Blog author: jcarter
Monday, November 19, 2012
By

Timothy Dalrymple wonders whether education reform should be one of the great objectives for American Christians in the twenty-first century. Taking up that cause will require overcoming the intransigence of the teachers’ unions:

Try firing an ineffective teacher.  Roughly 1 in 50 doctors lose their medical license.  Only 1 in 2500 teachers ever lose their teaching credentials.  Process that for a moment.  It’s much easier to become a teacher than a doctor, yet teachers are fifty times less likely than doctors to be removed from the profession.  One of the statistics cited in Waiting for Superman, an extraordinary documentary on the crisis of American public education, is that only 61 out of Illinois’ 876 school districts have attempted to fire even one teacher, and only 38 of those districts were successful.  The tenure system — designed to give the most accomplished university professors the freedom to advance new ideas in their teaching and writing without fear of reprisal from their employers, and gained only after many years and rigorous examination — has become an iron shield protecting ineffective teachers who earned their tenure after two years.  Good teachers are a national treasure.  Bad teachers who refuse to change their ways are leeches on the system who cannot be removed and who miseducate our children into truancy and joblessness.

Read more . . .


  • RogerMcKinney

    Teachers are not the problem with education. Students are the problem. It’s impossible to teach someone who is adamant they they will not learn.
    Education suffers from a severe lack of a scientific approach. Fad burns through the profession like forest fires in the west. No one does any kind of statistical study of the effectiveness of these fads. Blaming teachers is just another fad with no statistical evidence to support it.
    In addition, state and federal legislatures try to dictate every word a teacher says in the classroom, even assigning the number of minutes per day that teachers need to spend on subjects.
    The education profession needs to apply the principles of statistical process control (quality control, six-sigma) to determining which teaching methods work best. SPC is over 100 years old but education has failed to discover it yet.
    Limited statistical analysis of education has proven that the home environment of the student has the greatest impact on learning, not the teacher. A simple experiment would prove this again: switch the teachers at the best and worst schools in a district for one year. You would find that the “best” teachers suddenly become the worst.

    • Greg Miller

      Respectfully, as a high school teacher and former assistant principal, I can say that some teachers are definitely part of the problem. What I’m about to say is based on 6 years of experience on both professional sides of this issue, but as in most professions, it seems that about 20-25% of teachers are excellent and passionate, 20-25% are horrible and see it as a paycheck, not a vocation, and the other 50-60% are average.

      Students are not the biggest component of the education problem. Children/students are largely a product of their environments. Those that don’t want to achieve are most often coming from broken homes or homes where the parents are not involved. The biggest source of our education woes is the abominable lack of true parenting. Never before have so many kids grown up in single-parent homes, or under conditions of parental impermanence (cohabitation).

      There are schools that are applying statistical evidence and analysis to the profession. They are rare, but they exist. More importantly, that 20-25% dedicated to excellence are looking at such things independently of their districts. But Carter is correct that the teaching profession would be better served by greater emphasis on merit and greater ability to separate the instructive “wheat” from the “chaff”. Our public institutional system rewards mediocrity and eschews merit among teachers. That’s what you get when government runs things.

      • RogerMcKinney

        While I respect your years of service, I get similar responses to my students in that they think their personal experiences trump all research and theory. The statistical evidence demonstrates that the home environment is the major factor in education success.
        A simple measure of how many books a family owns is a powerful predictor of a student’s success in school. Teachers are facilitators, not manufacturers of education.

        I have read a lot of research in education over the years and have found no school that understands SPC. I doubt even PhD educators know what it is. Groups like Six Sigma could help schools a lot.

        And how do you know that some teachers are good and some not? I realize you have a lot of confidence in your own ability to determine that, but having a principal judge which teachers are good is arbitrary and an invitation to abuse. Teacher quality is a quality control issue and only SPC properly applied can objectively separate good teachers from bad.

