June 13, 2008

I Won

Chadd Lykins thinks my last post on the Bigger, Bolder manifesto represents the "awful state of education blogging."

The problem with these kinds of posts is that they are the poor man's substitute for rigorous criticism. Clearly, Chadd disagrees with my assessment of the Bigger, Bolder manifesto, but instead of doing the hard work of a point by point criticism he does a fly by which only addresses a fraction of the arguments I made.

Let's examine Chadd's criticisms by comparing them point by point to what I wrote.

Point One: Appeal to Authority with No Authority

Chadd doesn't like my denigration of the manifesto signatories. Fair enough, Chadd is entitled to his opinion.

But my larger point is that the sixty signatories know no more about raising the achievemnet of low-SES students than your average Joe. I say this because none of them have actually raised the achievement of low SES kids. They all have their theories and opinions, but those theories and opinions, by and large, aren't backed-up by and hard science or research in education.

Chadd, however, thinks that I shouldn't be criticizing the signatories because he assumes that I "ha[ve] not ... read the work of all 60 persons, but also [have not] met each of them in person."

In fact, I am familiar with much of the work of those signatories who actually have done actual "research" on education topics. It's much less than Chadd thinks.

I'm not sure why not having met each of them in person is relevant, maybe Chadd can explain.

Point Two: The manifesto is merely a repackaging of old, failed welfare programs.

Chadd fails to address this point.

Point Three: The manifesto advocates adopting all sorts of trendy interventions regardless of expense or demonstrated efficacy.

Chadd fails to address this point.

Point Four: We're already doing much of what is being advocating in the manifesto, merely doing more of it is going to result in small marginal improvement at best and at great marginal cost.

Chadd fails to address this point.

Point Five: The amount of variance attributable to SES (under the most generous of inerpretations) is, at best, low; therefore, the improvement we'd expect for programs directed to improve SES will be small and educationally insignificant.

Chadd's criticism here is that my explanation is confusing. Confusing doesn't mean wrong. And, Chadd doesn't argue that I'm wrong. What Chadd does arue is that I " fail[ed] to acknowledge that [the low variance attributable to SES] is a much larger chunk than many school inputs predict."

Many, but not all. There are some instructional interventions that are far more effective than the SES interventions advocated in the manifesto. And by far more, I mean four to five times as large as the best SES intervention.

The existence of ineffective instructional interventions, which are legion, is irrelevant. Nor is it convincing to compare your pet intervention to these failures. The relevant comparison is between your pet intervention and the most effective interventions which are all instructional interventions.

Chadd concludes:

I realized that most of us blog quickly and episodically, thus meaning that our thoughts may be ill-formed or hastily expressed. Thus, we bloggers are wise to strike a tone of modesty and generosity in our posts.

I think Chadd needs to start listening to his own advice. Chadd's making an extraordinary criticism (i.e., characterizing my post as representing the awful state of education blogging) which requires a high burden of proof (if one wants to be modest), a burden that Chadd has failed to meet.

Update: Chad responds.

Chad is backpedaling.

Chad doesn't like "posts which resort to name-calling." I guess Chad doesn't think characterizing other bloggers' posts as representative of the "awful state of education blogging" isn't a form of name-calling. Pot. Kettle. Black. Of course, what Chad and I are both doing is engaging in the rhetorical device of ridicule:

Words intended to belittle a person or idea and arouse contemptuous laughter. The goal is to condemn or criticize by making the thing, idea, or person seem laughable and ridiculous. It is one of the most powerful methods of criticism, partly because it cannot be satisfactorily answered ("Who can refute a sneer?") and partly because many people who fear nothing else--not the law, not society, not even God--fear being laughed at.

Chad also might want to look up the definition of irony.

Chad also believes that my post "fail[ed] to consider the merits of other positions." I didn't fail to consider anything. I considered and refuted the merits of the Bigger, Bolder position both in the post and in other posts (which I indicated at the top of the post).

