand of the industrial factories for compliant workers, and the factories (and commercial plantations) were paying for the public schools. Still do, for that matter.

Posted by: Rick B on May 1, 2008 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

SOME part of the story of the US education system has to include one point: It is not just slightly uncool to excel in school; in some schools, active, engaged participation in class can put a student in physical danger. When I went to school, it was mildly questionable to come to class prepared and raise one's hand enthusiastically. Twenty-five years later, it's gotten more intense. This pressure doesn't affect home-schooled kids, and it shows.

One thing that will help teachers teach effectively is a repositioning of the very concept of education.

Too cool for school? Umm, yeah.

Posted by: tb on May 1, 2008 at 8:44 PM | PERMALINK

One of the more important elements to learning is hardly ever addressed--good nutrition and living in an environment free of pollutants, like lead.

Posted by: Mazurka on May 1, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

The way education is portrayed in popular culture: People who speak articulately are "elitists" cf. Barack Obama. People who can actually do math are geeks --- check any TV sitcom. Reading is boring --- try MTV for a few minutes, etc. etc. This attitude is so deeply ingrained that one hardly notices it , unless you are a geeky, articulate reader yourself.
It has to have a negative effect on the entire educational enterprise, yet I hardly hear anything about it.

Since basic societal attitudes are very hard to change, maybe it's just too depressing.

Posted by: jprfrog on May 1, 2008 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I missed tb's comment. Better put than mine, and more recent (I left public school in 1955!)

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 9:00 PM | PERMALINK

Peter Drucker said, "Teaching is the only major occupation of man for which we have not yet developed tools that make an average person capable of competence and performance. In teaching we rely on the �naturals,� the ones who somehow know how to teach."

Posted by: jim on May 1, 2008 at 9:02 PM | PERMALINK

Unfortunately the real course is the corrosive nature of our whole society.

If as a parent, along with other parents, learning and school is valued, I am sure the children would value it, too.

If the school received help from the parents, as some do, and support in discipline and weren't undermined in security and threat of legal retalliation by parents, children would know they couldn't act up.

It's pretty easy to measure the decline of education and the effectiveness of schools with the decline of learning discipline. I'm not talking about beating. I'm talking mutual respect. When my hons daughter tells me that talking and disruption in the hons class at highschool was common, and, at college, the interaction of students in classes as small as 15 (and I'm talking state college) is far less than it should be, there is something severely wrong. And I asked her after watching the disruption of a highschool class in suburban Virginia that made teaching impossible.

And a society where women are still not respected as individuals or, more particularly, as figures of authority. Yeah! The fault hardly starts with the teachers. More with you and me and all the parents who don't allow a learning environment or the discipline needed.

And they want to let young males wander around the classroom to learn better? I have my doubts.

Posted by: notthere on May 1, 2008 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

The single largest correlative factor determining academic success is the SES of the parent. Generally speaking, the children of rich parents do well in school, and the children of poor parents do poorly in school.

The very best thing we, as a nation, can do to assist students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds is help their parents be less economically disadvantaged.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

Posted by: Patrick Meighan on May 1, 2008 at 9:11 PM | PERMALINK

RickB: "As long as America ghettoizes our poor people..."

How exactly does America 'ghettoize' people?

Can people ghettoize themselves?

What do we need to do to stop this heinous practice?

Posted by: neill on May 1, 2008 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

The one factor that has been been consistently shown to affect the quality and outcomes of education is class size. This underlies everything else mentioned, and is also one of the first things to go when budgets are tight, which they always are. Unless we're willing to have enough teachers to keep class sizes around 13, especially in K-8, just about every "gimmick" and "fad" (which are really school districts struggling to meet expectations without being given the resources to do so) is doomed.

Posted by: Mike Noordijk on May 1, 2008 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

Neil B, that's so funny. Whole-word reading was never destructive before.

Our schools are self-destructing and the abiility to teach is undermined, and nobody I never knew ever complained about learning to read whole word, including my daughter. The only exceptions I might have seen were dyslexic or other problems.

Of course, we were reading at home long before she went to school.

And there's the nub. You're immediately talking about remedial education, like someone not learning their language.

Everything shows that learning starts immediately and the student most absorbant then. So who should be the early teachers? Of course the parents, at least partly. But so many now are under-educated, incapable, and most of the rest have to go to work.

We have accepted a totally unnatural way of rearing our children unless we are really lucky with our daycare. We're even going away from early socialization, especially the rich.

