November 7, 2008


I've come back from my unannounced hiatus to discover that we have a brand new president.

A president that is for change. And, apparently, hope as well.

I "hope" that none of you wasted any time reading either candidate's platform. What politicians say they are going to do is very different from what they actually do once you've given them power. But you can rest assured that once elected their actions they will be consistent with them accruing power and ensuring that they retain power by getting re-elected. Keep that in mind because what you've just been promised (by both candidates) is inconsistent with their desire for power. Suffice it to say that you will be disappointed, and you would have been disappointed regardless of who was elected. That is the nature of politics.

Here is my prediction for education:

There will be change. That change will be superficial with respect to improving academic performance. It is extremely difficult to improve academic performance. The odds of academic performance improving in the next eight years in an educationally significant way are virtually nil.

It is easier to reduce academic performance by unwittingly changing things for the worse. This is because educating children is a difficult orchestration of detail that is difficult to get right and easy to screw-up. This remains true even though our current system remains horridly inefficient with much of the orchestration being badly out of tune.

Nonetheless the most likely scenario is that the change will produce no significant effect on outcomes. That is the history of education reform.

I wish my new president well but I don't have much hope that he is capable of improving education. He doesn't know how. And, as a result, he has no basis for selecting an education secretary that knows any better. Even an ideologically blind random selection is unlikely to produce better results because the field is replete with charlatans. Even if he were lucky enough to pick a winner, it is unlikely that that person could overcome the obstacles and vested interests in place that are anathema to improving academic performance.

We're going to get change. We always do. NCLB was change. But change doesn't guarantee improvement. Did you jump to that conclusion? I hope not. What you will get is something different, but that difference will likely not be an improvement.

There will be no shortage of wishful thinking and opinions of advisors. But since those opinions are almost certainly based on faulty science and informed by political correctness you should not necessarily expect beneficial results. Unless you're counting on luck. That's always a possibility. Even broken clocks are correct twice a day. Though, unfortunately, a clock that is five minutes slow is never correct.

That's what you're going to get -- an education secretary that is slow, broken, or both. Kind of like the current one.

So here's my prediction: the change you get in education will be different but not an improvement.

Let's hope that I am wrong. But don't count on it.


Anonymous said...

"as a result, he has no basis for selecting an education secretary that knows any better"

This is kind of a silly way to look at leadership. Good leaders know their own limitations and can find people and information that fill in those gaps.

A principal hasn't taught every subject in the school, but a good principal is still able to figure out which job candidates will probably be good math and foreign language and technology teachers. Superintendents typically come from a teaching background, but still are responsible for the cafeterias, the janitorial staff, the purchasing, the accounting, the publications, the technology.

If you're concerned about the direction of the nation, what greater time to get involved than right now?! You can volunteer and make a difference locally. You could outline some points logically and try to convince others. You can be the change you want to see in others.

KDeRosa said...

Anon, my point is that the president, since he has no knowledge himself (which is not unexpected from a leader) must rely upon the advice of those who set them out to be experts in a field. With respect to education, the experts frequently have no superior knowledge so the advice that they will be giving to the president will be faulty. That is the problem.

If you're concerned about the direction of the nation, what greater time to get involved than right now?!

I am involved I write this blog which hopefully influences the thinking of others on matters of education policy.

Kathy said...

DeRosa states:

"Even if he were lucky enough to pick a winner, it is unlikely that that person could overcome the obstacles and vested interests in place that are anathema to improving academic performance."

Who, in your opinion, would be a winner?


KDeRosa said...

I wish I knew.

But the point is moot anyway, even a winner is unlikely to get past the vested interests to do anything effective.

Anonymous said...

I sure agree with you here. I think about this issue a lot. Why would Obama and this administration go to the trouble to overhaul an extremely entrenched, unionized entity like the public schools when most people will put up with it?

TurbineGuy said...

Fox News is reporting that Colin Powell is on the short list to be education secretary.

Not very original.

I did note that he didn't mention TFA on his page. They must be very disappointed.

And what do you think of his Classroom Corps idea?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Ken. Where the heck have you been? Nothing serious, I hope.

I actually missed your comments and thoughts.

