November 19, 2009

Things we don't know

There is lots of stuff we don't know. Lots of stuff without firm scientific support. Yet in many areas without firm scientific support, we often encounter zealous advocates who either believe we know much more than we do or are confused as to what we actually know.

The Big Bang Theory doesn't explain what caused the universe to come into being.

How did the universe come into being?  There is plenty of good observational evidence for the Big Bang theory.  But that doesn't explain how the universe came into being in the first place.  What happened before the big bang?  Science is unable to describe the universe before the Planck Epoch (when the force of gravity separated from the elctronuclear force).  Currently, we don't know what caused the big bang or how the universe came into being.

The Theory of Evolution doesn't explain how life originated.

 How did life start?  There is plenty of observation evidence for the theory of biological evolution.  But that doesn't explain how life came into being in the first place.  What happened before there were organisms?  Science is unable to explain how organisms came into being in the first place.  There is no scientific consensus on how life began.  Currently we don't know how life began.

(FYI: Intelligent Design is one argument for how the universe and life began.  It has about the same scientific support as any other argument for how the universe and life began.  That is, none. Of course, Intelligent Design isn't exactly scientific.  But then again science hasn't provided any answers yet either.)

The Theory of Global Warming is infected with politics for the time being.

In a few decades we might know whether the current scientific consensus and environmental hysteria comports with the data.  To the extent there is a consensus, the science remains shaky--far shakier than what we know about the origins of the universe and of life.  Far shakier than the consensus scientists would like you to believe.  (I think many of them don't even understand why "consensus science" isn't actually science.)

(Long Version)
We don't know how to reliably educate low-IQ/low-SES children

The science is very thin on improving student achievement outside of the elementary school years. Most theories aren't even based on actual testing of an intervention.  Most theories are based on observations of correlational data on broad proxies for variables believed to affect education (poverty, teacher efficacy, availability of free lunch, availability of health insurance, and the like).  not so much on actual interventions designed to improve or ameliorate these variables.

So what is government policy, like Race to the Top, based on?

Sunshine and lollipops mostly.


Dick Schutz said...

Spot on this time, Ken. It more than makes up for your Bracey flub.

A few additional points. The federal government has been at this for over 40 years. In 1965 the government recognized we didn't now how to educate low SES kids (throwing in low IQ muddies the water). ESEA invested a significant chunk of money in the schools poor kids were intending an it also launched a significant Educational R&D initiative.

The results of the planned variations studies of Head Start and Follow Through were also available as well as the First Grade Reading Study were also available.

The politics of the government-academic-government triangle squashed the research.

Large scale R&D again demonstrated conclusively that well-developed instructional programs can over-ride SES. Again, politics closed down the R&D and adopted a policy that eliminated the support of Development.

With the enactment of NCLB, the government assumed that schools did know how to educate kids and that a combination of "standards and standardized tests" would get the job done. Test scores and at least four very large, well-conducted randomized control evaluations found "no impact." The studies were thrown under the rug.

The National Academy of Sciences has warned that the four "reforms" that define the Race to the Top are without scientific/technical foundation. But the race is on.

"Sunshine and lollypops" puts a Pollyanna spin on the situation.

Sh** and shoe polish is more apt.

Former NYC Math Teacher said...

I'm sorry...this is a bit off-topic (but definitely related to the viewpoint of this blog), but I couldn't figure out another way to get this out to Ken and his readers. Read, courtesy of The Onion:

Robin said...

Thanks former NYC!

Just emailed that far and wide to parents and school board members on the absurdities of the whole "construct your own math knowledge".

Some levity for the weekend.

bobxxxx said...

Of course, Intelligent Design isn't exactly scientific.

That's true. Intelligent design = magic, and there's nothing scientific about magic. But millions of people in Idiot America invoke intelligent design woo-woo anyway.

Anonymous said...


You claim that "we don't know how to educate low IQ/low SES children".

Actually, we do. It's called Homeschooling. If African-Americans are alledgedly so "dumb" and "dull"(according to the chart you posted), how is it then that they(and all other ethnic groups for that matter) outperform similarly matched kids from both public AND private schools on all of the achievement tests like the Terra Nova, MAT, etc when they are educated in their own homes.