And that problem is now showing up more and more in the school.

Oh. Alright. Phonic socialization pre-school so we can put right what wasn't wrong when we knew how to rear children.

Posted by: Notthere on May 1, 2008 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno.

It really didn't seem more than an idea.

Where were the scientific tests?

Where were they scaled up?

What was paid for?

I don't think the plan got beyond 'this would be a good idea!' and then left in a small office with no money to actually implement it.

Posted by: Crissa on May 1, 2008 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

From the Nation, this says it all, and too bad Kevin and others have been so silent regarding this shamefull, and not fully acknowledged discrace...

Betsy Reed: How Hillary Clinton's campaign played the race card--and drove a wedge into the feminist movement.

“what is most troubling--and what has the most serious implications for the feminist movement--is that the Clinton campaign has used her rival's race against him. In the name of demonstrating her superior "electability," she and her surrogates have invoked the racist and sexist playbook of the right--in which swaggering macho cowboys are entrusted to defend the country--seeking to define Obama as too black, too foreign, too different to be President at a moment of high anxiety about national security. .. There were references by Clinton campaign officials to Obama's admission of past drug use; the tit-for-tat over Clinton's tone-deaf but historically accurate statement that Martin Luther King needed Lyndon Johnson for his civil rights dreams to be realized; and insinuations that Obama is a token, unqualified, overreaching--that he's all pretty words, "fairy tales"

More than any single thing, that moment with Bill Clinton in South Carolina represents the rupture that was coming,…when the former President compared Obama's landslide win, in which he received a major boost from African-American voters, to Jesse Jackson's victories there in 1984 and 1988. Because the former President offered the comparison unprompted, in response to a question that had nothing to do with Jackson or race, the statement was widely read as chalking up Obama's win to his blackness alone and thus attempting to marginalize him as a doomed minority candidate with limited appeal. Obama was now "the black candidate," in the words of one Clinton strategist quoted by the AP.

The toxicity is further heightened in this post-9/11 atmosphere, in which an image of Obama in Somali dress is understood as a slur and e-mails claiming that he is a "secret Muslim" schooled in a madrassa spread virally, along with rumors that he took the oath of office on a Koran. The madrassa and Koran canards have been thoroughly debunked, but still they persist--and few have been willing to stand up and say, So what if he was a Muslim? For her part, Clinton, asked on 60 Minutes whether Obama was a Muslim, said, "There is nothing to base that on, as far as I know."
A mere three days after Obama spoke [a bout Wright], Bill Clinton made this statement in North Carolina about a potential Clinton-McCain general election matchup: "I think it'd be a great thing if we had an election year where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of this country. And people could actually ask themselves who is right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics." Whether or not this statement constituted McCarthyism, as one Obama surrogate alleged and as Clinton supporters vigorously denied, the timing of the remark made its meaning quite clear: controversies relating to Obama's race render him less fit than either Hillary or McCain to run for president as a patriotic American. A couple of weeks later, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen went so far as to call on Obama to make another speech, modeled after John F. Kennedy's declaration in 1960 that, despite his Catholicism, he would respect the separation of church and state as President--as though Obama's blackness were a sign of allegiance to some entity, like the Vatican, other than the United States of America.

In the Democratic debates, enabled by the moderators, Hillary Clinton has increasingly deployed issues of race and patriotism as a wedge strategy against her opponent. First, in the debate in Cleveland on February 26, she pressed Obama not only to denounce but to reject Louis Farrakhan--to whom he was spuriously linked through Reverend Wright, who had taken a trip with the black nationalist leader in the 1980s. In style as well as content, that attack was a harbinger of things to come. In the most recent debate, ABC's George Stephanopolous and Charles Gibson peppered Obama with questions such as, "Do you believe [Wright] is as patriotic as you are?" and, regarding former Weatherman Bill Ayers, a Chicago neighbor and Obama supporter, "Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?" Time after time, Clinton picked up the line and ran with it. "You know, these are problems, and they raise questions in people's minds. And so this is a legitimate area...for people to be exploring and trying to find answers," she said, seeming to abandon her argument that these issues are fair game now only because they will be raised by Republicans later and thus are relevant to an evaluation of Obama's electability.

The Wright, Farrakhan and Ayers controversies have been fueled by a craven media, and ABC's performance in the debate has rightly been condemned. But given that Clinton is the one who is running for President and who purports to represent liberal ideals, her complicity in such attempts to establish guilt by association is far more troubling. While she has dealt gingerly with the matter of Wright in the wake of his recent appearance at the National Press Club--accusing Republicans of politicizing the issue--she also took pains to remind reporters that she "would not have stayed in that church under those circumstances."

