Tuesday, February 14, 2017


Yet another education post over at Maggie's.  It is a subject where people believe what they believe regardless of the evidence.  Because they just know. And their own childhood experience, or their grandfather's, or their second child's, is brought forward as an illustration of some universal truth.

Anecdote. It's all just anecdote and preconceived notion that must fit into some deeply-held personal need, as it is so impervious to modification.

Do the work yourself, then may it will sink in.  Identify a few of the best high schools in your state according to reputation and see what their 10th grade testing scores were. Then track back six years and see what their 4th grade scores were.  Repeat for the worst high schools.  You will find roughly the same schools at the top and same schools at the bottom.  If you can find 1st grade scores, so much the better. Multiple years in good schools doesn't add much, multiple years in bad schools doesn't subtract much.  Any difference of more than a few points is usually a demographic change because of wealth - a booming community where richer people are moving in, or a failing community where all the smart money is getting out.


james said...

Do you mean "you will find the same scores, top and bottom?"

Excepting the truly lousy schools, true enough. I cannot remember a time when I was bad at math, or good at PE. Some classmates seemed to have the reverse experience.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Thanks. Edited for clarification.

Galen said...

My pet theory is that baseball managers don't win games but they can and do lose them. Players win games. It may well be that the most important thing a teacher can do is to not kill a student's interest -- in some subjects, at certain junctures, a bad teacher can be fatal, but for the most part, learners will learn. Inspirational teachers are a bonus.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

That seems about right. There is some soft evidence that good teaching matters more with worse students. The Buddha never said it, but the cliche attributed to him is true: When the student is ready, the teacher arrives.

Texan99 said...

This is anecdotal, but dispositive for me: I attended four distinctly different schools growing up, where the difference was night and day. Some schools tolerate bench-warming teachers with bizarre personality disorders, where you waste hours of your time every day. They hire martinets for vice principals with weird obsessions about who walks where when and how short their skirts are rather than concentrating on keeping a lid on the worst outbreaks of violence. Other schools manage to keep an eye on the ball of providing good instruction in the classroom.

My four schools were all in the same general neighborhood. One, for K and 1, was a tiny private (but cheap) neighborhood school (pretty good), then there was primary (not bad, but while I have vivid memories of K-1, the years 2-6 are mostly a blur), junior high (awful with a couple of bright spots), and senior high (quite good in over half the classes).

The senior high school had been under the long reign of a terrific principal who attracted and kept very fine teachers. When I got there he had just retired, and the best teachers were hanging on for a few more years until retirement. The new guy was sort of ineffectual but at least let us have our heads. Though he didn't actively drive off the good teachers, they weren't committed to him, either.

The curriculum and the theoretical approach were not discernibly different at these four schools, just the competence at the helm. I honest don't know any way to regulate such a thing; I think parents have to have the freedom to move out of one that's going to pot and attend one that's run by sane people.