Saturday, October 22, 2005

After Introducing the Experiment, Flat Results Mean What?

When conducting research using typical experimental design, scientists measure results by comparing the control and experimental groups. After the experimental events are introduced, one can discern if there is any difference between the two groups and make justifiable decisions as to whether the experiment is worth repeating.

When our Government introduces sweeping public policy, because such policy is usually pushed whole hog on the population, no control group remains. Instead, one has to use historical measures in a "before and after" style test for change. If there is no improvement over standard operating procedure, the only conclusion that could be reached is that there is a null effect.

That is, unless of course, the experiment is "no child left behind," which is a rather costly endeavor that was supposed to improve our schools. Is it worth replicating going forward? Certainly, the W, Rove and Co is going to desperately grasp at this policy as one of the very few "positive" initiatives started by their administration. Unfortunately for our children, the focus on testing is misplaced as a means to push the teaching of powerful, positive learning behavior.

Ask yourself this: When you needed to know how to do something you have never done before, how did you learn it? The time for curricular and infrastructure reform in our Nation's schools is becoming over ripe. Like the stale piece of fruit in your bowl, the fruit flies are flocking and the mold is starting to bloom. When "no child left behind" (which incidentally, the W, Rove and Co is going to be sued for stealing the moniker from a non-profit agency) produces no result, this signals a time to move on to something else.

The Editorial that spurred this post is posted in full below as it is rather short:
The Bush administration responded characteristically this week when it put a positive gloss on national math and reading scores that were actually dismal - and bad news for the school reform effort. Faced with charges that his signature reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, was failing, the president played up the minor positive results. He should have seized the moment to acknowledge the bad news and explain what it would take to make things right.

He should also, of course, have reminded the nation that as long as it fails to take school reform seriously, American children will fall further and further behind their peers abroad.

The fourth grade reading scores on this year's National Assessment of Educational Progress were basically flat compared with 2003, even though the states are supposed to be ramping up student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students. Fourth graders' math performance was also a clear disappointment, at a time when the country hopes to catch up with the international competition in science.

Critics of No Child Left Behind were quick to pounce, arguing that student progress was more impressive, by some measures, before the law kicked in. The truth is less depressing, but still extremely daunting. No Child Left Behind has reached that perilous interim phase that all reforms must eventually pass through if they are to survive. It has reaped the easy gains that were achieved by merely paying more attention to the problem. The next level of progress will require deeper systemic change, especially in the realm of teacher quality.

Most states have avoided this core issue and simply opted for repackaging a deeply inadequate teacher corps. Real reform will require better teacher training and higher teacher qualifications, which will in turn mean cracking the whip on teachers' colleges that have basically ignored the standards movement. The federal government was supposed to confront this issue head-on, but has tiptoed around it for several years. This week's test scores are not the end of reform. But they could well spell the beginning of a downward spiral unless Congress, federal officials and the states all pull together to move the country out of this trough and onto higher ground. That will mean hard work and more money - and a direct confrontation with the politically explosive issue of teacher preparedness. Happy talk won't get it done.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The child left behind : the true story

Opportunity, Education, and Skills

''The first prerequisite for economic opportunity is economic growth. But economic opportunity, to be meaningful, requires also that everyone who plays by society’s rules and makes an economic contribution should have a fair chance to share the benefits of growth. Most Americans believe that that opportunity exists: In a recent New York Times poll, for example, 80% of respondents answered affirmatively to the statement, ''Do you think it’s still possible to start out poor in this country, work hard, and become rich?'' A bit of confirmation of their confidence -- from a small sample, but an interesting one -- comes from Forbes magazine’s most recent survey of the 400 richest Americans. Traditionally, that list was dominated by the heirs of family fortunes, but of the 400 wealthy people named in 2005, 255 individuals (up from 165 in 1985) are largely ''self-made'' and did not inherit significant wealth.

''Of course, few of us will ever join the Forbes 400, but upward economic mobility remains a reality in America, as I will discuss later. However, over the past few decades, the route to personal prosperity for most people has been changing in an important way. Remarkably, of the current Forbes 400, 129 (including the richest, Bill Gates) have no college degree. [Emphasis added.]

- Ben S. Bernanke, Chairman, President’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The reality is that participation extra-curricular activities are a better indicator for success in later life than grades.