Saturday, January 28, 2012

Moral Hazards in Teaching: inculcating irresponsibility

Here is a link to a blog by a public high-school teacher who is a law school graduate. It makes a lot of sense. Just click HERE

Why do many teachers permit, even support the moral hazards mentioned in Jay Braiman's article? It begins with their training and the pressures of getting a job.

Undergraduate teacher candidates are commonly unself-possessed, befuddled by pedagogical catchwords, and often all-too-ready to abandon what few ethical precepts they have for the sake of a job.

By contrast, the increasing number of mature change-of-career entrants coming into education have a sharpened critical sensitivity that often leaves them dismayed upon first exposure to the ethical and political morasses not infrequently encountered in today's schools. That there is a ethical dimension to education need hardly be argued to this experienced group. Inexperienced undergraduates, on the contrary, generally only want to talk about technique.

Undergraduate teacher candidates tend to dismiss ethical concerns. They expect that their principal or their school's policies will give them ready answers. Older change-of-career teacher candidates can hardly get enough discussion of such questions. They know that policies are one thing, but in-the-trench-decisions are quite another.

For more on this see The Ethical Miseducation of Educators

--- EGR

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Must Schools in a Democracy be “Democratic”?

Proverb: Too many cooks spoil the broth. Is this true?
During the 1975 - 76 school year I helped coordinate a parent-run private pre-school in Philadelphia. We shared a building with an experimental private K-12 school, call it Walden, whose fundamental premise -- the headmaster told me -- was that everyone, staff, administration, parent and student, got to participate in decision making: everyone had a voice. And they all had a single vote in the community.

In September, I would see large numbers (over 100) of adults and children going daily into a commons room to discuss what was to be taught, and how. During the year I noticed many, many students playing in the schoolyard at all times of the day.

By the next May I saw far fewer people assembling in that same commons room. I asked the headmaster how things were going. “We have made some progress toward a general idea of what the curriculum might turn out to be; but we have yet to have classes. The students can’t seem to agree with their parents and the kids can outvote the adults.”

Considering that the State of Pennsylvania recognized Walden as a replacement for public schooling, I often wondered what the parents thought they were paying for and whether they got their money’s worth.

To examine these issues further, see Democracy vs Efficiency in Public Schooling

-- EGR

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prosecuting Fraud in Education

edited 12/21/18
The Department of Justice and four states on Monday filed a multibillion-dollar fraud suit against the Education Management Corporation, the nation’s second-largest for-profit college company, charging that it was not eligible for the $11 billion in state and federal financial aid it had received from July 2003 through June 2011. -- New York Times August 8, 2011
A bitter though old lesson has had to be relearned by the complacent citizens of 21st century America: blind trust in our financial, religious and educational institutions, the sacred cows of our society, yields disappointment and scandal.

But when it comes to dealing with chicanery in higher education, there is a means for correction. For example, if a university receives federal funds because it is accredited, or has professional programs that are accredited, and if the conditions for accreditation are in fact not met, then those funds have been fraudulently obtained in violation of the Federal False Claims act.

The funds will have to be returned, fines are likely to be levied and the "whistle blowers" who provided information leading to successful prosecution under the act will receive a substantial percentage of funds recovered. This is not a rare occurrence.

Many law firms advertise their willingness to represent whistle-blowers in such cases, -- called qui tam cases, since the whistle-blower represents the interests of the government as well as himself or herself. But qui tam cases are far less frequent than those of us in higher education might expect: law firms seem to be hindered by their lack of knowledge as to how a university works.

Compounding all this is that accrediting organizations are often in cahoots with the programs they are supposed to examining, since accreditation brings in large fees or provides employment to the accreditors. (Law firm members, themselves, often are reluctant to take action against their alma mater or prospective university client.)

What might be done? First of all, law firms might adopt a more entrepreneurial attitude: it will take some upfront money and knowledgable consultancy to obtain evidence of fraud. But both the promise of substantial sharing in the fines leveled by the federal government, as well as the widespread fraud that takes place each year -- I would estimate that in the Philadelphia area alone a potential for several billion dollars in fines exists -- should make the risk worthwhile.

Secondly, …

------ For more on this, see "Combatting Educational Corruption"

-- EGR

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pursuing Common, Rigorous Curricular Standards: a perpetual cycle in American public schooling

Researchers Urge E.D. Effort to Define “Common Core.” Bennett’s Advisory Group Reviews Research Agenda at First Session -- T. Mirga, Education Week, April 24, 1985, p.9

In April of 1985 a panel of nine prominent educators advised the National Institute of Education to devote a greater percentage of its dollars to “define” a common core of knowledge for American students. Members of the panel expressed displeasure with what they said was an overemphasis on research on the cognitive development of students. More emphasis, they said, should be placed on subject matter.

