Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

Gun Suicides 14 Times More Prevalent Than School Shootings… Are We Targeting the Wrong Solutions?

March 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Medium essayist BJ Campbell’s recent post on gun deaths flags the “Left’s” and the media’s obsession with school shootings and as the reason most Americans are missing the point on gun control. The major cause of gun deaths isn’t school shootings, gang violence, or homicide: it’s suicide. and Mr. Campbell contends that our obsession with the school shootings and homicides is leading us down the wrong path if we want to limit deaths. He writes:

Why do the media outlets fail to identify the bulk of the “gun deaths” problem? It’s possible that they’re simply dumb, or careless, but I doubt it. It’s possible that pointing it out wouldn’t be profitable, because it wouldn’t drive clicks from their target market. Or it’s also possible that sympathy for men simply does not fit within the prevailing Blue Church narrative. Pointing out the truth about the data would create too much cognitive dissonance, so it is selectively and intentionally ignored. Instead, we are presented with a view as if men slaying children indiscriminately is commonplace, instead of the predominant truth — mostly it’s men slaying themselves.

Using the chart below, Mr. Campbell makes the case that in order to If we are going to ameliorate gun deaths we need to address suicide and not school shootings or homicide… and not even suicide among teenagers or young adults but suicides among middle aged adult males! 

He then lists the solutions now being offered and demonstrates that each is pointless given the need for suicide prevention.

· Waiting Periods: Statistics do not show that people buy guns to commit suicide, as far as I can find. They’re either going to use one they already have, or choose a different method.

· Banning certain classes of firearms, such as semi-automatic rifles or handguns: You only need the most basic functioning firearm possible to kill yourself.

· Tax bullets: You only need one bullet to kill yourself.

· Blanket gun confiscation: Won’t work, and they (the “Left” and the media) admit it won’t work, except all those times when they don’t.

· Mandatory gun confiscation of depressed people: Terrible, terrible idea, because it would only cause fewer people to go to the doctor for their depression symptoms, making the problem worse instead of better.

This is counter to the narrative used by those who want to focus on the fear factor generated by mass shootings… but it does illustrate a silent problem that Mr. Campbell believes CAN be addressed if it is given the proper and appropriate attention:

Slightly less than 1,000 women die from domestic violence per year in this country, and that’s a big, real problem. You can save six times this many men, simply by talking to them, and asking them nicely to sequester their firearms temporarily. The number of people you could save by doing this is double the number of people who die in gang and drug crime combined. It’s sixty times more than die in mass shootings.

This is easy.

It requires no new laws, no culture war battles, no erosion of rights.

It DOES require a dispassionate examination of data— facts— and a willingness and ability to ignore headline grabbing news stories in favor of silent, small, and persistent personal problems that plague middle aged men. Mr. Campbell DOES provide some food for thought.



Why Are Schools Funding the SAT? They Should Instead Focus on the PSAT!

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

An article by Nick Anderson in yesterday’s Washington Post described how Maryland school districts are underwriting the costs of the SAT in an effort to encourage students to enroll in colleges. This is misguided. Here’s the comment I left expressing the reasons why:

It would be far better to pay for the PSAT for two reasons. First, the PSAT scores are the basis for National Merit Scholarships, which might enable a previously overlooked student to either gain the attention of the school staff or, possibly, even qualify for a scholarship. Secondly, since the PSAT is offered a year earlier, it would provide the student with more time to address academic deficiencies that might be flagged by taking the test.

John Tierney’s Atlantic Article Misses One KEY Point: APs Are Being Taken to Game a Bogus Rating System

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Wayne Ridenour, a current Facebook friend who taught my daughter’s AP History Course over two decades ago, posted an article from the Atlantic by John Tierney titled “AP Classes Are a Scam” and left the comment “Sorry but this is all too true”. Both Mr. Tierney’s article and Mr. Ridenour’s comments are valid, but Mr. Tierney’s article overlooks a key factor that is driving the expansion of AP courses and Both Mr. Tierney’s article and Mr. Ridenour’s comment overlook one key positive factor about AP courses.