I completely agree with your predictions. Education is the only enterprise I know of where there is no consensus on how to measure the quality of either the process or the product. Without measurement tools, one will never know if any changes to the process results in a better or worse product.

I have concluded that the seemingly endless discussion regarding education is not a means to an end. It is the end itself.

Anonymous said...

As I'm currently attending Stanford's ed school, I had the opportunity to listen to Linda Darling Hammond talk of Obama's priorities. LDH is head of his education transition team and possible nominee for SecEd (although how that can be, I don't know, as she's an academic who has never run a thing).

I heard lots of platitudes and confirmation yet again that anyone who wants to pretend that Obama's not well left of center is deluding themselves. But in terms of achievable goals, nada. It will be lots of talk. The big push appears to be for universal preschool and more funding for teacher training. Ideally, reduction of those bad, terrible, soul-destroying tests. You get the idea.

Kathy said...

Cal stated:

"The big push appears to be for universal preschool and more funding for teacher training. "

This could work if someone at Stanford where Linda works or someone from any college understood the importance of teaching children to read from the age of 4. Preschool could save their lives if newly trained teachers in explicit instruction were placed in these schools.

Anyone know a way to accomplish this goal?

That is what I want to discuss- how to get reading into the preschools and not just phonemeic awareness activities. To me those are a waste and not what kids need. They need to begin formal reading instruction.

Obama wants to fund them. Linda wants to train teachers. We have a perfect set-up. They just need to know what is really needed to help kids.

The Brits use synthetic phonics with 4 year olds. I use the I See Sam books program from the 60's and the SWRL group which works well for 4 year olds. I know most of the folks on this site are DI advocates and I think that can work with 4 year olds.

Now how do we make this happen?


Anonymous said...

Ken and I must have purchased our crystal balls from the same vendor. Mine also says that the “Changes” in el-hi ed at the Fed level will be inconsequential. The bipartisan Government-Academic-Publisher complex is too deeply entrenched in rhetorical “standards” and “proficiency” chicanery.

NCLB is a fog of legislation and regulations. The initial legislation was 670 pages. The most recent regulations are 170 pages. State “standards” run to hundreds of pages—oodles of thousands of pages if cumulated. Undoing faulty actions in Iraq is a recognized necessity. Undoing faulty actions in education isn’t.

My crystal ball says the best that can be hoped for is that the insanity of “Adequate Yearly Progress” mandates will be relaxed enough to permit initiatives in one or more SEA or LEA’s to demonstrate “Yes we can” meet the aspirations of NCLB in reading and in math.

Re Preschool: the "good news is that the general economy is likely to preclude throwing much money in this direction. At present, the ills of el-hi have trickled down into state preschool legislation. Allocating public moneys to expansion of preschools would only feed the faults.

Dick Schutz

Anonymous said...

"Who, in your opinion, would be a winner?"

E.D. Hirsch

KDeRosa said...

Let me address a few points raised.

Rory, the forced volunteerism of the Classroom Corps is dopey and there's no reason it'll improve anything.

Cal, I've been meaning to bookmark and announce your blog.

Kathy, the only way to accomplish this kind of preschool in the current system would be employ an even heavy Federal hand than what we have under NCLB. Don't expect that to happen. And with out the heavy hand, you won't get the kind of preschool you want; you'll get a watered down play-heavy "school" that is the norm today. Obama might want to fund preschool (is there anything he doesn't want to fund besides the military), but you can be assured it won't be the kind you want.

Dick, the lack of funding for new expansion by the feds is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Ken, are you talking about "Those Who Can" or "Surviving Stanford"? The latter is now protected. Stanford found out about it and required me to put it under wraps. However, anyone who is interested in reading it can get to it with the blog name, which was Surviving Stanford (or hating dewey). If you're talking "Those Who Can", it's open, and I'm about to put in the most recent updates. I've had two solid years of good data now.

Either way, thanks.

As for preschool, I don't think the stats on Headstart are all that exciting, to warrant the kind of money he's planning on spending.

Anonymous said...

Cal, I can't get on to Surviving Stanford using either of those.

Dan Willingham said...