It's disappointing, to say the least, to see the first viable female contender for the presidency participate in attacks on her black opponent's patriotism, which exploit an anxious climate around national security that gives white men an edge both over women and people of color--who tend to be viewed, respectively, as weak and potentially traitorous. Says Paula Giddings, "This idea of nationalism and patriotism pulling at everyone has demanded hypermasculine men, more like McCain than the feline Obama, and demanded women whose role is to be maternal more than anything else."

Posted by: fides on May 1, 2008 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

I home school my kids and I am amazed at how much reinforcement it takes to educate properly. If there is not home/family support education will not work. If we are to focus on education it should be to reinforce family values and enact economic plans and such to enable one parent to earn enough to support the family allowing a parent to attend to the children. My child reads well ahead of her age group and math is the same but only 10% of our time is focused on academics. My other two are too young to being.

Posted by: AMW on May 1, 2008 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

I don’t know if this is unique, but our county library system just announced that the parents of all new-born babies will be given a DVD demonstrating how and explaining the importance of reading aloud to children. The parents will also get a coupon for 10 free books. They have to bring the coupon to the library to get the books, where they will also be signed up for library cards.

I assume that they will also be encouraged to bring their babies in for story hour—and I mean babies. I see parents standing in a circle in a conference room, while holding their babies out in front, lifting them up and down. I assume that the librarian is reading some kind of directions or rhyme. The kids are all quiet, but a little startled, as they look around at all the other babies being lifted up and down, too.

Posted by: emmarose on May 1, 2008 at 9:47 PM | PERMALINK

My Mom's a reading specialist, and she talks about the 'Lap Method' for teaching reading. Specifically, this means, from the moment a kid's born, plopping him/her onto your lap + reading. Do this as often as possible- every night before bed, at random times during the day, etc.- and, soon enough, s/he will be classically conditioned to associate reading the the warm, comfortable feelings of being held by his/her Mom/Dad.

FWIW, I read 'Goodnight Moon' to my daughter before she was a day old.

More generally, if kids grow up in an environment where books, magazines, and newspapers are prominent + constantly used, s/he will grow up is likely to grow up appreciating reading. Unfortunately, most kids in the US grow up w/24 hours of television. Not coincidentally, the US has achieved the dubious goal of a near 100% rate of marginal literacy- where reading a bus schedule is considered the test of literacy. Joy. In Iceland, basic literacy is the ability to write poetry; in the US, it's the ability to read a bus schedule. If this doesn't both depress you + help to explain how we've turned into a heavily armed banana republic, I don't know what will.


Posted by: Zorro on May 1, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

The best educational outcomes are the result of the teacher parent partnership. A parent who pays attention to what his or her student is doing and what the teacher is teaching is the single most important component in educational success. It is delusional to think anything else is more important.

Posted by: Ron Byers on May 1, 2008 at 10:07 PM | PERMALINK

the parents of all new-born babies will be given a DVD demonstrating how and explaining the importance of reading aloud to children.

Jeebus. Can you smell the irony? It's just sad.

Posted by: thersites on May 1, 2008 at 10:09 PM | PERMALINK

Boy you sure missed it - if everything about curriculum, assessments, alternative education, outcome-based, criterion-based, more and more money... (list could go on endlessly)

If these things don't change the outcomes - only one place to look - THE TEACHERS

It is well documented that most are of "below average" intellegence, a high percentage of have Borderline Personality Disorder, and in the early years, its all about control (that's the BPD thing).

So if we tinker with every other aspect of public schools and get the same results, what's left.

And NO! The answer is not to give the below-average intelligence, Borderline Personality Disorder, control craving incompetence raises!!!!!!!

Posted by: on May 1, 2008 at 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Local experts we know, say that most kids learn to read ok, no matter what method you use, which is how all sorts of methods get to report "success". Some of the remaining kids, get it with extra attention and whole language, some get it with extra attention and phonics. Some of them, you use "whatever works". We had a kid who needed "whatever works", and the reading specialist at the elementary school (who is a goddess) got him reading, and enjoying it.

We've got SES running out the ears, but we didn't know how to get him reading -- he needed professional help.

Posted by: dr2chase on May 1, 2008 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

It is well documented that most are of "below average" intellegence, a high percentage of have Borderline Personality Disorder, and in the early years, its all about control (that's the BPD thing).

