Thursday, May 6, 2010

Teacher vs curricula: Determining what works


Since holding teachers responsible for student performance is now all the rage, from the White House to the political right, let us do a simple thought experiment. Imagine an amateur baseball league in which team owners dictate which bats players use. The owners try to choose the best, but the research on bats is so poor, they have to rely on anecdotes—"Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs with maple!"—and on manufacturers' claims. As a result, some teams wind up using bats that are too heavy, too fragile, or no better than a broomstick. Does it make sense to cut players who were forced to use ineffective equipment? [...]

1 comment :

  1. Typical Newsweek stupidityMay 8, 2010 at 12:50 AM

    This social scientist is full of himself. So what if there's a "lack of scientific studies" buttressing some teacher's educational approach? Newsflash: There always has been since education was around, and yet that doesn't seem to have stopped it from happening, in some cases quite well--and, yes, very often ideologically. If we were to live in a world where we couldn't "rationally" entertain a strong position on something without scientific studies behind it, nothing would get done. It's called conviction. (Another newslash: The amount of knowledge we've amassed based in randomized trials, etc., is awfully modest. Most of what we know in any area comes from the empirical testimony of those on the frontlines of that field of endeavor, not from studies.)

    What makes him think studies would even help the field? Studies (which seem to be far more reported than read, much less intelligently questioned & critically appraised) by their nature give answers that are very particular, and pedagogical philosophies aim at conclusions sweeping & general. It is all too likely that the social sciences have no definitive conclusions to offer teachers and may well fare best by raising heuristic questions & offering new ideas.

    Of course, there is a much larger stumbling point that's skirted here as well. Unlike the hard sciences, studies in the social sciences cannot be presumed to transcend the limited perspectives of those administering them. There are biases aplenty, and they belie all snobby postures donned by the would-be enlightened social engineer. While some readers may well have as much sympathy with Coburn's objections as does the author, I find those objections plain creepy. Just imagine a principal pushing out a teacher because his methodology didn't jibe with the latest to come down from Psychology Today (or would that be the Politburo?).


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