John Tierney’s analysis of why AP courses are a scam hits all the flaws of the test:

  • AP courses are NOT equivalent to college courses
  • Because fewer and fewer colleges recognize AP courses for credit, the monetary savings that once existed are no longer possible
  • High schools are no longer screening admissions into AP courses (more on that below)
  • Minority students are under-represented in AP enrollments despite the expanded pool of this taking the courses
  • Small, economically challenged schools divert resources to AP courses which has the effect of limiting non-AP courses
  • And worst of all, AP courses are prescribed, robbing the best and brightest teachers of the opportunity to offer their own creative courses that might challenge and engage the best and brightest students in a school.

But Mr. Tierney fails to mention one factor that has driven increases in AP enrollments: the many rating systems that use some form of AP enrollments as a proxy for “quality”. It all began when Washington Post education writer Jay Matthews began ranking schools in his region using the percentage of students enrolled in AP courses as primary factor. While he acknowledged the limitations of such a ranking system, his use of them had a national impact. The result: an explosion of AP course offerings, an expansion of the pool of students who enrolled in AP courses, and the consequent forcing out of “honors” courses with teacher-driven courses of study with AP courses whose course of study was determined by ETS.

But Mr. Matthews use of AP enrollments as a metric DID recognize one practical reality: absent some kind of national standard there is no ready means of determining if a student who received a high grade in an “honors class” at a small or underfunded school met the same standards as a student who earned high grades in an affluent school district. The high school my daughter attended in the early 1990s did not send many students to competitive colleges and so the caliber of its courses was an unknown. I believe that both her SAT scores and her AP scores helped validate the balance of her transcript and provided evidence that she might succeed in the classrooms of those schools, two of which she was accepted to. This reality— that competitive colleges use APs as a validation for transcripts— is why Jay Matthews included AP as a proxy for “quality”. Whether the expansion of AP enrollments that followed is a virtuous circle or a vicious one is open to question. Having led five different school districts, I observe that the more affluent a district is the less it is concerned with proxies: if a district has a well established “brand” in the admissions offices of elite colleges it has no need for AP course and the teachers at those schools eschew AP courses… and that, in my judgement, is a virtuous circle.

Studies Show No Connection Between Test Scores and Life Outcomes… But, Nevertheless, Testing Persists!

March 16, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch exhumed a blog post by Jay P. Greene, a charter school advocate, who begrudgingly acknowledged that there was no demonstrable link between standardized test scores and “later outcomes in life“. He writes:

If increasing test scores is a good indicator of improving later life outcomes, we should see roughly the same direction and magnitude in changes of scores and later outcomes in most rigorously identified studies.  We do not.  I’m not saying we never see a connection between changing test scores and changing later life outcomes (e.g. Chetty, et al); I’m just saying that we do not regularly see that relationship.  For an indicator to be reliable, it should yield accurate predictions nearly all, or at least most, of the time.

This is unsurprising. As Ms. Ravitch has noted in her books and blog posts the US has lagged in international test scores from the time they were initially issued and yet our economy has thrived and the general well-being of our population has improved. As many researchers have noted there is no correlation between SAT scores and success in college and yet post-secondary schools continue to use those test scores as a primary metric for accepting students.

And Mr. Greene, a proponent of charters and choice and heretofore a proponent of using standardized tests as a metric for measuring school effectiveness, was compelled to re-think his position on tests after examining rigorous research on their effectiveness as a predictor:

If we explored the most common use of test scores — examining the level of proficiency — there are no credible researchers who believe that is a reliable indicator of school or program quality.

It would be helpful if other advocates of charters and choice looked beyond test scores as well.