It is well documented that any post containing the phrase 'it is well-documented' and then goes on to give no documentation is a waste of pixels.

First rule of debate -- my 9th graders know it by Labor Day of their first season:

He who asserts must prove.

It is well-documented that I'm being stalked by Emma Thompson.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 1, 2008 at 10:40 PM | PERMALINK

The study averaged the results from several different curriculum which qualify for Reading First funding.

You might want to check out Gering School District.

After three years, Gering is already starting to see results.

Before implementing DI, there was a 23 point gap between Hispanic and white students in fluency benchmarks in second grade in the Gering. Last year, not only was the gap closed, a greater percentage of Hispanics met the fluency benchmark than did white students -- a -2% gap.

The district, not content waiting for the elementary students receiving DI to reach junior high, adopted the remedial DI reading program for its junior high students to improve their chances of succeeding in high school. After one year of remediation, Terra Nova scores went from a 39% pass rate to a 55% pass rate. That's an effect size of about 0.4 standard deviation (σ). Let's put that in perspective.

Of course, everyone could just go and look at the results of "Project Follow Through", the largest government funded education study in history to see what works.

Of course, why use effective educational methods when we can just use the 'Lap Method'

Posted by: Rory on May 1, 2008 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

It's the students, not the teachers or schools.

Until the bureaucracy gets it that teachers can only present material to students, and that it is the STUDENT'S responsibility to learn the material (with the cooperation of parents), there will be no progress. Simple.

Why were the high school graduates of the early 60's the best? Discipline in the 50's. Why are the graduates of today so stupid? No discipline, but lots of self-esteem from a non-competitive, 'nurturing' environment.

There's really nothing complicated about it.

Posted by: Luther on May 1, 2008 at 10:57 PM | PERMALINK

You mean walking around shouting into a bullhorn while waving a baseball bat doesn't work?

Posted by: MG on May 1, 2008 at 11:04 PM | PERMALINK

Amen, Luther. I always thought that private schools showed that any teacher could be successful with motivated students and motivated parents. NCLB focuses too much on the school and the teacher and passes the student and parent by. We need some way to get parents involved with their kids' schooling, giving their kids the message that school is important.

Posted by: BC on May 1, 2008 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

It is well-documented that I'm being stalked by Emma Thompson.

I am not stalking you... I read Kevin too. By the way, I like that shirt you are wearing.

Posted by: Emma Thompson on May 1, 2008 at 11:10 PM | PERMALINK


Former journalist Sidney Blumenthal has been widely credited with coining the term "vast right-wing conspiracy" used by Hillary Clinton in 1998 to describe the alliance of conservative media, think tanks, and political operatives that sought to destroy the Clinton White House where he worked as a high-level aide. A decade later, and now acting as a senior campaign advisor to Senator Clinton, Blumenthal is exploiting that same right-wing network to attack and discredit Barack Obama. And he's not hesitating to use the same sort of guilt-by-association tactics that have been the hallmark of the political right dating back to the McCarthy era.
Almost every day over the past six months, I have been the recipient of an email that attacks Obama's character, political views, electability, and real or manufactured associations. The original source of many of these hit pieces are virulent and sometimes extreme right-wing websites, bloggers, and publications. But they aren't being emailed out from some fringe right-wing group that somehow managed to get my email address. Instead, it is Sidney Blumenthal who, on a regular basis, methodically dispatches these email mudballs to an influential list of opinion shapers -- including journalists, former Clinton administration officials, academics, policy entrepreneurs, and think tankers -- in what is an obvious attempt to create an echo chamber that reverberates among talk shows, columnists, and Democratic Party funders and activists. One of the recipients of the Blumenthal email blast, himself a Clinton supporter, forwards the material to me and perhaps to others.

Posted by: barbie on May 1, 2008 at 11:16 PM | PERMALINK

Emails are easily spoofed because the SMTP protocol does not verify the sender.

I am not stalking you... I read Kevin too. By the way, I like that shirt you are wearing.
Posted by: Emma Thompson

You saw that Drew Kerry episode too? LOL

Posted by: Jet on May 1, 2008 at 11:36 PM | PERMALINK

Beggin' to differ, but seems to me that other countries do a pretty good educational job. Now, I happen to believe that RIF: Reading is Fundamental and basic to the educational process, but I wonder just how well reading is taught in the primary grades.