Michael W. Kirst of Stanford said that the focus should not be on process orientation, but rather “on what needs to be taught in these institutions.” His proposal presumes, it appears, that curricular interventions directly affect learning outcomes, bypassing, somehow teaching and other presentation difficulties.

Joseph Adelson of the University of Michigan concurred with Mr. Kirst, adding that he was “amazed at how little students know.” Perhaps he expected that if NIE research emphasized “defining” a common core, his own future encounters would be with more knowledgeable students.

Chester Finn -- at that time of Vanderbilt University -- among others, questioned the need for a proposed Center for the Study of Writing. “The thought that this is major terra incognita strikes me as blarney,” said Mr. Finn. “People know how to teach writing; they just don’t do it.”

It is somewhat amazing that in the world of 1985, where it was a commonplace that academics were barely competent teachers, such hidden riches, a plethora of writing and teaching talent, lay ignored or unexploited! On Mr. Finn’s account, the academic -- who averaged (and still averages) four published articles in his/her lifetime -- is merely withholding his/her gifts from students. Perhaps, secondary and elementary teachers, who suffer no pressure to publish, are endowed with a proportionally even greater ability to write and to teach writing!

Imagine a seed salesman who occasionally visited a grocery store and recommended to the grocer changes in the kinds and amounts of seeds farmers should be offered on the basis of the produce the salesman "saw missing"in the store. It's very much like how these curriculum interventionists, Kirst, Edelson, Finn, Bennett and the others at that meeting, relate to the actual classroom learning of elementary and secondary students.

Rigor, in curriculum, is an aesthetic criterion, a matter of taste. It is seldom a causal criterion, touching on effectiveness. Physicists, for example will do all sorts of things with mathematics that mathematicians find “unrigorous.” Who benefits, we should ask, when the call for rigor is heeded? The curriculum interventionist is not unlike the proverbial man with a hammer who tries to fix everything by hitting it, until it is formed (or deformed?) to suit his preferences.

For references and links to cited articles and to examine these issues further, see ON THE VIABILITY OF A CURRICULUM LEADERSHIP ROLE 
Avoiding Confusion of Role and Function

--- EGR

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What is Cheating? By Whose Rules?

All oppression creates a state of war. -- Simone de Beauvoir
Cheating is not playing by the rules. Whose rules?

In 1796 at age 22 Oney Judge, Martha Washington’s personal slave attendant, fled the President’s mansion and traveled to New Hampshire. The Washingtons were angry at her “ingratitude,” because Oney enjoyed privileges in the Washington household that many free whites could not. Oney offered to return on the condition she be granted freedom. Sending agents out to capture her and bring her back, her masters refused her terms. Escaping capture, Oney remained in New Hampshire swearing she would “suffer death rather than return to Slavery.”

Was Oney Judge a cheater? Cheating is not playing by the rules. Whose rules? Were they agreed to by all participants? Were they freely accepted? Or were they imposed on those lacking power to reject them? Clearly, sometimes not playing by the rules, “cheating,” is not merely excusable, but desirable.

But what about kids in schools who cheat on tests? Cheating is not playing by the rules. Whose rules? Were they agreed to by all participants? Were they freely accepted? Or were they imposed on those lacking power to reject them?

“But it’s for their own good!” you say? Who determines this?

In the United States basic schooling is compulsory. What makes it morally different from slavery? This is not meant to be a rhetorical question, but an invitation to reflection.

To examine these issues further, see Preventing Cheating: transforming educational values

-- EGR

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Stupid Opinion, or Free Speech? Which Should Teachers Have a Right to?

Should public school teachers have “the right to free speech” in their classrooms?

It is more likely nearer the truth to state flat out that no teacher at any level, whether in public or private education, is immune to reprisal for expressing to students (or colleagues) any opinion, however, well-founded or reasonable, that can be interpreted by his superiors as contrary to the “commonly accepted” beliefs of the institution he or she works in. Both so-called “liberals” and “conservatives” raise an easy cheer to “free speech” so long as it means “speech I don’t disagree with.”

Teachers have “free speech” so long as no one higher up objects. In public schools, “higher up” includes parents and general public to the extent that they can harass superintendents and school board members about it. In the name of good public relations “curriculum” becomes doctrine and “professionalism” becomes censorship.

This generates a stomach-churning reality, a deep hypocrisy, in the context of the concerns – often strongly expressed by the censors, themselves – for developing “critical thinking skills” in students. Critical thinking skills, by all means, but not any that subject my nearest and dearest to examination.

Public schools are in a peculiar position. Private and religious schools are assumed to come with a certain amount of ideological baggage: you can always go elsewhere. But, by some miracle of human nature, public schools are supposed to be free of it.