Lastly, Chad believes my post "carr[ies] the pretense of certainty and arrogance when doubt and modesty are more appropriate." Another ironic criteria since Chad, a new blogger, is doling out awards ridiculing other bloggers on what I have hopefully established as dubious grounds.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ken,

I want also to take issue with your dismissal of a number of these folks. Rudy Crew and Beverly Hall are superintendents with good track records for raising student achievement in their districts. I'm not quite sure why you dismiss, for example, the chair Helen Ladd as a "jackass." Some are surely included just for name recognition and not because they've contributed to education (Julian Bond? Janet Reno?). But your blanket statement does seem more knee-jerk than thoughtful.

Out of curiosity, can you give examples of some folks you'd like to see sign a some education manifesto?

KDeRosa said...

JE, I'm not so sure Crew and Hall have the track record you're suggesting. Pass rate inflation has been rampant since NCLB. Once you discount this state-wide inflation, you'd be hard pressed to find improvement in either district.

What exactly has Ladd done that makes her opinions have more authority than, say, yours?

In any event, to the extent that I'm criticizing these people, it's not for who they are, but for the fact that they've sponsored such a silly thing.

I'm not a big fan of these manifestoes (could you tell?) so I'm so sure I'd want anyone to sign on.

Anonymous said...

Re: Hall and Crew. I believe that Atlanta's growth on NAEP has out-paced most of the other TUDA districts. Miami is only just joining the NAEP game, so we'll see how they do with that external measure. I can't speak

About Ladd (and by extension a number of the other academics), I was referring to the great deal of work she's done in policy, economics, and finance, and that she has more authority than me by virtue of her years of that well-regarded work, etc.

I guess I get that you're calling them jackasses for signing this and not for their basic existences, though it seemed a rather strong denunciation, something to which at least I and that other blogger reacted to.

What's your criteria for someone having authority? I assume you're not suggesting that everyone's opinion is equally valid.

And yes I gathered you're not a fan of manifestos.

Stephen Downes said...

I read your criticism. It was a loose, sloppy and partisan critique. I would be very hesitant to say "I won" based on that work.

KDeRosa said...

JE, I think those gains are within the statistical noise threshold.

She may have more authority than you in those areas, but education is outside of those fields.

In this case, to speak with authority, you must know how to improve the educational outcomes of low SES students. None of these signatories know how to do that.

KDeRosa said...

Stephen, where've you been? I've missed you, though not your conclusory comments.

I would be very hesitant to say "I won" based on that work.

but, I did "win." I won Chad's award, such that it is.

Anonymous said...

After reading Chadd's ASEG #2 response to your rebuttal, it seems that the main thing he is concerned about is name-calling. For those who read your blog regularly, we've grown used to your tongue & cheek humor, although I'm sure it startles new arrivals who haven't yet realized that your blog is an absolute must-read. Still, your blog would be no less if you resisted the urge...
BTW, I missed Stephen's drive-by's too.

KDeRosa said...

I could use a good editor to keep me honest.

But, there's too much idiocy in education; sometimes they need to be called on it.

Anonymous said...

I was mildly surprised to see Diane Ravitch's name on there.

Anonymous said...

More aptly, the competing camps demonstrate the sorry state of presidential platform drafting.

To Diane Ravitch, add Helen Ladd, Bella Rosenberg, and Hugh Price. I can only vaguely correlate their books (Left Back, Making Money Matter, and Achievement Matters) to the policy they've endorsed.

In seeking a "broader, bolder approach for education—one that is powerful enough to produce a large reduction in the current association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement," why haven't they highlighted direct instruction?

Corey Bunje Bower said...

I fail to see how either your title or your name calling advance your cause. You made some good points but, for me, they were lost in the midst of your unnecessarily accusatory antics.

KDeRosa said...

You have a lot of room to talk, Corey Bunje Bower, originator of Blog Posts in Need of Improvement.

Why not just criticize those bloggers' posts on the merits? What do you gain by calling them names as well?

Why engage in unnecessary accusatory antics? Doesn't your message get lost in the midst?

I fail to see how this advances your cause.