“Efficient” Outcomes Based Education Good for “Second Tier” Colleges and Learners… Not So Much for Affluent Students

February 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Molly Worthen, an assistant professor of history at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, titled “The Misguided Drive to Measure ‘Learning Outcomes’“. In the article, Ms. Worthem describes the cottage industry that has sprung up around the demand that colleges prove that students are receiving a good return on investment through the use of standardized assessments that “measure” whether students are mastering skills like “truthseeking” and “analyticity.” In her essay, Ms Worthem also notes that this desire to measure “outcomes” is particularly emphasized in second tier colleges, particularly those state and proprietary colleges designed to serve first generation students. At the same time, the “elite” colleges effectively ignore the entire movement, signaling a disdain for any effort to measure what a college education provides for its students. Near the end of her article, Ms. Worthem offers this observation:

“Teaching it is not a cheap or efficient process. It does not come from trying to educate the most students at the lowest possible cost or from emphasizing short, quantifiable, standardized assignments at the expense of meandering, creative and difficult investigation.”

In a comment I left at the conclusion of the article, I noted that this drive for efficiency is the fallacy in the entire “reform” movement in public education, which is designed to use standardized tests to identify “best practices” that can be scaled up to help “deficient schools” improve their performance as measured by standardized tests. The “failing” public schools serving those who do poorly on standardized tests, like the “less prestigious colleges”, gear their curriculum to increasing their test scores while the public schools serving affluent and well educated children– who do well on these tests without coaching— offer a wider array of courses and opportunities.

What I didn’t note in the comment was this: the “elite” colleges do not make any effort to strive for affordability any more than “elite” private schools or “elite” public school districts. The parents who spend their own funds to pay tuition for elite private schools or pay a premium on their housing to reside in affluent school districts do not view their spending as “throwing money at a problem”. Rather, they see the premium prices they pay for schooling and housing as an investment. In the meantime, those who resent paying taxes for “other children” see low test scores as evidence that their precious tax dollars are being spent wastefully. The desire for cheap and efficient education only exists when voters are seeking a rationale for lower taxes and when voters see education as an “expense” as opposed to an “investment”.

The Conservative-Libertarian Federalist’s Analysis is ALMOST Correct… Offers Some Possible Avenues to Undo “Reform”

February 22, 2018 Leave a comment

The Google feed that provides me with articles on public education from the entire political spectrum offered up an op ed piece by Federalist writer Stella Morabito with the click-bait title “13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability in Kids“. After reading the article, I came away convinced that libertarian-conservatives and progressives share many of the same perspectives about the ways public schools function in an adverse way for many students… but clearly do not share a common perspective on how to address the defects.

As I read through the list of thirteen ways public schools create a negative environment for most children, I found myself nodding in assent in most cases, particularly in large urban schools where test-driven “reform” has taken root:

  • The size and model of mass schooling IS alienating
  • Public schools are abnormal settings that feel like prisons
  • Public schools are breeding grounds for hierarchical cliques
  • Giant public schools are breeding grounds for aggression
  • Public schools are increasingly politicized
  • Schools are becoming more repressive
  • Public Schooling stunts personality development
  • Kids with special needs are especially judged as different

In most cases I could have written (and maybe HAVE written) similar observations, albeit coming from a completely different perspective. The school-to-prison pipeline, which is not referenced at all in Ms. Morabito’s article, is the result of schools becoming more repressive. The next four “ways schools incubate mental instability” are arguably accurate, but for completely different reasons than Ms. Morabito offers:

  • School bureaucracy tends to reinforce social pecking orderThe social pecking order is reinforced more by the way school attendance zones are established than by “the school bureaucracy”. Moreover, the “school bureaucracy” doesn’t SET “the social pecking order”, it mirrors “the social pecking order” that parents want to see in place. 
  • Reduced content knowledge promotes conformity: Ms. Morabito attributes the “reduced content” to “identity politics, fads, and political activism” instead of the true culprit, which is the slavish adherence to standardized tests as the means for measuring whether schools are “successful”. This has narrowed the curriculum so that the topics Ms. Morabito values— like “history, geography, and classics”– are pushed out. 
  • Public schools disregard students’ family and non-school lives: This is true but NOT for the reasons Ms. Morabito contends. While she sees that “Parents and families are increasingly treated as nuisances to the collectivist agenda of training children to conform to politically correct attitudes and emotions”, I see the problem as schools disregarding the needs of single-parent families and/or families where both parents work. And where Ms. Morabito laments the hours children spend in school, I would focus on the hours many children spend before schooling begins sitting in front of screens.  