Too many communities define themselves in terms of events of questionable facticity, in terms of esteem rendered to persons of questionable repute, in terms of expectations of questionable justice. Critical thinking, and the freedom of speech that supposedly supports its development, awaits still, in this United States of America in the 21st Century, an educational forum that supports it.

To examine these issues further, see Trading-Off "Sacred" Values: 
Why Public Schools Should Not Try to "Educate"

--- EGR

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Achievement-Gap-GDP-Gap Myth: Selling Snake Oil?

edited 7/26/18
(I)f ...(student)... achievement gaps were closed, the yearly gross domestic product of the United States would be trillions of dollars higher, or $3 billion to $5 billion more per day -- Javier C. Hernandez (2009)
Would it were so. But this wishful thinking, on which many reform proposals have been based and marketed, is highly misleading. Most people with a poorly performing automobile would take it to be a joke, for example, if someone said,
Buy just one new replacement tire, and your gas mileage will increase, your engine will stop missing and the accident rate in your city will go down 50%.
A much cited slide presentation report by McKinsey & Company (2009) that detailed findings on the economic impact of the achievement gap in America's school beats on this same drum. A crucial item buried in slide 88 of McKinsey's 119 slide presentation is this: the difference between the actual GDP and the hypothesized GDP is "determined by assumptions about the ability to make use of higher skilled people and the quality of economic institutions."

Although some economists believe that cognitive and economic development are linked, they recognize that public school classrooms are not the only, or even the most important influences that affect this relationship. For example, Hanushek and Woessmann (2008 ) write,
Overall economic institutions ... can be viewed as preconditions to economic development. And, without them, education and skills may not have the desired impact on economic outcomes.
For example, the so-called "overeducated" often find themselves misfit in their economy, so that even high levels of their particular cognitive skills fail to provide "human capital," i.e. skills that translate into economic payoffs.

But what has been dropped from reform propaganda is the critical condition that appropriate, healthy economic institutions must be available so higher skills acquired can be put to use. (Since the 2008 report that Hanushek co-authored, he has said little about this condition, preferring, it seems, to take the easy ride on the school reform bandwagon.)

The present school reform undertakings, like the many that have preceded them in the past 100 years, represent little more than the triumph of hope over experience.

For references and links to cited articles and to examine these issues further, see Moral Responsibility in the Education Industry: 
how much can school reform enhance a student's occupational fitness?

--- EGR

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Too Many Broths Ruin the Cook

Too many cooks spoil the broth -- Proverb
There is only so much time in a teaching day. There are only so many things a teacher can do. Adding to the already overstuffed schedule doesn’t get more things done, unless they are done less than well.

Teachers classroom activites fall into three main groups: instruction, organization and discipline. If one of the groups expands, one or two of the others must suffer. This is not nuclear physics.

If kids have not been sufficiently socialized at home to contribute, or at least, not to interfere with instructional or organizational activities, then the teacher must waste the instructional time of the cooperative students on disciplinary action. This is not nuclear physics.

If school districts insist on dumping more and more faddish items into the curriculum, then less and less gets done. The essentials suffer. The kids miss out or do not develop those skills needed for their later years. This is not nuclear physics.

If administrators interrupt classes with non-urgent public address messages, or with special un-preannounced assemblies, it wastes teacher time in helping along his or her charges. This, also, is not nuclear physics.

What is so hard about applying common sense in schools?

------To investigate this issue further see See "What Can a Teacher Do?"


-- EGR

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Must Our Leaders Be Scoundrels, Too?

To do great things is difficult; but to command great things is more difficult. -- Friedrich Nietzsche
Is moral leadership possible? Why not? Is there anything which makes it necessary for a leader to act immorally? Or, on the other hand, is there anything about being moral that prevents someone from being a leader?

By “moral leader” some people think of those who call others to some well-defined standard of morality — for example, influential ministers, rabbis, imams or popes: a “moral authority.” Such moral authorities may have no personal power to “get things done.”

Another sense of “moral leadership” is a notion that people can be “real leaders” of organizations, who get things done, as opposed to “mere” administrators, officials, authorities or managers. The hope is that, in addition, such leaders will conduct themselves in a “moral” manner.

To get things done, power is essential. The quest for “moral leadership” is very much the problem of reconciling power with moral authority. Many of those who offer seminars in ethics for organizational leaders seem to think that there are no deep issues to be faced.

To examine these issues further, see LEADERSHIP vs. MORALITY: AN UNAVOIDABLE CONFLICT?

-- EGR

Friday, January 6, 2012

Wishful Thinking: National Standards for 15,000 Independent School Boards!