You have a glass houses problem, Corey.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

I hesitated before starting my BPINI b/c I feared that it would be in bad form. I ultimately decided that I would try to offer somewhat constructive criticism to those who use rhetoric that fails to be productive. I even make a point of highlighting a good post on each blog that I criticize. If I ever cross over the line, if I ever use demeaning or diminutive terms, if I ever use incendiary and unnecessary rhetoric, I hope somebody will let me know. Because I ultimately believe that such tactics are both uncivil and unproductive. I will offer an immediate apology if I stoop to such levels and strive to do better in the future.

My criticism of your last post was not meant to be accusatory. I'm not accusing you of being a bad person. I'm suggesting that your harsh language may ultimately hurt you if it catches more attention than the substance of your argument. Honestly, the title and name calling turned me off and it was hard to take the rest of the post too seriously. And I think we'd all benefit from leaving such tactics behind.

Stephen Downes said...

> Stephen, where've you been?

Well, let's see...

In the last couple of months, I distributed a daily newsletter to several thousand readers, led the research workgroup on a major development project, attended a number of standards body meetings, I wrote some blog posts, I gave a number of talks (including one to Defense Acquisition University in Fairfax), and I released my gRSShopper personal learning environment application.

Where were you?

Anonymous said...

You know, I actually have helped improve low income kids' performance, at least as reflected in ACT scores, in 2007 and 2008. With just 25 hours of instruction, low income Hispanic and African American students tested within 1-1.5 points of the national mean (20-30 points in SAT terms) in all but reading (which is due in part to the agressive timing requirements). With more instruction time, I could have done still more. I don't know if I could have had them testing at the mean, but I do know I could have given them more skills to demonstrate--and after all, that's what "improving the achievement" involves.

These kids aren't superstars. Most of them have low GPAs and are in basic classes (a few of them hadn't even taken geometry).

Whether or not we can eliminate the achievement gap, we can certainly help students feel a greater sense of command of their own abilities and a sense of investment in the outcome. But to do so, we have to stop moralizing to or about these kids. If I read one more judgmental diatribe about their (or their parents') failure to value education, I think I'll explode.

Teachers bring their own moral values to the classroom and then reject the kids who don't have those values. In order to make teachers happy, you have to value education, you have to "love learning" (lifelong is best, says Diana Ravitch), and you have to want to please your teacher.

The judgmental nonsense seeps from almost every teacher blog and most educational pundit blog I read (not this one, praise be).

We can't premise education on the mandate that it be desirable. How hard is that to understand?

TurbineGuy said...

Several notes:

Face it, this blog is a must read because it combines Ken's well researched posts with a rather sharp and pointed wit. Ken's blog is a must read in the education blogosphere because he doesn't mince words.

What's truly awful in education blogging is not "sharp" commentary, but the lack of people willing to deviate from the standard talking points, and an extreme lack of researched in depth arguments. This blog helps fill both of these niches.

Ironically, Chadd probably would of never heard of this blog if it wasn't for Kens reputation in the education blogosphere.

Furthermore, my understanding was that this blog was written by a concerned parent (a well read parent, but a parent just the same), not a newspaper or a professional pundit. If you want mechanical wonkish commentary, there are plenty of places to go and read them.

Finally, in the world of blogging, all publicity is good publicity, so I am guessing that this pseudo award significantly increased the blogs hit count.

Anonymous said...

I was also surprised to see Diane Ravitch's name.

And like another commenter, the absence of any mention of curriculum under the "continued school improvement" heading reflects a depressing arrogance - there is so much evidence about the curricula and teaching that give the most disadvantaged pupils a chance, yet so little is done to adjust them.

I am dealing with similar rhetoric to this stuff in my UK job setting up our equivalent of charter schools, and one of the things I most dislike about these inflated agendas is the way that they fuzz responsibilities: everyone is to be responsible for everything, so no-one takes responsibility when things don't work. And in our case the entity that is supposed to coordinate the delivery of all the programmes is the local authority, of which the school district and social services are departments, so in practice it means tying up our schools in endless messy bureaucracy.