Being Annoyingly Skeptical is Required

Although the article Big Surprise: Yet Another Ed Reform Turns Out to be Bogus has been sitting in my Instapaper queue for several months, it is unfortunately part of a larger trend that’s not going away. That would be the increasing tendency of ed reformers to over-inflate the effectiveness of their simplistic ideas.

In this particular example, the San Jose, CA school district has been for many years a “poster child” for claims of incredibly improved academic performance by high school students who were required to take college prep classes.

The reality, however, didn’t even approach the hype: “In 2000, before the college-prep program took effect, 40% of San Jose graduates fulfilled requirements for applying to University of California and Cal State University. In 2011, the number was 40.3%.”

The writer of this piece is not an education writer but nevertheless does a great job of summarizing the state of school reform research.

The number of ed reforms that hold up when the evidence is looked at critically seems to be tiny. The number that continue to work when they’re scaled up seems to be tiny. The number that continue to show results all the way through high school seems to be tiny. The number that can withstand critical scrutiny seems to be tiny. And of the ones that are left, the cost* to keep them up usually appears to be prohibitive.

And he’s certainly correct in the approach he suggests when reading reports of these educational miracles in the future: “I don’t think you can go too far wrong by being almost boundlessly and annoyingly skeptical about this stuff.”

* I think you need to include both monetary and human costs in those calculations.

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