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« Project Follow Through and the Tragic Buffoons | Main | Some Reading That Will Make Your Day [And Give You That Smooth Complexion That is So in Demand] »

Monday, November 01, 2004



An MD who chose ideology over evidence and treated leukemia with homeopathy instead of chemotherapy would be sued for malpractice, lose his medical licence and possibly worse. The medical profession takes at least some of its self-policing obligations seriously.

How long would this kind of guff go on if the teaching profession was subject to malpractice liability for using methods which are proven to be useless? If the ideologically-blindered were at risk of losing their credentials?

(Answer: wouldn't happen, teachers don't have deep enough pockets to interest lawyers working on contingency, and parents able to pay for a lawyer would already be paying for private schools. The legal system is not going to keep the ed biz honest. But it's a thought that might lead to improving the system.)


Engineer-Poet is surely into something. Talk about consequences! Think of kids with special needs. Autism and mr--used to be sent to state mental hospitals and state training schools. Warehouses, as they used to say. No schooling. Nothing for families. Then some law suits, following in the path of civil rights. PL 94-142, 1976.

What would happen if you took videos of little kids being taught to read with a good program, and showed it at local churches? Would this get folks saying, How come OUR kids are left behind? Why don't OUR schools teach like that?" And then they go to school board meetings? Get civil rights attorneys? Class action suits?


I can see the Law of Unintended Consequences wreaking havoc with that too. Suppose that court decisions forced the abandonment of certain (failed) curricula and methods and the adoption of others; now judges are in charge of the curriculum. The next step would be for the program provider with the most-skilled lawyers to get their instructional materials mandated by the courts.

I get the uneasy feeling that there are some directions we would certainly not want this to go.

BTW, shouldn't you be using scare quotes around "progressive"?


I posted this, more or less, over at Joanne Jacobs' blog in reference to a piece about your blog. Is it plagiarism if I copy my own stuff?


Sorry Professor Plum, you've mistaken the symptoms for the disease.

If ed schools produce crap, and have been doing so for a long time and show every sign of doing so in the future, then there's obviously a market for crap. If you're a crap-buyer then the situation is mutually beneficial and you support crap-sellers by doing business with them. It's a crap economy and everybody wins! Well, everybody who matters.

If you want to change what the ed schools are selling, Professor Plum, then you have to change what the K-12 schools are buying. Until something occurs to make that change you're is just baying at the moon.


I couldn't agree more, Allen. That's why I hope that mutliple sources of pressure and a larger supply of services may effect change.

1. Fed. "Keep teaching that guck and you get no more $."

2. States. "Yo! Ed school deans! Keep teaching reading and math in that idiotic way you have, and we remove your certification." [Louisiana.]

3. Schools. "Listen, principal, they are going to fire you if you don't close that aqchievement gap. You wanna keep using the same curricula or you wanna keep your job?... Okay, here are curricula that work."

4. Families. "Hey, parents, these ideologically driven morons are killing your kids. THIS is what's wrong and THIS is what's right."

I think 1-3 (which exist) speak to your point, Allen. Problem is, when the pressure is off, change stops and the hydra is back in bizness.

Makes you kinda long for Patton!


I don't mean to be contrary, Prof Plum, but you're tugging on the strings of the Gordian knot.

1. Nope. The federales are already too involved in education. Besides, it's difficult to imagine any federal-level policy, including NCLB, that'll be anything other then a vast, blunt instrument. Some problems are properly addressed with a blunt instrument but most aren't. You also run the risk of falling prey to the carpenter's dilemma: to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

2. Better but yelling at the ed schools is useless. They're part of the crap economy. Crap demand creates crap supply. You don't stop the demand by limiting the supply.

I have a vision of ed schools operating in the highlands of Columbia amid coca fields, turning out proto-teachers rendered glassy-eyed by exposure to pure educrap who are then smuggled into the U.S. sitting on sacks of cocaine.

3. Individual schools achieve no benefit from trading in crap. All things being equal, a happy parental constituency, lulled into complacency by the stunning educational achievements of their children, is a sought-after state. So why is it so seldom pursued by schools? Why do schools court parental ire by buying into every educrap come-on that gets a favorable write-up in the New York Times Review of Books? Why doesn't skepticism develop after the failure of the third or fourth educational fad to deliver on its promises?

4. Fear, hope, complacency, resignation and greed are all at war in the family.

It's the unusual mommy and daddy who doesn't want what's best for their kids but that "best" is hemmed in by other considerations.

If a better school means moving to another district then for many families it isn't going to happen.

80% of public school parents feel the public education system is doing a lousy job but 80% of public school parents think their school is doing a good job.

The mean, old lady across the street is helping to pay for your kids' education and paying more then you could afford.

Teachers and administrators went to college and spent years learning about the latest and most sophisticated techniques of education. Gotta have some faith in the experts.

(Here endeth my response to 4.)