        • Greg Miller

          I agree that the home environment is a major–if not the most significant–factor in educational achievement. Incidentally, the primacy of the parental role in education is mentioned in the Catholic Church’s Vatican II document on education (Gravissimum Educationis). However, I think you’re forgetting that in circumstances where there is an absence of parental involvement and supervision, many teachers are being thrust into the role of surrogate parents.

          Many teachers spend, objectively, more hours per day with the students than do their parents, or perhaps any other single person. We have students that arrive at school at 6:30 am, and don’t leave until 5:30 pm. If there is a sporting event, they may not leave until 9:30 pm.

          “And how do you know that some teachers are good and some not?”
          One needs no more than simple observation of human nature to clearly deduce that some are good and others are not, like the rest of humanity. To be less philosophical about it, though, allow me to provide some concrete examples from experience:

          One “bad” teacher left her theater students completely unattended every morning from 8 am until around 9, when she’d finally arrive for work. My superior at the time refused to fire her because he feared accusations of “racism” and a lawsuit. Another was famous for doing nothing more than show movies (Hollywood, not serious documentaries) the entire semester, while he worked on his own personal affairs.

          SPC properly applied may very well help separate good teachers from bad, but it is by no means the “only” way one can do so. The vast majority of human life, or learning for that matter, takes place in a non-statistical mode of existence. While it would be foolish to disregard statistics entirely, it would be more foolish to think only statistics can save us.

          • RogerMcKinney

            No one thinks statistics can save us. But without proper spc methods, everyone’s opinions concerning the source of the problem are valid. Legislators think they can manage the classroom better than teachers. Fads sweep the system. Principals, teachers and superintendents all fight over who is at fault. Only valid spc can actually tell us where the problems really are. And only valid spc can tell the good teachers from the bad in an objective way.

            Your attitude is reflected in a booked called “Super Crunchers”, which is about the benefits of statistical analysis in determining the source of problems and the best solutions. Experts oppose the use of statistics in their field, whether the field is law, medicine, accounting, education, wine making, etc., because it threatens the superiority of the experts. And yet decades of research has proven that simple statistical models outperform experts almost every single time.

            Education in the US has not improved since the 1960’s even though armies of PhD’s and professionals like you have analyzed and diagnosed the problem. Education will never improve until schools begin to use real quality control methods. Why keep trying the same old failed methods?

  • http://sabhlokcity.com/ Sanjeev Sabhlok
    • RogerMcKinney

      Asian students of all kinds do exceptionally well in US schools, so I guess our system is working well?

      • Greg Miller

        Not true, Roger. See my response to Sanjeev, or you’d be more than welcome to come into my classroom for an extended time and observe. I could easily provide statistical data from our school that refutes the “Asian” stereotype.

        • RogerMcKinney

          So what are you going to prove, that not all Asian students go to college or excel in college? That wasn’t my point. Do you deny that Asians as a percentage of their respective populations excel for more than comparable percentages of other races?
          California college openly discriminate against Asian students out of fear that they would take over the top positions at their schools.

          • Greg Miller

            “Do you deny that Asians as a percentage of their respective populations excel for more than comparable percentages of other races?”

            Are you suggesting that Asians excel because of a genetic superiority? That seems surprisingly similar to those who argued about a century ago that, based on statistically derived data, negroes were mentally inferior. We know that isn’t true, of course, and that there is really only one race, in spite of some people’s discourse to the contrary.

            Statistics can still be misinterpreted, twisted, or abused. Balance and wisdom are necessary…

    • Greg Miller

      There are strengths to the Chinese/Asian approach and educational culture. But there are also significant weaknesses. The past four years I’ve taught at a high school with an international component. Students from 7 different countries live in dorms on campus and attend classes with American students. These are some of the “best and brightest”, from wealthy families and the most prestigious schools in their home countries.

