June 12, 2008

A Dopier Approach to Education

I'm a little late to this game and most of the other edubloggers have already commented on the latest educational snake oil, EPI's Bigger, Bolder Education Approach. Conspicuously absent from that list of adjectives is "smarter."

Half of the posts on this blog are devoted to debunking the nonsense contained in this initiative, but I want to say a few words anyway.

First, what we have here is an Appeal to Authority without any authority. It's not like any of the sixty jackasses quasi-celebrities that lent their well-known name to promote this initiative know any more about raising the achievement of low-SES children than you do.

Second, there's nothing bigger or bolder about this thing. It's the same old meme Rothstein and his ilk has been peddling for decades. The only thing that has changed is the packaging. The irony of that fact should not be lost on anyone who knows anything about education.

Third, they've taken a kitchen sink approach to the problem. It appears that they're advocating the adoption of every single "intervention" that's ever been researched (and I'm using their definition of "research" which clearly includes a lot of stuff which fails to meet even the low standards of social science research). Most of the crap they've included, no doubt to gain the signature of the researcher who performed the crappy research, has low effect sizes, and by low I mean not educationally significant.

Fourth, all the low hanging fruit has already been picked for these initiatives. We already do most of the crap being advocated. The initiative is bigger and bolder because it's asking us to do more of what we're already been doing. Apparently, they're not going to be satisfied until we do enough so that it's considered to be bigger and bolder. Another way to look at it is that they want us to throw a bigger and bolder amount of money at the existing programs--programs that aren't working so well now. We've already picked all the low hanging fruit of these initiatives. We've already implemented all the easy things that offer the biggest bang for the buck (and quite frankly the bang has proven to be more like a whimper). Now we're stuck trying to spend lots more money trying to eke out marginal improvements. (It's like regulating pollution: we've already stopped polluters from dumping pollution directly into the air/water. Now we are only arguing about reducing some pollutant by so many parts per million or billion, the effect of which will be de minimus and of questionable value.)

Fifth, by their own rhetoric we should no expect any of these initiatives to have much of an effect. The correlation (R) between socio-economic status and student achievement is a somewhat low 0.4. This means that, at best, the amount of variance (R2) in student achievement that is attributable to SES is only about 20% 16% [Looks like my multiplication skills have deteriorated.]. This means the vast majority (80% 84%) of the achievement gap is not attributable to SES. So, even if all the snake oil directed to improving SES is implemented as proposed the results are going to be extremely disappointing (and which I suspect will serve as the basis of a renewed even bigger and bolder rallying call). But, we know this already. The research tells us that student achievement won't be raised in a sustainable way through any of these initiatives, either alone or in combination. So why is this initiative being peddled as an education intervention. It's not.

It's a shame that so much attention has been paid to such dubious policy.


Anonymous said...

Since when is .4 a low correlation?

KDeRosa said...

I wrote "somewhat low" not low.

No one gets excited about correlations until they've hit 0.5 at least.

And you should be especially suspicious about SES correlations since there is very good reason to believe that SES and IQ are inter-related. meaning that it's going to be difficult to improve achievement by trying to improve SES.