Posted by: tommy harper on May 1, 2008 at 11:39 PM | PERMALINK

thank god the main wellspring for a child's education isn't in the home.

otherwise we'd be in deep doo-doo.

Posted by: neill on May 1, 2008 at 11:42 PM | PERMALINK

I was in public school until 10th grade. I was in one of the "best districts" in the state where we had 30 kids to a class and the teacher spent most of the class trying to get everyone to listen.

So where did the high test scores/reputation come from? The "tracking system" that was established in 7th grade-- there were 4 tracks and each kid was told which one they fit into:

1) College-bound/gifted program kids
2) Community college or trade school
3) High-school graduate
4) "high-risk" kids

So basically the school skimmed off all the kids who were already excelling and then put other kids, by group, into classes. They pretty much dumbed down the cirriculum accordingly and set the bar based on expectations set when you're 11. It sucked.

Then I went to private school in 10th grade-- my largest class had 12 kids. (I actually had an english class with only 8 kids once.) The teachers really know you then, you can't just slide through the cracks, as a student you are actually HELD ACCOUNTABLE. If you're struggling they know right away, get you extra help. Also the kids don't control the room, the teacher can actually TEACH.

So, yeah, good teachers are essential but I'd put my money on class size, it changes everything. From there you can try to work on increasing parental involvement. The more 1-1 times kids get from an interested, involved teacher the better off they'll be, it could certainly help kids who come from homes that aren't especially pro-education.

Posted by: zoe from pittsburgh on May 2, 2008 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

Aside from good teachers and smaller class sizes there is also the issue of distribution of resources-- think how radically our school system would change if it weren't based on the local tax base? What if states collected school taxes and then each district got the SAME AMOUNT per student? No more rich schools and poor schools.

It would never happen, I know, but if you want equality then you have to start with a true level playing field.

Posted by: zoe from pittsburgh on May 2, 2008 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

It must be a discouraging field to work in.

It's a challenge, which gets fun the more you see the detail in the challenges, sort of like pitching or boxing.

But I always thought doctors had it worse, having to see ailing people, especially in the US, where some could not afford treatment. That would be more discouraging to me. Not to mention personal responsibility issues that created the ailments. It gets really discouraging even to think about. Good thing I'm not a doc.

Posted by: Bob M on May 2, 2008 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

It could be that there is still a lot of stigma against reading for youngsters.

When I was a kid there was a lot of vicious anti-nerd stuff in all the TV we watched (even the word "nerd" was pretty abusive until recent times, when it was toned down just a little during the tech / Starbucks / bookstore boom)- basically if you were a character in one of the shows, you either do anything intellectual (like reading), or you were a repulsive stereotype of a disgusting, socially inept, cowardly, immoral outcast. It's almost as if there was a Hollywood agenda or an agenda from that parents' group that influences TV to condition kids to look down on intellectual pursuits- anyway, it worked; by the time I got into middle school, just about every kid really looked down on "being a nerd," and there was no real clique that (openly) admired it. By high school, there was. It seems like when people get older, then they often realize how important it is to read and be smart.

Also I think I've heard that among black young people, reading and being intellectual is often looked down on, sometimes as "trying to be white," which is so horrible and unfortunate.

Posted by: Swan on May 2, 2008 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

basically if you were a character in one of the shows, you either do anything intellectual (like reading),

Sorry, that should have said '. . . you either didn't do anything intellectual (like reading),'

Posted by: Swan on May 2, 2008 at 12:22 AM | PERMALINK

A) Better parents.
B) More responsibility for the students.
C) A better socioeconomical situation for the families and the schools.

Those things are all very important. They're also largely beyond the means of any educational reforms. I submit these necessary steps:

1) Better pay for teachers of all level/qualifications
2) Lower the entry barriers to becoming a teacher, make it something that people can jump into for short intervals if they choose.
3) Make the job attractive to more people, including people in between more lucrative/attractive jobs.

What problem does this address? Lack of teachers. Schools are incredibly overpopulated, and teachers overwhelmed by the large class sizes. A great teacher isn't going to have great results with a class of 20+. A poor teacher with a class of 10 and a great teacher with a class of 10 will be much better.

Once class sizes are smaller, teachers can gain control over the classroom more easily. The stress of the job will be decreased. With more money for teachers and less difficulty in becoming one, along with part-time positions available for those needing work, there won't be a teacher shortage. Then principals will be able to select the best and fire the worst without worrying about not having enough people to watch the children.

Such is my theory.

