Playing w/Statistics Part 2: Education

(…sort of.  No statistics were harmed in creating this rant.)

If ever there was a profession with MORE unfounded “truths” in it, it would be education.  Sacred cows abound everywhere and no one questions the zaniest of assertions. It’s like Kafka and Sartre had a love child, and it created a profession.  Everyday is surreal and existentialistic, and we take it VERY seriously.  I also think we invent our statistics/reasearch.  Nice thing is that once they are said with conviction they are GOSPEL.

  1. You only remember 10% (or something of that ilk) of what you read.  This is brought up to prove to teachers that either aren’t reaching a student’s true potential or that we suck.  Or both.  I’d go with both.  However, I’ve never seen this verified.  Even if it were, I actually think this is a good thing.  After all, who wants to remember every article and preposition ever read?  Aren’t we supposed to be able to glean the good from the bad then go on?  I guess I don’t understand the point of this, but apparently it’s very important.
  2. Multiple intelligences.  Everyone has that ONE intelligence that they learn best with and we should use that to “reach” the learner.  This is usually combined with differentiation (giving different levels of materials to students of different abilities).  The interesting thing about this is that it’s never been proven to my knowledge, it all hearkens back to the same THEORIST, AND, adding insult to injury,  we’re told that every child is supposed to be getting the SAME education.  I don’t know about you, but I can’t do same and different simultaneously.  Perhaps I’m not working within my “intelligence.”  However, here’s a novel approach.  How about teachers vary education enough so that it’s not mind-numbingly boring.  We can use the different approaches to change-up assignments, allow for further development of ALL skills, and keep us all from wanting to find the noose.
  3. Research-based programs.  GIVE ME A BREAK.  This has got to be the biggest scam on the planet.  Schools are supposed to be innovative, but everything we do has to be backed by research. AGAIN, I CANNOT DO TWO DIAMETRICALLY OPPOSED THINGS AT ONE TIME!  However, should one ask to review the research before buying some program, it will be pointed out that this was already done by someone in the department of education (either federal or state).  You know, the same people with axes to grind because if this sick puppy ever got better they would be out of jobs.   One is not supposed to look at the research because… well, there probably isn’t any.  Or… better yet, it’s anecdotal.  Yep, someone sat in a room, didn’t have a control, didn’t try to “verify” his/her research (HELL, didn’t have a research goal/question in mind), and watched what happened.  Then used this to sell a program.  And you wonder how diet pills get on the market!  Seriously, you read about the success rate, and get told it’s 25%.  Really?  1 out of 4 got better?  So you had, what, 4 subjects?  That means 3 didn’t do better at all. You are so right, we should put TONS of taxpayer money into this sinking ship.  And folks, we do.
  4. There’s no money in education.  This is so not true.  There is a TON of money in education (look at all the people scrambling to get it).  We just tend to spend it in some really jacked up ways.  Everyone is to blame.  Like all governmental agencies, money is tied to a funding source and a spending source.  This means that if you  have set aside $100K to upgrade your systems you MUST spend that $100K even if you discover that the upgrade WILL NOT WORK.  That money cannot be banked for another year or moved to another account.  It was earmarked and it will be spent.  Generally, you have a time limit on when funds must be encumbered.  Therefore, people are forever scrambling at the last-minute to spend all their money; otherwise, their budgets will be cut the next year.  Who the hell bases a budget upon the previous year?  That’s, well, insane.  Furthermore, it’s wrong to encourage fevered last-minute spending.   It seems to me that governments need to have 1-3 years of operating costs banked (you know, for bad times) and have some flexible spending/saving.  Imagine if you knew that waiting 6 months would do wonders for your system upgrade, wouldn’t you do it rather than throwing good money after bad?  However, in education, we are forced to spend whether it’s prudent or not.  There is money.  It’s to buy programs, not people.  Yet, like all ironies, we’re all told LOUDLY that it’s the quality of teacher that counts.BTW, if you really want to have some fun, try to find out how much your local school district has spent on technology over the past few years.  Then check to see if the quality of education (test scores) has increased.  Then try to decide if it’s because of the technology.  Finally, decide for yourself if the 100s of millions of dollars has given back 100s of millions of better educated students.  Please.  I’d like some statistics on this.
  5. Program A yields  better results than Program B.  Rarely, when this stuff is rolled out, are you looking at similar things.  It’s not like evaluating two word processing programs and deciding which is best for you.  It’s looking at different teaching methodologies, usually delivered in different settings, to different populations as well as different class sizes, and declaring them the same. Are you going hmm yet?  Generally, when teachers watch training videos we see some interesting things.  Lessons are delivered to 4-5 students who are at the same level.  Most are aware of being watched so they’re usually on their best behavior.  The teacher is new to them, and they are practicing one thing.  I’m sure that in groups of 4-5, that strategy works.  However, when you extrapolate that to groups of 25-30 with differing abilities and no camera, well… the results aren’t the same.  Take into account that no one considers the amount of time it takes teachers to learn and practice new skills or put new curriculum into place.  There is really no way to look at people and KNOW for a fact what the end result will be.  Truly.
  6. Every child will be educationally proficient by 2014.  Really?  Based on what research and statistical analysis?  Also, for my edification, during what time in education has this been true and what methods were used to achieve this?

Education is the most political of professions.  Teachers have precious little control over many aspects of their careers.  Allegedly fewer and fewer people are going into teaching.  It’s said (by proponents of merit pay) that pay is the reason for this.  I’d say, do some research and get back to me.  Perhaps, just maybe,  it’s the unrealistic expectations, long hours, low esteem (don’t patronize me, really), and no control that is keeping people from becoming teachers.  Have you thought about that?

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2 thoughts on “Playing w/Statistics Part 2: Education

  1. Morocco says:

    Very well said! I think I am ready to give up on teaching…

  2. Suzanne says:

    I think that’s the irony. The current political state is actually driving teachers away. There’s very little these days that makes teaching attractive.

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