The more things change, the more they remain the same -- proverb
Our history shows that it is not difficult to seduce Americans into a crusade, even a difficult and bitter one, so long as the majority can hope to live to see the conquest of the Promised Land. But to be merely a bit player in a struggle that may last for generations? That is surely asking too much. We cannot see where we, as a nation, will be next year.

Take a paper and pencil, and, if you have been a teacher for ten years, you will be able to list a number of initiatives, reforms, and innovations that have gone the way of all flesh. I started teaching when the New Math was about to save America from Sputnik and other devilish Communist contrivances. Ancient that I am, I saw teaching machines rise and fall, language labs degenerate into expensive toys.

SRA reading materials brought their own micro-millennium. Whole Language hangs on, but OBE has lost its vigor. 4-MAT has become 4-gotten. Special Education has become inclusion, which is practically what it was before it became Special Education.

Do you remember Needs Assessment? Has Site-Based Management or Quality Circles transformed the world? Who wanted these innovations? Apparently, not the public who supports the public schools.

Who bothered to convince people other than educators that the millennium was at hand? No one. Who made off with the vast sums of money spent on such programs? That is an interesting story, also.

To examine these issues further, see Establishing Nationally Recognized Educational Standards

-- EGR

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Educational Innovation: stuck in the mud!

Two quite opposite qualities equally bias our minds - habits and novelty. -- Jean de la Bruyere
Who was it that said, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door"? It doesn't matter who said it, because there is abundant evidence that it is not true.

Technical innovation presumably pursues efficiency. But efficiency is only one small aspect of total cost reduction. The strength of the competition, the availability of the product, its replaceability, compatibility, and familiarity will beat out novelty, even efficiency, any day.

This is not to deny that the educational potential of much technology is substantial. But whether or not the technology gets incorporated in the curriculum depends on circumstances normally overlooked by, if not beyond reach of, most educators. It is not merely a matter of whether it enhances learning.

To examine these issues further, see Beyond the Textbook? 
Unlikely Changes in the Curriculum 

-- EGR

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Practical Statistics Tend To Be Local: the Bayesian specifics.

edited 11/4/19
A little learning is a dangerous thing;
drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
there shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
and drinking largely sobers us again. -- Alexander Pope (1709)
There are all sorts of ways to waste time, money and other resources in the struggle to make a living. Consider these:
a. putting a new den into a house you want to sell;
b. betting on the “fastest” horse when the weather is uncertain;
c. getting a Ph.D. in French when your dad owns a plumbing business;
d. investing in stocks based on the size of the company.
There is a superstition that some people acquire from studying introductory probability theory. The problem is that they try to apply context-free, universal patterns (axioms) to day-to-day specifics. This superstition can be shown in a variety of examples: the beliefs that
a. members of a larger group are more likely encountered; or
b. the average person is easiest to find; or
c. more is better; or
d. specifics reduce frequency.
But why is it that real estate agents chant, “Location, location, location” and not “New den, new den, new den”?

And does it matter that the horse race is being run in the mud? (If you don’t know, find out what a “mudder” is.)

After twenty-five years, who will have the most money on hand: the French scholar or the plumber? (But don’t “the statistics” tell us that those with more education earn more money?)

If you’re going to study probability and statistics, don’t stop before you get through Bayesian statistics. Adjusting general probability theory to the specific conditions you will be dealing with is a skill that many professionals have difficulty with. (You might be surprised how much unexamined cultural ideology underlies the choosing of "gold standards" or "priors".)

For references and to examine these issues further, see Is The Notion of Conjunctive Fallacy ("Conjunction Fallacy") Based on Fallacy?

 Cordially --- EGR

Monday, January 2, 2012

Do Schools Really Need to Cost So Much?

"As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled." - Victor Hugo
Many communities are wealthy enough not to concern themselves with duplication of services. Public schools, community centers, service organizations, and community colleges offer essentially the same activities - often competing with each other, jealously guarding their own prerogatives to stamp their brand name on offerings to an oversupplied market. High schools offer courses in calculus, astrophysics, or jewelry making, competing with the local community college or community center for the same "customers." The reality is that school systems are expected to do many more things than teaching students subject matter, and these things cost money.

Maybe it's time for someone to speak up and say, "If you want our system to run a farm system for the professional football leagues, then you're going to have to pay extra for it and not expect us to do it under the cover of 'physical education.'"

Perhaps it is time to tell parents that their tax dollars will be used to enhance classroom learning; that if they want to play status games with their neighbors by having their children compete for entrance into "prestige" universities, the local schools are not going to spend money on special AP courses for that purpose.

To examine these issues further, see Cutting Public School Costs . . . Intelligently. Can It Be Done?

-- EGR