Posted by: Sojourner on May 2, 2008 at 12:27 AM | PERMALINK

Maybe we could test the kids more and have teachers try to spend more time teaching to those tests.

This way we can get them excited about learning.

Posted by: asdf on May 2, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

We know a lot more than Kevin lets on, most of it accepted widely by investigators.

The transmission of that information is distorted by unions, special interest groups and local politicians.

Leading to the main theory of education, when you can do it without unions, special interest, and politicians; you do a much better job.

Posted by: Matt on May 2, 2008 at 12:55 AM | PERMALINK

Um, Sojourner, in California, due to our budget problems, we're laying teachers off. There are no teaching positions to be had.

Shortage, you say? Well, sorta. We do need more teachers - but first we need the money to pay them.

As to your idea of letting people hop in and out of teaching - not so great, really. Teaching is hard. Really, really hard. Not everybody can do it. It takes a particular temperament, as well as a set of skills which are best developed through years of experience.

I have to say, too, that just raising teacher pay won't necessarily attract large numbers of people to the profession. It's not for everybody. It's like herding cats - but you don't just have to get them all going in the right direction. You have to teach them to read and to count at the same time.

Posted by: cmac on May 2, 2008 at 12:57 AM | PERMALINK

"Teaching is hard. Really, really hard."

I know what the quote means, but is represents the distortion we get.

This should say,

"Managing a large group of kids in a full room is hard, really hard on a daily basis. But teaching and learning, by themselves are fun, a thrill for anyone who has done it"

We have a socialist bias, we have to do teaching in one certain way to get the economies of scale that socialism demands. Hence our discussion of education is necessarily biased. And when the socialist mass production system is slightly perturbed, then the whole supply chains goes bozonkers.

Posted by: Matt on May 2, 2008 at 1:38 AM | PERMALINK

Davis X. Machina - wadda marrooooooon!!!!!

Nice try - are you one of the "below average" teachers? Do you have to be spoon fed everything?

Hey - great website - let me provide a link:


Now how about you check it out for yourself, MORON!!!!!!

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 2:16 AM | PERMALINK

Oh yah - forgot to mention, not only is an example of a davis "below average" educator, he is also technologically challenged.

I bet the students just snicker behind your back at how ignorant you are about information and technology literacy too.

Students know when they have hypocritical teachers that can't think for themselves and are too ignorent to basic technology (yeah - you can blog - BIG DEAL!)

But you can proclaim rules - blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah...


But you can't look anthing up?

Oh yeah - maybe you thought this was your 9th grade debate.


ummmmmmmmmmm - do you want me to provide a link to your ignorant comment too or are you able to find y0our way back into the thread without mommie?

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 2:21 AM | PERMALINK

Or davis - Maybe I was keying too fast for YOUR reading level - would it help if I keyed a little slower so that your mind might be able to catch-up?

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah - maybe you thought this was your 9th grade debate.

I was expecting at least that level, ambitious expectation though that might be.

And you're still making mere assertions.

When you progress to actual argument, let me know.
Or, for that matter, when you figure out how to embed a link.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on May 2, 2008 at 6:45 AM | PERMALINK

"It must be a discouraging field to work in."

Only when we have to use other people's ideas. As research proves, our ideas always work unbelievably well the first time we try them.

Posted by: reino on May 2, 2008 at 7:40 AM | PERMALINK

As James Coleman (Johns Hopkins Sociologist) showed in his famous 1966 "Coleman Report" the main factor that determines school quality is the socioeconomic class of the parents. How much money is spent on teachers, books and fancy school buildings matters very little. Since then, several cognitive and genetic scientists (Jensen, Bouchard, DeFries, Plomin, Deary, Boomsma, and others) have proven that IQ-type intelligence is a highly heritable trait (in young children about 40% due to genes, in older teens about 80% due to genes). Also scholars like Herrnstein and Murray (they wrote The Bell Curve --the most incisive social science treatise of the past 50 years), and Linda Gottfredson have shown that in our modern meritocratic societies a person's socioeconomic class is largely determined by his/her native intelligence. Ergo children of richer parents tend on average to be much more intelligent than children of poor people due to inheriting more high IQ-associated gene alleles from their more successful parents. Ethnic/racial differences in IQ-type intelligence are also probably due to genetic differences, thus Jews and Chinese are much more intelligent and show much higher academic achievement than average whites and conversely on average Hispanics and blacks show much lower intelligence and much lower academic achievement than average whites.

