May 3, 2006

Carnival of Education

The latest Carnival of Education is Up at The Education Wonks.

Go check it out.

Here's the highlights of the carnival and my comments.

Over at DeHavilland Blog we learn:
Research has clearly shown that parental involvement - parents seen reading in the home, parents reading to their children, parents ensuring that children have an array of reading materials available to them - is one of the most critical indicators of success in helping a child learn how to read.
Actually, this is not what the research shows. It is the mere presence of books that correlates with student success. No one has to actually read them. This is because the amount of books in a home correlates with SES and parental education. Smart parents tend to have more books and have smarter kids. Smarter kids tend to do better in school. When we've tried to artificial boost SES and parental education, we've failed miserably. Take a look at the performance of the Parental Education model in Project Follow Through. The unfortunate fact is that the kids who need the most parental support are the ones whose parents tend to be least likely to be capable of supplying it. We won't solve our education woes this way.

Over at Edpol we see how easy it is to mix up correlation for causation:
The researchers videotaped and analyzed eighth grade science classes in four high performing countries around the world and in the United States. The analysis showed that teachers in the United States spend a lot more time trying to make science "fun" and "entertaining" for the students. They try to motivate students with puzzles, games or experiments that are not directly correlated with the science standards, but that do keep students engaged. The study also found that American students were not held to a high expectation to take their learning into their own hands.
No doubt this was a high-SES school filled with higher performers who will perform better than average regardless of the instruction. Nonetheless, based on "studies" like these, many science educators believe they need to fill their lessons with fun-filled activities to boost performance.

Sure enough:
As an educator who is struggling to keep my students motivated to learn math and science, I can understand why American teachers are struggling. The students do not seem to have the drive to learn for the sake of learning, and instead rely on the teacher to entertain them.
So the students aren't motivated to learn. It must be the students fault. Can't be a problem with the teacher's presentation of the material, right? Yet teacher presentation issues tend to be the leading cause of unmotivated students.
Our observations of many failed schools would also disclose that most
teachers either completely fail to manage children or rule through intimidation (yelling at children, issuing demeaning comments, but rarely praising children). The instruction that we see is technically unsound according to all the evidence on how to communicate effectively, how to achieve mastery, and how to reinforce and manage children effectively.

Teachers lecture for long periods of time. What “tasks” the teacher presents occur at a very low rate. There are no systematic correction procedures, no attempts to repeat parts that are difficult for the children, and no serious concern with whether children master the material. The pacing of the presentation is laborious. The material the teacher uses is far too difficult for the skill level of the children. Most of the students’ time is often spent on pointless “worksheet” activities. The students don’t like reading, math, or any other academic activity.
Math and science doesn't have to be fun as long as the teaching is effective.

Over at Hunblog we learn that:

We stopped trusting teachers to use their own judgment when we started noticing test scores going down relative to other countries. I'm generalizing grossly, of course. I don't mean to absolve bad teachers of their mistakes, but we've lost faith in our teachers, and it's for the WRONG reasons.

When we noticed that too many of our students weren't getting the education they need, we looked to the teachers for an explanation. We wrongly blamed them, or rather teacher quality. There are plenty of bad teachers, and it was easy to see a correlation between declining test scores and teacher quality.

Actually, I think it's more accurate to say that we noticed the absolute low level of student performance and started looking for the cause of the problem. Teachers are not necessarily the problem, but poorly run schools certainly are.

Hunblog then sets forth that we need to re-invent high schools. Maybe we do, but that's not going to affect the miserable performance in K-8 which is at least partly if not wholly responsible for the problems we see in high school. Let's fix those problems first and then we'll see if high schools still need fixing.

Update and Clarification: Brad from Hunblog says that that the reforms he's writing about are not necessarily limited to the high school level and that "the most effective reforms can be made at the preschool and early elementary level." I agree.

Over at Friends of Dave we learn that when it comes to education funding enough is never enough:
With very few exceptions... all of them being from charter school administrators... every public school administrator, teacher or classified staff member I've ever heard complains of inadequate funding and blames it for the low test scores at their school or in their district. They insist that they're already doing the right things, but that if they just had "enough money" then every student could succeed.
There is no evidence that raising education funding above their currently bloated levels will increase student achievement. At today's funding levels the correlation between student performance and education spending is a scatterplot. The correlation is random. Friends of Dave gets it right--funding is not the problem (though mismanagement of funds may still be in some districts).