      Having taught on average 8 a year, I can tell you conclusively that they are no more or less lazy than our own students. A few are extremely high achievers. Most are flunking or struggling in specific disciplines, and the “language barrier” does not account for all such discrepancies. The Chinese system is particularly vulnerable in the humanities. Due to censorship they are ignorant of many world events and cultures that are common knowledge to American students.

      Most of the Chinese have no knowledge of the human rights abuses perpetrated in Tiananmen Square or Tibet. They are woefully uninformed about the major religions and belief systems of the world. When 90% of the existing populace identify themselves with one of the major religious traditions of the world, how can you be “truly educated” when you know nothing of their beliefs, practices, morals, history and motivations?

      The Chinese are also more prone to plagiarism than even our own pupils. This tendency has been argued by many to account for the relative lack of innovation and new patentable advancements in China, and its tendency to piracy/copycat industry.

      Finally, some have advanced data and arguments that the PISA findings are not as significant as originally thought, noting an American trend to “catch up” in measurable achievement at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Still, much reform and improvement is needed and possible…

      • RogerMcKinney

        Again, you are guilty of projecting your personal experience upon the rest of the world. Look at the success Asian students have in US colleges.

        • Greg Miller

          “Again, you are guilty of projecting your personal experience upon the rest of the world.”

          Without trying to sound dismissive, I ask, “who isn’t guilty of doing that?”

          My perception Roger is that you’re leaning toward an overemphasis on scientific empiricism. Again, when we look at what humans know and how they know those things, we find that very little is based on statistics or direct experience. How many of us do a statistical evaluation of the value of the food we choose to eat every day?

          I agree we should always strive to temper our experience by looking for confounding evidence, rather than falling into the psychological error of confirmation bias.

          I agree we need statistical data to make the best choices in education and elsewhere.

          Where I differ is that I’m conscious of the limits of data. Limits of time (strictly longitudinal studies would put the education of a whole generation at the mercy of the experimenter) . Limits of experience, human reasoning and psychology, and limits of science. As I try to drum into my students, “Correlation does not prove causation.”

          Statistics are an important part of an integral, holistic approach to educational evaluation and reform. They are not a panacea. Especially because one will likely not have the latitude or power to impose by force or fiat certain behaviors on the parents or home life of a student. Culture is an important element, and culture can only persuade. Good example and personal virtue remains, as it always has, the most powerful force for change.

          • RogerMcKinney

            Your attitude speaks volumes about what is wrong with education. You have a quality control problem, but you refuse to even consider the use of quality control methods that have been standard for a century in other fields. SPC has been applied to services for decades.

            You clearly know very little about the field, but you reject it without any further investigation. And your excuse is a straw man: They are not a panacea.

            SPC would not solve any problems. It can’t. It would tell you whether the variation in student outcomes is caused by the teacher, the curriculum or the student. Then you would know where to concentrate your efforts. It would tell you how teachers compare with each other. But most importantly, it would tell you what your current system of teacher/curriculum/student is capable of.

            “Are you suggesting that Asians excel because of a genetic superiority?”

            Did I mention genetics at all? No. Asian success in school is clearly a result of the home culture.

            “Statistics can still be misinterpreted, twisted, or abused. Balance and wisdom are necessary…”

            So that is a reason to become expert in statistics, not a reason to dismiss statistics without even learning what they can and cannot do.

          • Greg Miller

            Roger, are you even reading my posts?

            Where have I “dismissed statistics”? You seem to have blatantly ignored two posts where I acknowledged statistical analysis has an important part to play in education reform no fewer than three times (incidentally proving my point about the psychological phenomenon of confirmation bias, BTW). You just don’t like that I don’t treat it as the magic bullet you seem to think it is.

            I acknowledged earlier that “SPC properly applied may very well help separate good teachers from bad”. How is that “reject(ing) it without any further investigation”?

            I’m NOT opposed to exploring SPC in the field. It just can’t be the only effort made.

