Monday, February 23, 2009

Shoddy Research leads to Recall

Full article archived here.

A major district has reversed itself on some reforms because they didn't work.
» Carving out smaller groups of students at each high school was expected to boost test scores. Research now says the approach doesn't work.
That research was available at the beginning but was ignored. My old school tried this as well, but since no one actually studied any numbers or moved much beyond anecdotal evidence, it was assumed to be a great success.

A few of us tried to explain that the theory was unsound from the beginning - saying that 20 kids would travel the whole day in their own cohort was just plain silly. And who thinks that dividing kids into groups based on their math scores on a 2-year old, 7th grade test is brilliant? No one understood that perhaps a strong math student might not be well placed in a strong english class.

Fortunately, it got dropped not because it was a waste of time but because the scheduling was more difficult and the principal and guidance director who championed it both left.
» Teaching boys and girls in separate classes is believed to eliminate distractions. But only 100 students signed up.
That's not a condemnation of the project but of the people. Having been in a single-sex situation as a HS student (2 years), as a college student occasionally (engineering doesn't have that many women - male-only classes happen), and as a teacher, I can say that this is one of those reforms that works if you want to let it. Most people think it's discriminatory and complain that their kid didn't get the best teachers. I think they don't know what they're talking about. Oh, well.
» Teaching struggling students for an extra 25 days a year was supposed to help them catch up. But hundreds skipped out, and IPS had to pay the staff for added workdays.
An excellent idea that ran straight into the jaws of reality. The students who are most likely to need more days are also the ones who are most likely to skip out. Correlation, cause, who knows?

Some specifics
The small-schools initiative, which carved each high school campus into four or five smaller groups of students, started before White arrived and was fueled by money from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
No evidence from the Foundation, just some seed money. Schools "buy in" and make changes and later find out the truth.
In a recent public letter, Bill Gates said he had stopped funding small schools in IPS and elsewhere nationwide because research showed that that change alone wasn't helping students learn better.
Thanks, Bill. Would you mind mentioning it to Jay Matthews?


No comments:

Post a Comment