Friday, October 20, 2017

There are limits to what schools can accomplish

A new study shows that families act on insufficient information when it comes to figuring out where to enroll their children.

… A new working paper titled “Do Parents Value School Effectiveness?” suggests that parents similarly opt for schools with the most impressive graduates rather than figuring out which ones actually teach best. The study joins a body of research looking critically at what it means for a school to be successful.

Take the work of Erin Pahlke, for example. The assistant professor of psychology at Whitman College saw research showing that girls who attend school only with other girls tend to do better in math and science. The trick, she said, is that those studies didn’t analyze “differences in the students coming into the schools.”

As it turns out, those who end up in same-sex schools tend to be wealthier, start out with more skills, and have parents who are more proactive than students who attend co-ed institutions. In a 2014 meta-analysis, Pahlke and her colleagues reviewed the studies and found when examining schools with the same type of students and same level of resources—rather than “comparing [those at] the public co-ed school to [their counterparts at] the fancy private school that’s single-sex down the road”—there isn’t any difference in how the students perform academically.

Single-sex schooling also hasn’t been shown to offer a bump in girls’ attitudes toward math and science or change how they think about themselves. In other words, it often looks like single-sex schools are doing a better job educating kids, but they aren’t. It’s just that their graduates are people who were going to do well at any school. They’re running on high-octane gas.

So too are high schools widely thought to be “life-changing”—the elite ones that students must test into. In a 2014 Econometrica paper titled “The Elite Illusion,” the economists Atila Abdulkadiro─člu, Joshua Angrist, and Parag Pathak wrote that while students who attend extremely competitive public schools like Stuyvesant High School in New York City clearly excel, that may not mean the schools provide an education that’s superior to their less competitive counterparts.

The researchers looked at a group of borderline kids, the last few eighth-graders who made the cut-off to go to an elite school and the first few who didn’t; that meant there was little if any academic difference between them when they started their freshman year. If a school like Stuyvesant were more effective—that is, taught more material and produced better outcomes—than the less competitive public school, the economists would expect to see a difference in how those kids performed academically four years later.

But when the researchers analyzed indicators of success, such as AP exam scores and state standardized tests, they saw no difference between the borderline kids who got to attend Stuyvesant and the borderline ones who didn’t. And yet, said Pathak, a professor of microeconomics at MIT, “these are massively oversubscribed schools. People would give an arm and a leg to send their child to a school like Stuyvesant.”

On the other hand, there’s a Noah Baumbach movie from about 10 years ago in which all the other characters think Jack Black’s character is a complete idiot until he happens to mention he went to Stuyvesant, causing them to re-evaluate his intelligence upward.

Anyway, it’s been apparent since the 1966 Coleman Report that it is fairly difficult to find overwhelming evidence of any schools dramatically improving student performance. I’m not saying it hasn’t been done, just that the default is that the outputs of most schools correlate with the inputs in terms of student quality more than they correlate with inputs like budgets.

But, perhaps it is time for social science researchers to look for the mirror image situation: schools that do much worse than their inputs would suggest. If it’s hard to do much better, maybe we should focus more on not doing much worse?

And I’ve got a sizable candidate school system to study as an anti-role model of terrible performance: Puerto Rico’s public schools.


Wyoming school district apologizes for Trump answer on quiz

Some parents are upset that "shooting at (President Donald) Trump" was offered as a possible answer on a multiple-choice, online English test.

The quiz involved George Orwell's 1945 novel "Animal Farm" and asked why a character in the book orders that a gun be fired.

Parent Jim McCollum says he was surprised when his son, a junior, came home and showed him a screenshot of the quiz.

McCollum says the potential answer on Trump was completely out of line.

The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports Jackson Hole High School English teacher Carin Aufderheide told the Jackson Hole Daily: "While I did not write the quiz questions and answers, it was my responsibility to proofread it; had I done so I can assure you I would not have distributed the quiz without first changing the offensive answer."

Teton County School District No. 1, which previously confirmed the quiz was administered Thursday in Aufderheide's sophomore English class, will not say who wrote it.

The district won't confirm whether Aufderheide is on leave or if any disciplinary action will be taken. Sources say Aufderheide was not at school Monday.


Florida: Radical individuals and groups force school administrators to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect a constitutional right

White nationalist Richard Spencer's speaking engagement at the University of Florida in Gainesville has Florida Gov. Rick Scott declaring a state of emergency over security concerns.

Gov. Scott's declaration on Monday comes just a few days before the infamous Spencer is set to arrive on the Florida campus.

This is Richard Spencer's second attempt to speak at the public university as Spencer's last request was denied by the school administration due to security concerns. This time around, $500,000 is being spent on security to protect those who are willing to listen to Spencer's lunacy as well as protect those who are coming to protest.

As was seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, when white nationalists and counter-protesters clash, a crisis can quickly erupt, violence ensues, and lives can be lost.

The sheriff of Alachua County, Sheriff Sadie Darnell, requested an Executive Order from Gov. Scott to ensure that the necessary resources would be provided to law enforcement so they can maintain public safety.

In a press release, Gov. Scott reiterated that every American has the right to speak, but also said there is no room or excuse for violence. The governor also voiced his willingness to help Sheriff Darnell in any way he can.

"We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority. I have been in constant contact with Sheriff Darnell who has requested this Executive Order to ensure that county and local law enforcement have every needed resource. This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.
According to the order, to ensure the necessary money and resources are going to law enforcement, the governor has the power to waive budgetary concerns. The Executive Order states:

Section 7.
A. Pursuant to section 252.36(1)(a), Florida Statutes, the Executive Office of the Governor may waive all statues and rules affecting budgeting to the extent necessary to provide budget authority for state agencies to cope with this emergency. The requirements of sections 252.46 and 120.54(4), Florida Statutes, do not apply to any such waiver issued by the Executive Office of the Governor."

Spencer's arrival on the campus is going to grab headlines and stir up trouble and there will undoubtedly be white supremacists and Antifa members looking for any reason to start a riot. It is both a shame that the likes of Richard Spencer abuse their freedom of speech to sow discord and hate rather than unity and that radical individuals and groups force school administrators to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect a constitutional right.


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