The articles I'm reading project a deficit of a trillion dollars or so next year, and most states are in pretty bad shape as well. Projects like universal preschool or more teacher training seem like pipe dreams. I wonder if there is a contingency plan for education in case of shrinking, not expanding budgets?

KDeRosa said...

Dan is right.

I also remember reading how our big spending spree on education for the last forty years was accompanied by a shrinking of the number of children we had to educated after the boomers went through the system.

We were spending more and more on less and less and still no improvements have been forthcoming.

I think this will be our last gasp for big government solutions to the problems caused by past failed big government solutions. Other entitlement programs will be absorbing all the funds as the boomers retire and get sick. We are running out of money as our debt load increases and raising taxes to cover the shortfall isn't going to work.

Anonymous said...

I dunno. But "starving the system" COULD have more positive consequences than "feeding" it. Given the kind of "training" ed schools today are offering, less rather than more "education" would help.

If squeezed, a school district just MIGHT be willing look at transparent instructional accomplishments rather than relying on useless "tests." MIGHT get out of the grade x subject box, where the big financial consideration is the number of teachers and their seniority, and so on.

The INTENT of "merit pay" is meritorious, but the execution, as with "value added testing" is disaster.

The way the historical cookie crumbled, the early Republican worry about "federal control" came true under the "free market" promoters in the Bush administration. One thing the Fed initiative in el-hi ed did was to build capability/bureaucracy at the state level that certainly has it's shortcomings but is competitive with that of the Feds.

The second important accomplishment was to raise the media interest in el-hi education from the local level to the national level.

Other than that, I can't really see any other bang for the buck.

The best contribution the Feds could now make would be to "declare victory and get out of the way." I don't see the special interests who are well-served by the status quo allowing that to happen, but my crystal ball isn't based on scientifically-based research or randomized control experiments.

Anonymous said...

You guys are all too cynical.

Charter schools are gradually creating an educational free marketplace.

If Obama supports the expansion of charter schools as he has promised, we will be better off in four years.

Look at the success of KIPP, for example. The country will have many more KIPP schools in four years.

Anonymous said...

"Charter schools are gradually creating an educational free marketplace."

Hey, charter schools are not a "free marketplace." They're supported with the same tax payer money that supports public schools.

The performance of charter schools is "mixed"--as is the performance of public schools. The "gee whiz" results can largely be attributed to "skimming" of students.

Anonymous said...

"Charter schools are gradually creating an educational free marketplace."

>>>>Hey, charter schools are not a "free marketplace." They're supported with the same tax payer money that supports public schools.

The performance of charter schools is "mixed"--as is the performance of public schools. The "gee whiz" results can largely be attributed to "skimming" of students.<<<<<


Charters represent a free marketplace in that parents have a free choice of where to send their children. I think this is pretty obvious. Good schools attract more students. Poor schools lose enrollment.

To argue that the performance of charter schools is "mixed" shows a misunderstanding of how free markets work.

In a free market, not all players are of equal or high quality. Charter schools are no exception. There are high quality charter schools and low quality ones. (In contrast, the data indicates that pretty much all of the monopoly public schools are low quality.)

In a free market, the best players attract more consumers and the worst players "go out of business."

For example, not all car companies are excellent. As a group, the performance of car companies is "mixed."

However, low performing car companies are losing market share to higher performers. Eventually the low performers will be replaced completely by the higher performers.

This process takes time. GM has been outperformed by its overseas competitors for decades and only now is it about to go out of business.

Likewise, excellent charter school networks are growing at the expense of lower performing charter and public schools.

In time, traditional school districts will go out of business just like GM. There are a few urban school districts that already have seen enormous drops in enrollment.

So the point is, you should measure the success of the charter school marketplace not by the overall "mixed" results but in two other ways:

1) Are the best charter schools better then the best monopoly public schools?

2) Are the best charter schools gaining enrollment at the expense of lower performing charter and monopoly schools?

Finally, to argue that no charter schools are getting real "whiz bang" results relative to the public school system betrays amazing degrees of ignorance and bias. You simply need to understand the data, and clearly you have not studied it.

To attribute the success of the highest quality charter schools to "skimming" students is like accusing the best hospitals in America of "skimming" the best patients.