The educational process works just fine, however if we have false expectations e.g. --blacks with IQs of 85 should be expected to show academic achievement equal to whites with IQs of 100 or Jews with IQs of 115 or Chinese with IQs of 110--or poor children who have dumb highschool dropout parents should show academic achievement equal to the children of parents with professional degrees-- then of course we will continue to find "failure of our educational system". But when you acknowledge reality and accept socioecomomic and ethnic diversity in innate mental ability levels, then you will no longer keep finding failures in our educational system. We just have to realize that low IQ kids are not to be expected to perform way above their innate ability level. Let dumb kids be dumb and smart kids be smart! Relax and accept reality!!

Posted by: rifraf on May 2, 2008 at 9:11 AM | PERMALINK

Let me key this really slowly for you so that you can read it, davis:

(1). This is not a 9th grade debate
(2). If you are on the tubes, you have access to this great information source called the "World Wide Web"
(3). Here's a handy URL - www.google.com

Maybe in school, you get to set the rules - perhaps when people like you are "in-charge", it adversely affects student achievement.

Seems to me that if EVERY innovation that changes some part of instruction, but not the teacher or teacher's style (or what appears to be low-level critical thinking skills on part of many teachers), then we actually do have som powerful data to draw conclusions from.


Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 9:12 AM | PERMALINK

p.s., davis - I left a "trick" in my message - a secret piece of information to let you check out your thinking skills.

Have fun finding it - oh - and feel free to "use the tubes" if you need more information.

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 9:14 AM | PERMALINK

Oooooh, davis, I see you have been playing in the sandbox – gee, you know how to embed a link.
Of course, that does little good if you can’t use a simple search engine to find information. But go ahead – hide behind your 9TH GRADE DEBATERS. That makes you quite a “man” (or something), doesn’t it.

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

oh.god. rifraf is spouting racist Charles Murray Bell Curve bs that has already been disproven again and again and again and again.

A recent reading and vocabulary study showed that middle class kids with college educated parents had a vocabulary about 16 times that of a poor kid with a mother who dropped out of high school. So I wonder what could possibly solve that gap?

And studies out of RAND show an intriguing timeline where the gap between test scores of black and white students, regardless of SES, were declining until the late 1980s, when Pell grants were scaled back and other War on Poverty efforts repealed by the late great Ronald Reagan. More poor black mothers were getting college educations. Now they're not. Pell grants now are a joke.

Posted by: lou on May 2, 2008 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

Damn, lou - you are going to piss off our 9th grade debate teacher, you didn't provide a link!

Remember, teachers may be reading this - you know, brain-dead, mouth breathers that can't read as fast as you key.

Didn't you see the rules that one "thoughtful" individual posted?

Posted by: on May 2, 2008 at 9:50 AM | PERMALINK

Parents are the key. If parents don't raise disciplined children, don't value the education of their children, and don't convey that sense of value to their children along with the expectations of success, the children cannot be taught. All the education fads that come and go are helpless in the face of poor parenting, even those fads that are actual improvements of method.

As for the schools' themselves, it does not take much degradation in the quality of children to ruin any of them. What can be done to save bad schools? Get rid of the disruptive non-learners at an early point of the process.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on May 2, 2008 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

" After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to."

That's because kids teach themselves, and learn what they want to. "What they want to" is dependent on a number of factors, like their home, their native intelligence, their peers, their socialization, etc.

Posted by: acefranze on May 2, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

cmac: Um, Sojourner, in California, due to our budget problems, we're laying teachers off. There are no teaching positions to be had.

I think things are quite a bit different in Maryland.

So if you have too many people trying to become teachers, what are the class sizes like? Around 10-15? Has that not lead to improvements?

Posted by: Sojourner on May 2, 2008 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK
After a hundred years of more-or-less rigorous pedagogical research, we still don't know how to teach kids any better than we used to.

That's almost entirely untrue. We've learned pretty clearly that the number 1 issue in poor education results isn't differences in educational methodology, its parental education and socioeconomic status and health and even simple presence in the home, early childhood nutrition and health and physical environment, and those kind of things.

And we know that the things that can be done to address it through public policy are to narrow the distribution gaps in wealth, provide more support for families especially at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, guarantee universal access to healthcare, and so on.

But instead, what we've done is do exactly the opposite through public policy that rewards the already wealthy at the expense of the middle class and the poor, while pretending to try to improve education through a bunch of non-scientific gimmicks. Almost anything new in education will look good in a pilot program, because pilot programs, by nature, have prestige attached to them and therefore attract the most motivated teachers and administrators, the students with the parents most aware of and motivated to look for ways to advance their education, etc. So, yeah, any new gimmick looks good in the pilot program, and fails when it gets spread. But we know what we fundamentally need to do most, and its not any of what most of the gimmicks are addressed at.

