Friday, December 31, 2010

Teacher evaluations and superstition

Discipline in the classroom and the IQ of the kid are the main things that make a difference

Megan McArdle has a long post on the issue of measuring teacher quality. Meanwhile, The New York Times profiles James Heckman, whose careful research suggests that by the time a child reaches school age it is too late to make much difference.

If the best evidence is that it is almost impossible to make a long-term difference in education, then the statistical evidence on teacher quality is bound to be highly unreliable. What appears to be teacher quality is likely to be random variation. The low rate of replication of statistical teacher evaluations that Megan discusses is consistent with that.

There is a term that Daniel Klein alerted me to called "white hat bias." What it means is that findings that favor a popular political viewpoint will be published, while those that contradict that viewpoint will tend to be discarded. So many people have a vested interest in believing that teachers make a difference that one has to be very wary of white hat bias in studies that purport to show such differences.

Along these lines, I am afraid that I am skeptical of Rick Hanushek's claim that the best teachers are really effective and the worst are really ineffective. If that were true, then I think we would observe private schools dramatically outperforming public schools, holding student characteristics constant, and I do not think that is what the data say. Instead, when we see differences, those differences typically do not persist over time.

In education research, intensive efforts are made to find differences caused by teachers or other inputs. This is a worthwhile effort, but whenever studies are published showing such differences, they need to be discounted heavily for the biases induced by various filters in the research and publication process. The likelihood of any strong difference holding up in repeated study is quite low.


Plans to increase university fees leave British parents querying value of higher education

Controversial plans to raise university fees to £9,000 a year are leaving parents concerned about the cost and questioning the value of higher education. A survey reveals almost a third of the parents said they no longer expected to be able to afford to help pay their child's fees, which means they will be unlikely to be able to go to university.

The survey of more than 1,000 parents, conducted by parenting website Netmums, reveals their deep fears over higher fees. They worry that they will be unable to help their children with the cost of university, while others say they will have to start saving now.

The Government policy, which sparked riots in London and demonstrations around the country last month, means English universities will be able to charge students up to £6,000 per year in fees from 2012. In 'exceptional circumstances' fees could be as much as £9,000.

Almost one in five said they were unlikely to be able to help fund the cost of the fees, but were happy that their child could apply for a Government loan to cover the cost. And more than one in 10 (11.3 per cent) said they no longer wanted their child to go due to the fee rise and the debt they would leave with.

A third of those questioned said they planned to start saving now to help their child in the future, while half said they would make sacrifices in their own lives in order for their child to go to university.. Some 13 per cent said they would consider sending their child to university abroad rather than in the UK.

In total, just 11.2 per cent said they still expected to be able to fund a university education.

And many parents were concerned that the latest fee rise would not be the last. Almost nine in 10 said they were worried that fees would have increased again by the time their child was ready to go to university.

The poll also raised questions among parents about the value of higher education.

Just over four in 10 said a university degree was worth it, simply for its educational value, while only 14.6 per cent of parents believed you need a degree to get a good job.

A quarter of parents said it was possible to work your way up in a career without a degree, while 16.7 per cent said that unless a graduate was going into a specific profession, such as medicine or teaching, then a degree was 'a waste of money'.

Netmums co-founder Siobhan Freegard said: 'The proposed rise in tuition fees will have a huge impact on parents, ultimately leaving some unable to send their children to university.

'It's clear that many are beginning to question the value of a degree if it leaves children with crippling debts, and it's likely we will see a rise in school-leavers seeking work or apprenticeships straight after their A-levels.

'It's a shame that the cost will put many people off going to university, which a majority of mums believe can be a seminal part in someone's life in terms of experiences, not just education.'

The survey findings also show that nearly two-thirds (63.3 per cent) of parents questioned believed that university was a right, not a privilege, and despite the cost, the vast majority (93.3 per cent) still wanted their child to go to university.


Australia: Conservatives tip more problems for national syllabus, warning it may be delayed beyond 2013

THE national school curriculum may not be ready for implementation even by 2013 because of fundamental problems and glaring omissions, the Coalition has warned.

Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett has also copped more criticism over his delivery of government initiatives, with opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne pointing to his management of the bungled home insulation scheme, green loans and solar panel programs.

The Australian reported today that Victoria was joining NSW and Western Australia in opting to delay implementation of the curriculum until 2013, despite the government's preferred timetable for the courses to be introduced next year.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority said in a memo that it would spend the next two tears trialling and training teachers and refining the curriculum before starting to implement it.

Mr Pyne seized on the development, telling The Australian Online the curriculum still had key flaws and was not ready for implementation. “We have been warning for 18 months that the national curriculum would not be ready in January 2011,” he said.

It is cumbersome, overly prescriptive and lacks the resources necessary for the training of teachers and as a consequence it could never begin in January 2011,” he told The Australian Online.

Mr Pyne poured scorn on Mr Garrett who, following a meeting of the nation's education ministers earlier this month, claimed an historic victory after they endorsed the content of the first four subjects - English, mathematics, science and history - to be taught in classrooms. “I can only assume that Peter Garrett, in wanting to cover the back of his Prime Minister, pretended something had been achieved at the ministerial council that hadn't. “Because the real villain in the piece of the national curriculum is Julia Gillard, who of course was the minister responsible for its implementation.”

To ensure a smooth implementation of the curriculum, Mr Pyne said the government needed to listen to the “teaching profession and to the experts about what the curriculum should contain”. He warned its “fundamental basics” had not been bedded down and pointed out the history section didn't “acknowledge that the Vietnam War needs to be taught”. Mr Pyne said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2013 timeline “gets pushed out even further”.

Changes to the curriculum can be made until the deadline of October next year and this has the potential to affect teachers introducing courses in their classrooms next year.

Only the Australian Capital Territory will start teaching the new courses next year, with Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory spending the year familiarising teachers with the new courses and running trials.


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