It Took So Long Because They Were Learning It in the Wrong Style

September 7, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

I had to laugh when I saw this New York Times story. They’ve discovered that the existence of multiple “learning styles” has no sound basis in empirical evidence:

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Wow, those daring journalists at the Times and scientists at Psychological Science in the Public Interest aren’t afraid to buck the conventional wisdom!

Imagine how daring they’d have been if they’d been reading Education Next . . . in 2004?

(Admittedly, the Ed Next article is framed in terms of “multiple intelligences” rather than “learning styles,” but when you come right down to it, “multiple intelligences” was just the fashionable early-aughts buzzword for the same cluster of fallacies that goes by “learning styles.”)

HT Joanne Jacobs


Politics and Schools, Part MCCXXIII

September 1, 2010

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Neal notes the connection between Arne Duncan’s now-infamous embrace of Al Sharpton and the president’s continuing his new tradition of broadcasting a back-to-school message to America’s classrooms, coming up later this month.

Duncan didn’t just embrace Sharpton in his personal role as a citizen. He mobilized the U.S. Department of Education to support Sharpton by encouraging employees to attend Sharpton’s anti-Glenn-Beck rally.

Whatever you think of Glenn Beck, Sharpton cut his teeth as a professional purveyor of incitement to murder. During the Crown Heights race riots, with blood running in the streets, he said, “if the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.” He had to tone it back after the Freddy’s Fashion Mart murders, when people began making connections between Sharpton and the killings that kept following in his wake. But tone it back was all he did; he’s never repented.

Duncan spoke at Sharpton’s rally and urged his employees to attend.

A department spokesperson lamely tried to evade responsibility by saying “This was a back-to-school event.” Really? Here’s a sample of Al Sharpton’s back-to-school message for America’s youth, courtesy of the Washington Examiner:

[Conservatives] think we showed up [to vote for Barack Obama] in 2008 and that we won’t show up again. But we know how to sucker-punch, and we’re coming out again in 2010!

…and do your homework!

This is obviously intimately connected with the presdient’s decision to make it an annual tradition to use America’s government school monopoly to broadcast a message to the nation’s children. Other presidents have done so before, though none has made it an annual tradition. But it was equally wrong whoever did it, and this Duncan/Sharpton rally shows why.

Neal is trying too hard when he strains to describe Obama’s message to students as “politically charged material.” Joanne Jacobs rightly notes, “Last year’s speech raised a lot of fuss, culminating in a big fizzle as Obama told students to work hard in school.” No doubt this year the president will be equally anodyne.

[Update: Neal points out below that it was the accompanying materials sent to schools, not Obama’s message itself, that he described as “politically charged.” Fair enough! I read his post too quickly. Yet it’s worth noting that even those accompanying materials were focused on anointing Obama as a role model rather than pushing an overtly political agenda.]

The connection is rather that politics can’t be hermetically sealed. The president does have some role to play as the representative of the entire nation. But he is never just that; he is also a politician with an agenda. He will always stand for things that many Americans oppose; that’s just the nature of political life. And this president in particular seems to have more of a tendency than most presidents of associating himself with criminals and race-haters.

It doesn’t matter what Obama says. In fact, the less political his message, the worse it is. If Obama’s message really were “politically charged material,” many students would recognize it as such. The more anodyne he is, the more he gets what he really wants – to be anointed as a role model. With all that entails.

It’s wrong enough to have a government monopoly on schooling. To have the government monopoly anoint the president as a role model for our children is a hundred times more wrong. It would be wrong even if the president were relatively uncontroversial, because no president can avoid having many associations to which many parents will reasonably object. With this president – well, words just fail.


Joanne Jacobs on Higher Ed

June 24, 2010

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Joanne Jacobs and the Quick and the Ed posse are asking provocative questions about higher education.  A move is afoot to regulate for profit higher education, but the traditional higher ed sector suffers from many of the same issues. Higher education costs have been racing ahead faster than even health care inflation, without the slightest bit of evidence that the quality of education provided to students has improved.

Higher education can be thought of as a bubble, or as an industry ripe to be disrupted. The only thing that seems certain to me is that the trends of the past twenty years cannot be maintained indefinitely: something has to give.  Similar to many of our problems, the government has done far more to cause these problems than to solve them.


Carnival of Education

April 15, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Joanne Jacobs has this week’s carnival of education.


More DC Voucher Buzz

April 7, 2009

Patrick McIlheran at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks, “And what happens to results showing school choice works?”  His answer: “Well, if it’s in the hands of a federal government hostile to the idea, it gets covered up… The students were tested in the spring, the results analyzed in the summer and the preliminary findings given to the team working with the Department of Education in November. Why, then, didn’t the department chime in when Congress was ending choice?”

Joanne Jacobs asks: “What did Education Secretary Arne Duncan know about the study’s findings and when did he know it? Duncan had to know during the voucher reauthorization debate that D.C.’s program is advancing students by nearly half a year, editorializes the Wall Street Journal. Why didn’t he speak up?”

Michelle Malkin writes: “It would have been helpful to know about a Department of Education study on D.C.’s school choice initiative before the Democrats — beholden to teachers unions allergic to competition — voted to starve the innovative program benefiting poor, minority children in the worst school district in the nation.  Somehow, the results of the study conducted last spring didn’t surface until now.”

As Matt has already noted, Whitney Tilson of Democrats for Education Reform has chimed in warning that charter supporters shouldn’t think they are safe if vouchers get squeezed.  As he put it: “First they came for the vouchers. I remained silent because I was not for vouchers….”

