Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Disappointing News

Daviess County, KY had an intriguing program to build better brains, by teaching music, chess, foreign language, and folkdance to every single kid in their system, K-12. Not so that they would all be musicians or chessmasters, but so that many areas of the brain would be stimulated and integrated. It was called Graduation 2010, because this would be the year that a class had gone all the way through the program for 13 years. I was very hopeful that this would reveal important new information about education that really worked. Preliminary signs were mildly good.

I tried to track down the data today, wanting to see how much improvement this county-wide, broad, intensive program worked. I had trouble finding it - already a bad sign, as it would likely have been trumpeted and big news if the gains were dramatic. That no one is talking about them suggests... ah, well.

There might be a slight increase in test scores for the county compared to the state average, but not much. And a few measures even went slightly down over time in the Daviess County. It may not be worth the candle.


Retriever said...

Probably did help, but was counterbalanced by deteriorating family systems, worsening neighborhoods, job insecurity, etc. If you consider that many of these programs are really providing the enrichment activities that would otherewise be found in a good home, worsening home situations mightmake it appear as if the enrichment programs weren't having an effect...But what do I know?

jaed said...

If there were deteriorating conditions, then the overall test scores should have shown that - so the experimental school's scores would have been better by comparison.

On the other hand, test scores aren't everything. If they taught students to play the piano, for example, that will give them pleasure all their lives. Likewise the chess and dancing. Learning a language is always good. (Assuming they actually *learned* it, as opposed to the lackadaisical process that foreign language study usually is in K-12... don't get me started.) All four of these things are worth learning in their own right, whether studying them improves general intelligence or not.

The only downside I can see is the possibility that these activities took so much time away from academic studies that these students didn't learn to read, learn history, etc. as well as they would have otherwise. (Which is a possible confounding factor here - maybe the program improved g, but at the cost of subject knowledge.)

My rules of thumb:

- Nutrition improves g, but it's about the only thing that does. Don't expect education to make big changes because it won't.

- g or no g, learning things in childhood that you'll use in your life is worthwhile.

- Promising educational innovations never scale up successfully.

jaed said...

From your earlier post:

The superintendent who drove this whole idea has moved on to Fayette County

Urk. (The problem with scaling these things up usually seems to be that the original people aren't available for the scaled-up model.) Maybe if the superintendent had stayed in place, the results would have been better. Maybe.

Gringo said...

There is always a problem in applying changes on a large scale. I have read that one reason for the lack of success in Head Start programs is that the adults hired for the Head Start programs tended to be the same low-vocabulary parents of the low-vocabulary children that Head Start was supposed to help. There had been better results when higher-vocabulary adults were hired to direct the children in the program. [Someone who knows more about it, please correct me if I remember wrong.]

It is interesting that in spite of nearly a half century of lack of proven success for Head Start, that the program is still funded. And some people wonder why I am skeptical of social work save the world type programs.

My intuitive response is that such programs as Daviess County had are helpful insofar that they at least provide some variety in the school day. We are not reading, writing, and 'rithmetic machines.

There has been some movement towards eliminating recess as "frivolous" in favor of more work on reading etc. My memory as an elementary school student is that days without recess due to rainy weather, made for a horrible school day, as I had no chance to get my ya yas out. And I was a good student.

jaed said...

(I treasured recess during elementary school because it was the only time during the school day when I could read an actual book. There was "reading" during class time, but that meant doing "reading materials" such as SRA cards, or the torture of listening to students reading out loud who were really struggling with reading.)

Retriever said...

Jaed, a kid I know was sent to the school psychologist for reading in recess.... :(

Gringo, the problem with Head Start is our society refuses to grasp the nettle and say flat out that ther are BAD parents and BAD family situations. Remedial programs can't really compensate for them. Boot camp of so
E camp for the parents a better bet perhaps. But don't know how to implement my blithe prescription. I find it hard enough raising kids w a husband, our own house, a job, ace neighborhood, medical care, loving church...

Gringo said...

One of the links in your 2006 article has test data for KY towns and counties, including Daviess County, from 2004-05 to 2008-09. So not there is some information on which to evaluate the program.

@nooil4pacifists said...

I remember how optimistic you were about the Daviess program. But I remain skeptical about any "early education" programs, and for older kids still think vouchers are the only feasible approach.

Gringo said...

Carl: when I Googled "daviess county" "graduation 2010", that particular comment of AVI on your blog popped up rather quickly. Unfortunately, the link AVI used is dead. His 2006 article provides a better link.