In fact, many studies have shown that black children and others who are educated at home by their own parents outperform public school kids by at least 30 points and private school kids by at least 20 points. They also score at least 60points higher on the SAT and about 4 points higher on the ACT according to many studies.

Also, if low-income children are unteachable past the elementary school years, how do you explain the fact of all the successes from teaching icons like Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante, Rafe Esquith, and other dedicated teachers who turned the lives of inner city kids around when they were being failed by the public and private schools in those major cities.Collins actually started her school out as a homeschool for her daughters and then took in neighborhood kids.

I also find you assertion curious and troubling at the same time considering that you are a big proponent of the Direct Instruction (DI) approach to teaching. As I have read your postings, you seem to have combined a contempt for educational research that doesn't fit you view while promoting your own and at the same time flirting with unproven hereditarian assumptions about the nature of human cognition(ie based on your posts about the Minnesota and Texas adoption/twin studies and Charles Murray's ideas)perhaps stemming from the fact that the approach you favor hasn't worked for every child . This is curious because you claim in the description of your blog that our educational system suffers from a lack of knowledge about the best practices needed to educate almost every child. If that is true and if DI is indeed the way to go(as opposed to the possibility that school itself might be problematic for all kids regardless of any social variable), how can you, Mr. DeRosa, in good faith assert at one moment that DI can solve most instructional problems and at the same time with the other hand flying out claim that the low income level/low IQ kids are unteachable "past the elementary years" when in other postings you've attacked the idea that income has anything to do with achievement(eg. you post about the Berliner studies involving SES) in the first place.

Mr. DeRosa, I respect your right to advocate for DI or any other educational approach you favor but I don't believe that claiming that "more than 90% of all educational research is fraudulent" is consistent with the belief that a particular instructional approach works for every kid when you've mentioned at the same time and everyone knows that kids are unique and that they learn differently.

To be fair, I agree with your remarks about Intelligent Design and Global Warming.

Dick Schutz said...

What home schooling and DI have in common is that each is much more sensitive feedback from the student's learning or lack thereof than is run-of-the-mill school instruction. Neither delivers altogether reliable instructional accomplishments. The achievement tests schools use are instructionally insensitive. Home school instructors can "see with their own eyes"

Re educational research, the "best studies" are being ignored while indefensible studies are being use to promote ideologically-driven motives.

It's not low-SES kids that schools don't know how to teach. I've cited U. S. Institute of Education
studies indicating that Reading First in the early elementary grades has "no impact." Neither does supplementary after-school tutoring, Neither does supplementary instruction in "Comprehension" at Grades 3-5. Neither does a full year of remediation with the 4 "best" reading programs (including Corrective Reading, which is a DI program.

Yet NCLB and RttT assumes that all that is needed are "well-qualified teacher and principals" (with "well-qualified" undefined.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schutz,

Actually, homeschooling doesn't always use the DI approach precisely because kids are different. I homeschool my kids and I read books to them and use a lot of other different strategies to teach them reading for example.
In any case, the only place where DI could possibly work would be in a homeschooling enviroment because you mentioned that they are similar in methodology(although the homeschooling enviroment doesn't emphasize the rewards and reinforcement approach to teaching).

If the achievement tests that I mentioned that schools use like the MAT. Terra Nova, etc are "instructionally insensitive", how do you explain the fact that homeschooled students regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, etc score higher than the schools that use them?Homeschooling parents can "see with their own eyes" precisely because the home enviroment is better for learning than "school" is.

Kids can be indeed be academically successful and spend less doing it(materials bought by parents to educate their kids themselves cost less than 1/20th the amount one would have to pay for ONE MONTH'S tuition at a Catholic school for example) because unlike "school", the home is not about making kids like one another. There isn't the peer pressure, having to impress "teachers", get "good grades", etc. I trust standardized tests more than somebody's opinions because they ARE instructionally sensitive since kids who aren't educated in the schools do so much better than the kids who are.

How can you claim with one hand that DI is among the "best studies" and then claim that the very standardized tests that we've both mentioned that are supposed to measure it's success(since presumably those who went through DI would do better on them than those who didn't because these tests measure the skills that DI improves) are unreliable? If DI is also unreliable, why should anyone trust "educational research" to begin with? How do I know that the studies Mr. DeRosa or other edubloggers are the "reliable" ones when Mr. DeRosa isn't a psychologist or researcher in the first place?