I’ve already noted, Neal McCluskey has an excellent post on the impotence of “tough talk” on education from the Obama administration when they won’t act to defend choice.

Lisa Snell argues: “Kids in the D.C. Opportunity scholarship program deserve the same chance to go to a higher quality school as President Obama’s own children. The taxpayers of the United States deserve at least one education program that actually gets results in exchange for the money.”

And this photo on “From the Pen” says it all.

“Democrats Block School Choice… Again”

Republicans made us do it! Honest!


Randi Weingarten Can’t Get No Respect

January 5, 2009

In what the AFT web site described as “her first major speech since being elected AFT president in July,” Randi Weingarten “decried the widespread scapegoating of teachers and teachers unions for public education’s shortcomings.”  Her comments have generated numerous reactions, including from NYT columnist Bob Herbert, Andy Rotherham, Joanne Jacobs, and our own Greg Forster.  They all raised interesting points, but none addressed one of the most curious aspects of Weingarten’s speech:  Why do teachers, perhaps more than other professionals, seek praise for their work (or are particularly sensitive to blame)? 

I don’t think other occupations have produced bumper-stickers that are the equivalent of “If you can read this thank a teacher.”  I can’t imagine plumbers distributing bumper-stickers that said: “If you flushed your toilet thank a plumber.”  Nor can I imagine: “If you still have your teeth thank a dentist.” 

Teachers particularly demand respect — and of course they deserve respect.  But why do they give speeches, print bumper-stickers, write letters, hold rallies, etc… decrying their social status when I am hard pressed to think of other occupations that do the same?

Of course, one important factor is that almost all teachers are public employees.  The demand for respect can be understood as part of the demand for resources.  My plumber doesn’t have to demand my respect to get my resources.  He just has to do a good job to get me to continue paying him for his services. 

But the resources devoted to education are largely unrelated to how well teachers serve their students.  Political popularity largely determines the level of resources available for teachers, so not surprisingly, teachers actively lobby the public to enhance their image.

The problem is that it is hard to sustain political popularity and community respect as results continue to disappoint despite huge increases in resources.  Teachers interpret this disappointment as a lack of respect, when it is really just frustration at being forced to pay for services that are chronically inadequate.  If people could hire teachers like they hire plumbers or dentists, teachers wouldn’t need to demand respect to get resources.  They would earn respect and resources by serving their voluntary customers well.


AFT and UAW – More Alike Than You’d Think

December 30, 2008

aft uaw1

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Lots of people are picking up on the temper tantrum about alleged “demonizing of teachers” begun by a Randi Weingarten speech and continued in Bob Herbert’s column on the speech.

Even that notorious right-winger Eduwonk points out that Weingarten and Herbert are hitting a straw man. I think the real problem is not that school reformers demonize teachers but that defenders of the government school monopoly angelize them. When we reformers insist that teachers should be treated as, you know, human beings, who respond to incentives and all that, rather than as some sort of perfect angelic beings who would never ever allow things like absolute job protection to affect their performance, it drives people like Weingarten and Herbert nuts.

guardian-angel

A typical teacher, as seen by Randi Weingarten

But what I’d like to pick up on is the question of whether the troubles of the government school system are comparable to the troubles of the auto industry.

Of the alleged demonizing of teachers, Herbert had written:

It reminded me of the way autoworkers have been vilified and blamed by so many for the problems plaguing the Big Three automakers.

Eduwonk points out Herbert’s hypocrisy (though he delicately avoids using that word) on this point, because elsewhere in the column, Herbert praises Weingarten for expressing a willingness to make concessions on issues like tenure and pay scales. Union recalcitrance on these types of reform, Eduwonk points out, is precisely why the auto industry is in so much trouble, and Weingarten has been driven to make noises in favor of reform because a similar dynamic has been at work in the government school system.

On the other hand, Joanne Jacobs thinks the comparison between the AFT and the UAW is inapt:

 I don’t think skilled teachers and unskilled auto workers have much in common.  Auto unions pushed up costs, especially for retirees, making U.S. cars uncompetitive.  In education, the problem isn’t excessive pay, it’s the fact that salaries aren’t linked to teacher effectiveness, the difficulty of their jobs or the market demand for their skills.

But teachers’ unions have pushed up costs – dramatically. In the past 40 years, the cost of the government school system per student has much more than doubled (even after inflation) while outcomes are flat across the board. And this has mainly been caused by a dramatic increase in the number of teachers hired per student – a policy that benefits only the unions.

It’s true that high salaries aren’t the main issue in schools, although teacher salaries are in fact surprisingly high. The disconnect between teacher pay and teacher performance is much more important. But the UAW has the same problem! Their pay scales don’t reward performance, either.

The source of Jacobs’ confusion is her mistaken view that auto workers are “unskilled.” Farm workers are unskilled, but not auto workers. The distinction she’s reaching for is the one between white-collar or “professional” work and blue-collar work. But some blue-collar work is skilled and some is unskilled, and auto workers are in the former category. This matters because with skilled blue-collar workers, as with white-collar workers, there’s a dramatic increase in the importance of incentives as compared with unskilled labor.

In fact, a lot of smart people have been arguing (scroll down to the Dec. 26 post) that exorbitant salaries and benefits aren’t nearly as much of a problem in the auto industry as union work rules – including poor performance due to absolute job protection, pay scales that don’t reward performance, and rigid job descriptions that make process modernization impossible.

Sound familiar?

(Edited)