True vs. the Opposite of True at Ed Next

July 10, 2013

xkcd the opposite of true

HT xkcd

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Education Next hosts a throwdown between Jay and Kate Walsh on the NCTQ teacher training standards. Backfill here.

What strikes me most about the exchange is that Walsh begins her response by essentially giving away the store to Jay:

The idea of encouraging experimentation in the education sector makes sense: if you don’t know what works, let a thousand flowers bloom. And the field of teacher education would appear to be particularly fertile ground. After all, there’s been a common presumption that no one knows what works.

Then, bizarrely, she argues that because Jay is right that we need to have more experimentation and “let a thousand flowers bloom,” we should impose regulations that restrict experimentation and limit how many kinds of flowers are allowed to bloom:

Teacher prep is the Wild West of higher education…This level of disarray raises an important question:  How much experimentation should we tolerate, given what’s at stake?…No doubt there is a difference between the kind of experimentation that Jay is calling for and teacher prep’s current modus operandi of throwing anything against a wall and seeing if it sticks—or worse, not even caring if it sticks, just doing it because a professor has decided he’s right, no matter the evidence to the contrary. But since the field itself is not rigorously gathering data on what works — and the risk for the students of new teachers is so great — it makes sense to establish reasonable guidelines as to what should go into teacher training to ensure, at the very least, that new teachers “do no harm.”

No, that’s the opposite of true. If we don’t know what works because we aren’t collecting data, and our top priority is to do no harm, the very last thing we should do is impose new regulations! The whole point of regulations is to prevent people from doing things that we know do harm. We impose lead regulations on paint manufacturers because we know putting lead in paint does harm. We impose medical trial regulations on medicine companies because we know selling untested medicines does harm. We impose broken glass regulations on fast food restaurants because we know putting broken glass in hamburgers does harm. (At least until you grind it up so fine that it’s no longer sharp, like they do in McDonald’s milkshakes.)

Imposing regulations when you don’t know what works is the quickest path to doing lots and lots of harm – and, by the way, it also prevents you from collecting data to find out what works (which is what we ought to be doing) because you can’t collect data on methods you aren’t allowed to try.


Ed Schools and Biz Schools

January 12, 2010

My colleagues, Bob Maranto and Gary Ritter, along with former Teachers College president, Arthur Levine, have a piece in Education Week arguing that education schools could improve their quality as business schools did several decades ago.  I suggest you read the article to judge their case for yourself.

What I wanted to do with this post is to anticipate the inevitable argument that business schools are somehow responsible for the recent economic meltdown or that ed schools are no more responsible for the quality of K-12 education than business schools are for the economic collapse.  I’ve heard this line from a bunch of education officials, so it must be in the talking points.

Here’s why this type of argument is hogwash.  Business schools are not responsible for the economic collapse because (among other reasons), biz schools do not work with business unions to get the government to require attendance at business schools and government certification before one can open (most) businesses.  Some business people have attended business schools but most have not.

Ed schools, on the other hand, work with teacher unions to get the government to require that (most) educators receive training from ed schools and certification from the state before they can teach.  The vast majority of educators, including the vast majority of teachers, principals, and superintendents have been trained and certified by ed schools.

I’m happy to let ed schools off the hook for K-12 performance if they actively lobby for ending their cartel on the production of new educators.