Over at Ms. Cornelius' we learn that US students don't know geography. No surprises there. I blame the excrable social studies movement. Things may be changing though:
I am happy to say, however, that we had enough students indicate an interest in the subject during registration to lead to the formation of a geography elective course next year, for the first time in anyone's memory.
This is a great first step. Now all that needs to be done is to replace the social studies class with history and start teaching some facts so kids develop some domain knowledge. Let's stop teaching about geography and history and go back to teaching geography and history. This is how you develop "higher-order thinking" skills.


Brad Hoge said...

I don't think I actually limited my call for remaking schools to high school. I did quote Bill Gates to that effect, but I am much more in favor of starting at the bottom and working our way up. I've said so in previous posts that the most effective reforms can be made at the preschool and early elementary level.

So I agree with you entirely.

Brett said...

Hi there,

Thanks for referencing my post on parents' role in education. Just wanted to share the source of my information on the research basis - thought you'd be interested.

The basis for my post was an article on family literacy in the "Research Link" column in the 3/04 issue of Educational Leadership. A snippet:

"In The Condition of Education, 2003, [NCES] describes survey results showing that literacy activities in the home contribute to early reading success. For example, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study measured children's home literacy activities using an index that counted parents' reports of how often they read to their children, sang to them, and told them stories, as well as the number of children's books and audiotapes or CDs in the home. The children who ranked higher on this home literacy index also scored higher on reading and literacy skills when they entered kindergarten. The positive relationship between a home literacy environment and children's reading knowledge and skills held true regardless of the family's economic status (NCES, 2003, p74).

"Another analysis of NCES survey data by Nord and colleagues (1999) confirmed that children whose family members read to them three or more times a week were more likely to know their letters than where children whose family members read to them less frequently. In addition, their research found that children whose family members read to them frequently were more likely to be able to count to 20 or higher, write their own names, and read or pretend to read."

I can see that this may actually be correlation, not causation, but it's certainly presented as a cause/effect relationship here. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts - thanks.


KDeRosa said...

Hi Brett,

Thanks for the research links. It's not so much that parental support doesn't help when given by parents who are capable of giving it, but there's not much benefit when we require the parents who aren't giving it to provide the support. The Parental Support model in Follow Through actually trained parents to be able to provide better support, but as you can see from the results that it wasn't very effective.

Your research is directed at preschool age kids. Most of these preschool gains are lost by the third grade in most cases (once SES is accounted for).

See my post on the language deficits of low-SES preschoolers. Many low SES have serious language deficits coming into school. Unfortunately, their parents seem to have the same deficits. This is an IQ issue, which is inheritable.

Instead of focusing on getting parental support, I believe we should be focusing on providing more effective instruction for these kids, starting at the preschool level if necessary.

Brett said...

Thanks for the response, and for highlighting the area where my thinking breaks down. Clearly parents can't give what they do not have, and I glossed over (ignored?) that fact in my post.

I'm a firm advocate of evidence-based decision-making and appreciate your thinking on the matter. One of my favorite quotes is from David Ogilvy, who said that "most people use research the way a drunk uses a lamppost for support rather than for illumination."

To that end, I also appreciate the references to Project Follow Through - I did some digging and was stunned to see the degree to which people were/are ignoring valid data in favor of their own beliefs/preferences. (I'm not a naive person, but the scope is breathtaking.) Just one more reason to take the debate directly to the parenting/voting public and out of an area where it's difficult to find an honest dialogue.

Thanks again.

KDeRosa said...

Education research is particularly troublesome since most of it is rotten. Whenever serious researchers take a look at ed research they invariably are forced to throw out about 90% of it since it doesn't even meet the loose standards we permit for social science research.

Project Follow through was one of the few decent studies we have in education. And, the results were not popular among educators. The wrong model won. Today, the losing model continue to be in widespread use despite the fact that they underperformed the control group.

This is a good article on Follow Through.

Here are the results of a well-implemented and stabilized version of the winning model in use today in Baltimore City. See the City Springs School data.