wasting bandwidth since 1999

Tag: alfie kohn (Page 2 of 3)

Addicted to Numbers

Alfie Kohn is one of the smartest observers of American education and someone whose voice needs to be heard more in the ongoing reform discussion. He recently posted an essay about how the increasing drive to collect data on kids is both “uninformative and misleading”.

The whole post is worth a few minutes to read (and pass along to your favorite school administrator and politician) but this observation is one that stands out for me.

You’ve heard it said that tests and other measures are, like technology, merely neutral tools, and all that matters is what we do with the information? Baloney. The measure affects that which is measured. Indeed, the fact that we chose to measure in the first place carries causal weight. His speechwriters had President George W. Bush proclaim, “Measurement is the cornerstone of learning.” What they should have written was, “Measurement is the cornerstone of the kind of learning that lends itself to being measured.” [emphasis mine]

Although the administration here in our overly-large school district talks a good game about “21st century skills”, “innovation”, “creativity”, and all the rest of the high minded phrases, the emphasis at the school level continues to be on testing and collecting more and more data to be analyzed.

And all those assessments, “formative”, practice, and otherwise, can’t help but shape – and narrow – instruction in most classrooms.

The Hypocritical Love Affair With STEM

Alfie Kohn asks an excellent question about the education priorities laid out by our national leaders:  Why do STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) subjects consistently attract so much money and attention?

He has one theory.

As compared with other “softer” disciplines, STEM usually provides us with the reassurance of knowing exactly how much, how many, how far, how fast, which means that these subjects are viewed (often incorrectly) as being inherently objective, therefore more reliable (another questionable leap), and therefore more valuable (yet another one).

Beyond that, I also think much of the love affair with STEM comes from the gut feeling of most people in this country that subjects like math and science are just more serious than social studies or music, like anyone who racks up lots of those credits will automatically get a better job, earn more money, and probably be a better human being.

Either way, there’s a big hypocrisy factor at work here.

Many of the politicians behind the big push for students to take more STEM classes (or at least increased test scores on international tests) are also the ones loudly disparaging the scientists and engineers who produce research and recommendations they disagree with.

Go to college, learn lots of math and science, but don’t use your skills to discover anything that challenges my preconceived ideas.

Great message to offer kids.

Reform Without Changing

Alfie Kohn makes it very clear that very few of the loudest voices in the shouting match known as education reform are really talking about changing anything.

For a shrewd policy maker, then, the ideal formula would seem to be to let people enjoy the invigorating experience of demanding reform without having to give up whatever they’re used to. And that’s precisely what both liberals and conservatives manage to do: Advertise as a daring departure from the status quo what is actually just a slightly new twist on it.

On top of that, many of those advocating for the status quo (only more of it), aren’t too fond of children either.

But traditionalists — who, when it comes to children, include a discouraging number of political liberals — have persuaded us to ignore the epidemic of punitive parenting and focus instead on the occasional example of overindulgence — sometimes even to the point of pronouncing an entire generation spoiled. (It’s revealing that similar alarms  have been raised for decades, if not centuries.) To create the impression that kids today are out of control is to justify a call for even tighter restrictions, tougher discipline, more punishment.

As Kohn often points out, nothing in the current mix of so-called reform proposals – merit pay, charter schools, even more testing, blaming teachers – even remotely approaches the kind of change our education system needs.

The status quo is rapidly failing our kids while most of our “leaders” are advocating for even more of it.

Value Add? Not So Much

When it comes to education policy and school reform, Alfie Kohn is one of the smartest people around.

And in a recent column at the Huffington Post, he takes on the absurdities that pass for school reform these days, most of which he notes, actually make things worse.

It’s a familiar list – testing kids until they “beg for mercy”, charter schools, standardized curriculums, closing schools, merit pay, firing teachers, getting rid of unions – but Kohn’s focus is on the hot reform topic of the day: “value add” teacher evaluations.

Before we run out and invest heavily in this latest fad, Kohn suggests asking three questions about the scheme.

Question 1: Does this model provide valid and reliable information about teachers (and schools)? Most experts in the field of educational assessment say, Good heavens, no. This year’s sterling teacher may well look like crud next year, and vice versa. Too many variables affect a cohort’s test scores; statistically speaking, we just can’t credit or blame any individual teacher.

Unfortunately, many of the experts who point this out tend to stop there, even though the problem runs far deeper than technical psychometric flaws with the technique. For example. . .

Question 2: Does learning really lend itself to any kind of “value-added” approach? It does only if it’s conceived as an assembly line process in which children are filled up with facts and skills at each station along a conveyor belt, and we need only insert a dipstick before and after they arrive at a given station (say, fourth grade), measure the pre/post difference, and judge the worker at that station accordingly. The very idea of “value-added measures,” not just a specific formula for calculating them, implicitly accepts this absurd model.

Question 3: Do standardized tests assess what matters most about teaching and learning? If not, then no value-added approach based on those tests makes any sense. As I’ve argued elsewhere — and of course I’m hardly alone in doing so — test results primarily tell us two things: the socioeconomic status of the students being tested and the amount of time devoted to preparing students for a particular test.

Can we etch that last part onto the desk of every school superintendent?

And why isn’t Kohn a prominent part of that Education Nation infotainment summit coming this month to a cable channel near you?

Challenging What Everyone Knows

In the op-ed section of the Post this morning, Alfie Kohn, one of the smartest voices in the debate about American education, challenges the myth that today’s parents coddle their kids more than ever, and as a result, those children are the most undisciplined generation in history.

It must be true since it says so in dozens of books and articles on the subject.

And, of course, there are plenty of stories about parents who refuse to set limits on their kids, and kids that are undisciplined narcissists.

Except, as Kohn notes, there are just two problems with those “what everyone knows” facts.

Social observers have been saying exactly the same thing about each generation of kids for more than a century.

And there is almost no research to support any of these claims, with what has been done largely based on questionable methodology.

In short,

There’s no evidence, then, that today’s parents are more permissive than parents of yesteryear, or that today’s young people are more narcissistic. But even if there were, no one has come close to showing that one causes the other.

Neither logic nor evidence seems to support the widely accepted charge that we’re too easy on our children. Yet that assumption continues to find favor across the political spectrum. It seems that we’ve finally found something to bring the left and the right together: an unsubstantiated knock on parents, an unflattering view of kids and a dubious belief that the two are connected.

Logic? Evidence?

When it comes to the debate over issues related to American education, it’s not surprising that both often go missing.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2021 Assorted Stuff

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