Then there are two completely groundless assertions:

  • Public schooling is increasingly hostile to Christianity: Ms. Morabito writes: “Growing and intense aggression against any form of Christian prayer in the schools has a further alienating effect. It teaches any child who is emotionally hurting that he can’t even seek solace in a private and silent conversation with God without knowing he’d be ridiculed if his peers knew. The hostility towards religion also leads us on a path to utter lawlessness, since the rule of law evaporates when left to the devices of elites.”  While Ms. Morabito professes to desire that we do a better job of instructing children about the Constitution, she chooses to ignore that part of the Constitution that provides freedom from religion in government… the basis for precluding prayer in school. While many teachers, administrators, and “bureaucrats” may wish to allow prayer in school, those who work for the government are required to follow the laws of the land as interpreted by the courts. 
  • Enforced conformity promotes peer victimization: This somewhat confusing statement makes the point that the anti-bullying initiatives in schools are falling short of the mark, which may be the case in some school districts. But Ms. Morabito’s analysis of anti-bullying is off the mark. She groundlessly asserts that “…A bully is free to target with the taunt “bigot” any child who comes from a traditional Christian home, and the curricula will back them up”, but fails to suggest that additional counseling and direct instruction on the teaching of tolerance might be helpful in addressing the bullying behavior that is arguably a part of human nature that needs to be controlled if we want to live under a rule of law as opposed to a rule of vigilantism. 

As I read about the libertarian thinking on education, I am struck by how often I find myself agreeing with some of their principles, many of which are grounded in common sense and research. But too often their anti-establishmentarian ideas ascribe intent and power to bureaucracies that do not exist. Ms. Morabito’s belief that the “school bureaucracy” sets the pecking order in schools is a case in point. For better or worse, there is no monolithic “school bureaucracy” that exists in our country. Our public education system is radically decentralized and immune to edicts from the Supreme Court. If that were not the case we would have fully integrated and equitably funded public schools and adhering to a “Common Core” curriculum that would would have been in place for decades. Instead our schools operate democratically under the control of local boards elected at the levels established by each state. It’s a cumbersome system that is exceedingly difficult to change… but it better than any alternative… especially an alternative that is based on religion.


Conservatives Invite Public School Teachers to Blow the Whistle on Frivolous Spending… and the Plan Backfires

February 14, 2018 1 comment

A recent Dallas Morning News story by Corbett Smith described the hilarious and heartwarming unintended consequences of an effort by a conservative anti-public education group to enlist teachers in a whistleblowing campaign. When Empower Texans, a powerful conservative group in that state, attempted to solicit examples of the “misuse of school district funds” in the State, they instead sparked an effort by public school teachers to provide countless examples of how their colleagues selflessly donate time, energy, food, and clothing to school children who were experiencing problems at home. Here are some examples Mr. Smith cited in his article:

“Hey, @EmpowerTexans, I have a colleague who took a kid’s clothes home (in an inconspicuous backpack) every day & washed them for her AND brought it back filled with snacks [because] the kid lived in her mom’s car.”

“I’m #blowingthewhistle on a teacher of mine that gave me a shoulder to lean on when I was crying, food when I was hungry, and a second family. Teachers don’t get enough credit for what they do. They do more than teach. They change lives.”

“@EmpowerTexans I am #blowingthewhistle on one of my public school teacher friends. She has purchased several pairs of cool tennis shoes for some of her students. The kids aren’t positive who they are from. They just magically end up in their locker. This way no one knows but them.”

Public schools do a terrible job of trumpeting their successes, which occur on a daily basis and are too often taken for granted by teachers, administrators, parents, and students. If “success” was determined by the acts of kindness described above instead of by standardized achievement tests we would be hearing far more heartwarming stories and far fewer tales of woe and despair.