But its not that we don't understand what needs to be done, its that we, as a nation, have been deliberately doing the opposite.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 2, 2008 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

We`ve know for centuries what this is all about. That Voltaire guy is here to remind us.

"The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor." - Voltaire

Posted by: daCascadian on May 2, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

Reread The Bell Curve. Make sure you catch the sentence, "The debate about whether and how much genes and environment have to do with ethnic differences remains unresolved."

Then come back here with your tail between your legs.

Posted by: reino on May 2, 2008 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

My point in mentioning the 'lap method' is not to dismiss the importance of good teaching methods and good teachers in schools. It is to emphasize that a child's performance in school is strongly connected to the environment in which s/he was raised. If a child is raised in an environment where reading is constant, where learning is valued, and where the parents are involved, then the school's job is made considerably easier; the kid, in effect, has a head start. By point of comparison, children raised in homes where parents do not read are likely to have a harder time learning to read, and, therefore, a harder time in school as a whole.

Teaching and learning are complicated processes, and complicated problems typically have simple, easy-to-understand, wrong answers.


Posted by: Zorro on May 2, 2008 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

"...but beyond that the only thing that works consistently is getting poor kids out of schools that are 90% poor."

It's amazing to me how durable this belief in the face of clear contrary information.

Every wealth, liberal, integrated college town in the U.S. has a big achievement gap between white and Asian students and underperforming minority students. These gaps have been around decades. Pick any one of these districts: Ann Arbor, Evanston, Berkeley, Princeton, etc and google for 'achievement gap', and you'll find stories like this:


My kids have gone to high-school in Ann Arbor, and they've had African-American AP teachers but, AFAIK, no African-American classmates in their AP classes (even though about 1 in 6 kids in the school is AA).

Posted by: Slocum on May 2, 2008 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

Lou said
"oh.god. rifraf is spouting racist Charles Murray Bell Curve bs that has already been disproven again and again and again and again.
A recent reading and vocabulary study showed that middle class kids with college educated parents had a vocabulary about 16 times that of a poor kid with a mother who dropped out of high school. So I wonder what could possibly solve that gap?"

Vocabulary is highly correlated with IQ, so why should I be surprised that higher-IQ middle class kids have a bigger vocabulary than lower-IQ poor kids?

Lou, what you do not seem to understand is that parents are important in affecting their biological childrens' IQs because they transmit their GENES to their children. There is no actual evidence that parenting behavior per se can affect childrens' long term IQ development. In fact studies of older teens who were adopted in infancy have found there is no correlation of the adopted teens IQs with their adoptive parent--but the correlation of their IQs with their biological parents (whom they never knew) is almost as strong as that seen between children actually raised by their biological parents.

Sorry Lou, but the scientific facts are quite clear, when it comes to IQ (and therefore academic achievement) GENES TOTALLY RULE!!!

If it is racist to acknowledge the obvious truth of racial/ethnic diversity in innate IQ, then go ahead and call me a racist because my standard is to respect the truth. I am consciously disdainful of your ridiculous PC Boasian doctrine of racial/ethnic IQ-equality which is obviously false.

If it were true that blacks were as smart as whites then I would expect that somewhere there would be a school system where blacks showed academic achievement equal to whites--but alas there is no place in the world where is this true. Instead the empirical facts everywhere (Africa, Europe, UK, S America, USA, Canada) are invariably supportive of the Galtonian/Jensenist view. Every few years nearly every racially-diverse school system hires a new superintendent who solemnly vowes to close the black-white gap in academic achievement, but of course they always totally fail. I reckon that success in closing the black-white IQ gap will probably occur about the same time that whites began to beat blacks in the 100 meter dash...

Posted by: rifraf on May 2, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

The Junior Republic by William R. George. In fact, we knew better how to bring about accomplishment in the poorest of children back then, George wrote about it, and a hostile educational community --- and the depression --- led to the end of the junior republic movement, which included schools in England, China and India, as well as across the United States.

Order it from your library.

Posted by: catherineD on May 2, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

I see you still missed that sentence in The Bell Curve.

If you want to quote Jensen, read The Science And Politics of IQ by Kamin first. After that, you won't want to quote Jensen any more.

Posted by: reino on May 2, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK



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