            I am the one promoting the idea of holding teachers to higher standards and getting rid of poor ones, and yet you accuse me of “refus(ing) to even consider the use of quality control methods”, while you absolve them of any degree of responsibility and blame (“Teachers are not the problem with education. Students are the problem”). How exactly does that logic work, Roger?

            You appear to be operating from an absolutist mentality (as evidenced by such your frequent use of the word “all” when describing large groups of people). While it may be true that “many” or “most” Asians excel in school, it is certainly not true, as you first claimed, that “all kinds” do.

            While it is true that MANY students don’t want to learn, it isn’t true that they bear the sole weight of responsibility for education’s woes. While it is true that MANY teachers are not the problem with education, SOME (as I’ve said) certainly cause many educational woes.

            I much suspect it is not true that your “students…think their personal experiences trump ALL research and theory”. They may think it trumps a particular piece of research and theory, but how can you possibly know they think it trumps ALL?

            And that’s one thing that scares me about this conversation. One of the big problems with America is the absolutist mentality you exhibit. The thought that our public decisions must be “all or nothing” propositions is killing this nation. Either we fund universal healthcare or we don’t, legalize pot or don’t, ban prayer in all public schools or allow it carte blanche, etc. Our political culture has lost sight of the purpose of diversity in the states and how it fosters freedom and innovation.

            Aquinas once said, “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish…”
            but you have completely failed to see my openness to SPC and instead have tried to mischaracterize my suggestion that it is but one of many approaches/reforms as an opposition to it. I’m not opposed to it, Roger! I’m just opposed to the idea that it’s going to fix education by itself! Sir, valid and valuable posts of yours elsewhere notwithstanding, today you appear to have either a reading or a comprehension problem.

          • RogerMcKinney

            “I am the one promoting the idea of holding teachers to higher standards and getting rid of poor ones…”

            That’s where you reject the use of statistics. You can’t know who are good and bad teachers without proper spc. I realize that you think you know very well, but that only demonstrates the hubris of experts.

            “One of the big problems with America is the absolutist mentality you exhibit.”

            I could say them same thing about you. You are so confident in your experience that you are not willing to consider the field of spc, which has proven its value in all fields but education, where it has never been tried, for a century.

            “you have completely failed to see my openness to SPC”

            Only because it doesn’t exist, as evidenced by your posts.

            “I’m just opposed to the idea that it’s going to fix education by itself!”

            I never claimed it would. All I ever asserted is that you can’t know what the problem is without SPC. Without it you can’t know is a remedy actually worked. Without it, you only have opinions.
            Based on the statistics I have read, the students are the major problem. Why are schools worse now than at any time in the past 50 years if something has worked? If the students are the problem, because of their home environment, then nothing you do with teachers or curricula will change anything.

            Educated people don’t use their personal experience as the measure of all things. Research should inform you of the experiences of others until you have a good representative sample from which to draw conclusions.

            You sound a lot like the engineers I used to work with in quality control. Any time they disagree with the results of the statistics, they ignored the stats and used their own judgment in stead, almost always to the detriment of quality and the harm of the company.
            SPC is science. Expert judgment is not. Expert judgment will be necessary for devising solutions to problems, but only after spc has identified what the problems are. And only spc can tell you if the solution proposed by the expert has worked or not.

  • RogerMcKinney

    While I respect your years of service, I get similar responses to my students in that they think their personal experiences trump all research and theory. The statistical evidence demonstrates that the home environment is the major factor in education success.
    A simple measure of how many books a family owns is a powerful predictor of a student’s success in school. Teachers are facilitators, not manufacturers of education.

    I have read a lot of research in education over the years and have found no school that understands SPC. I doubt even PhD educators know what it is. Groups like Six Sigma could help schools a lot.

    And how do you know that some teachers are good and some not? I realize you have a lot of confidence in your own ability to determine that, but having a principal judge which teachers are good is arbitrary and an invitation to abuse. Teacher quality is a quality control issue and only SPC properly applied can objectively separate good teachers from bad.