You claim that these studies that you, Mr. DeRosa. and others have attacked are being used to promote "ideologically driven motives". How do you square that with admitting that the tests that allegedly measure the success of the DI program you favor are unreliable? Perhaps it is DI rather than these other programs that is unreliable. Of course Project Follow Through was mentioned several times by Mr. DeRosa. However, that doesn't square with his insistence that "we don't know how to educate low income/low IQ kids" especially since many studies have come out from DI proponents claiming that kids who went through the Follow Through DI program had higher standardized test scores graduation rates, and college attendance, all in HIGH SCHOOL. I guess using Mr. DeRosa's and your own remarks against you, those studies are probably fraudulent too since they didn't even demonstrate that those kids successes were due to the DI program. However, doesn't that argue against the power of DI itself?

All of these shenanigans regarding "educational research" are precisely why I'm homeschooling my kids because both the "Direct Instruction" and "Developmentally Appropriate" people are trying to dumb down my and everyone else's kids.

Dick Schutz said...

Anonymous, Please try reading my post again. I said that DI and alike in that "each is much more sensitive feedback from the student's learning or lack thereof than is run-of-the-mill school instruction." Period.

My comment on research had nothing to do with either DI or homeschooling.

Standardized achievement tests are insensitive to instructional differences. Analogously, wetting one's finger and putting it in the air is an insensitive measure of wind velocity. Neither is "fit for use" technically/professionally.

For the most part standardized achievement tests are a measure of general intelligence. But general intelligence at school age is a function of instruction. So comparatively you will get differences. What you don't get with standardized achievement tests is any information about the instruction a kid has received in the past or should receive in the future. You get a number that can be interpreted only via relative comparisons; the measures are ungrounded.

RMD said...

Anonymous said

"All of these shenanigans regarding "educational research" are precisely why I'm homeschooling my kids because both the "Direct Instruction" and "Developmentally Appropriate" people are trying to dumb down my and everyone else's kids."

Just not true in any way . . . at least for DI.

DI is specifically designed to be a very efficient and effective curriculum. while developed for so-called "at risk" kids, it can be used to accelerate ANY student

I've used DI and seen it taught at schools and it's amazing. And educational studies aren't evil. They're just like anything else . . . some are well done, and some aren't. The well done studies give us important information.

Tracy W said...

Anonymous, Dick sounds very authoritive on testing, until you start probing into details and asking him why he believes what he says. I've done that a lot, and what I get is attempts to change the topic and if that fails, insults.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Schutz,

"For the most part standardized achievement tests are a measure of general intelligence. But general intelligence at school age is a function of instruction."

You just confirmed the very point I was trying to make which is that any kid regardless of any social variable can be successful as long as they're NOT going to school. The reason why DI hasn't been successful in the school enviroment is because it is geared to helping any kid learn pretty much any subject (ie. English, Trigonometry, History, etc.)in a way that ensures that the kid will retain the information over the long haul. The structure of school is designed to produce people who learn the same things at the same time with no flexibility and no retaining of the information that they supposedly learned(ie. age grading, impressing the teacher, moving on to the next subject even if nothing was learned, etc.)

The effects of DI usually dissapate after about three years or so in most school enviroments because DI is more consistent with learning and school isn't.It has nothing to do with "IQ" like Charles Murray and others have tried to claim it is. I have read studies that have compared kids taught with DI at home versus kids taught with DI at school and the homeschooled(or rather homeeducated) DI kids consistenly outperform the regularly schooled kids even though they're using the exact same instructional approach. This effect has held for all age, gender, and socioeconomic levels. School, in other words, actually dilutes and destroys the power that DI has because they have different goals:obedience versus learning. It also has held even if the kids who were homeschooled were taught by an outside tutor rather than their parents, proving that it is the enviroment that matters in terms of achievement more than anything else. The home enviroment ensures every kids success.

It also shows that DI can be successful only if it is used in a home enviroment because they are the same.

harris said...

i agree with Intelligent design = magic, and there's nothing scientific about magic. But millions of people in Idiot America invoke intelligent design woo-woo anyway.