The one level of the hierarchy of organizations that you left out is the school district and that, I believe, is the Gordian knot. The school district is the primary customer base for educrap and as long as school districts exist, there'll be a ready market for educrap.

With that bold assertion, the "problem" of ed schools solves itself. Get rid of school districts - the rise of charters has highlighted the superflousness of school districts - and the market for educrap dries up. An unpleasent metaphor for an unpleasent problem. Don't get rid of school districts and no permanent change is possible.


Excellent point, Allen! I'm hoping, in a small way, to let the public in on the endless cycle of educrap (copyrighted?).

You are right about the districts. Proof that they aren't needed is simply the aggregation of charter and private schools who independently take care of themselves.

Then, if privatized schools compete for students, you've got the possibility for fundamental change. But as you suggest, the public has to know the diff between crap and noncrap. Maybe some posts--and your contributions are welcome (!) on what good schools--top to bottom--look like?


Excellent point, Allen! I'm hoping, in a small way, to let the public in on the endless cycle of educrap (copyrighted?).

You are right about the districts. Proof that they aren't needed is simply the aggregation of charter and private schools who independently take care of themselves.

Then, if privatized schools compete for students, you've got the possibility for fundamental change. But as you suggest, the public has to know the diff between crap and noncrap. Maybe some posts--and your contributions are welcome (!) on what good schools--top to bottom--look like?


Is "educrap" copyrighted? Hmmmm. I'll have to give that some thought.

I think it's pretty safe to assume that parents will know the difference between crap and non-crap. Certainly parents are motivated to distinguish between the two. After all, it's their children's futures that are at stake.

Besides, what choice do we have? The current system has a built-in bias in favor of educrap. That's clearly demonstrated by the rivers of money that purchase educrap and the pittance that pursues excellence.

When's the last time you heard of a bidding war for the services of the teacher of the year? For the priciple who turned around a failing school?

On your own blog you've got a reference to a study which identifies educational methods that work yet the study is virtually unknown. Can you imagine the theory of relativity languishing while Aristotlian physics is endless repackaged, redefined and ferociously defended?

Ah crap. I'm starting to warm up to subject I've already pounded on.

Let me tell you how I see the battle going and you poke holes.

The value of demonstrating the superflousness of school district lies in making their budgets vulnerable to political competition.

I'll use a parallel, historical example.

State mental hospitals used to be nothing more then warehouses for the mentally ill. There really wasn't anything that could be done with them, society couldn't afford to have them roaming around unsupervised, and there wasn't anything that could be done for them except put them where they weren't too likely to hurt themselves or come to harm. So we built large gloomy facilities to house and protect the mentally ill.

Then, along came the psychotropic drugs and the mental hospitals started empty out. You could give someone a handful of pills and, for many, send them off to live among the mentally healthy. No need for large mantal hospitals. No need for large mental hospital staffs. No need for large, state mental health administrations.

Once the case for the large budgets began to erode the money that formerly went to the mental health establishment was up for grabs. Every other political interest group saw the budget of the state mental health department as ripe for the picking. Think of a nature film about pirahnas and what happens when one of the fish is injured. Not pretty.

The thing to do then is to make the vulnerability of the district-based public education system as obvious and unignorable as possible.

Darn, it's late and I'm getting pie-eyed.


Yeah, I think educrap is copyrighted. You used it first. All yours.

Mental hospitals (and state training schools) are a good example. When PL 94-142 required public schools to educate all kids, the training schools were emptied during the day shift. I know. I was there. I told em it was going to happen. They said, "Oh, they can't do without us."


Once there were community living arrangements, they started closing the state training schools.

Charter schools and charter ED schools and alt certification are the alternatives.


Engineer-Poet would have a hard time being more off-base with his anti-lawyer rant. There were various attempts, back in past decades, to hold schools responsible for educational malpractice. Met, of course, with the defense of "governmental immunity". (And if you pick a private school, it's your own darn fault if the school screws up, right?) My guess is that Engineer-Poet is the sort that would be whining about the horrors of litigation if lawyers were allowed to sue schools - it's the same whine for every situation. (A fine product of our nation's public schools?)

Moving back to the Professor's comments, what's the larger point? That bureaucracies are resistant to change? To common sense? Anybody who has worked for business, industry, government, a nonprofit... well, pretty much anywhere with any sort of bureaucracy can tell you that. And it is a shame that we don't, as a nation, invest the attention and resources to education - and to the application of scientific thinking (which, of itself, can get caught in ruts) to education - exploring alternatives to "sit at your desk and [read out of your text / repeat after me]". But there's no apparent interest.

I'm not sure what to make of the suggestion that home environment is an excuse, as opposed to a highly relevant factor in educational success. Where's the study that shows that, prof?


As far as parents getting involved and demanding changes, three things would have to happen:

1) Parents would have to know what kind of curriculum (mainly reading and math, because that's where the only REAL choices are; all the social studies right now is CRAP, IMHO) was being used in their school -- without hiding it behind effective names like "connected math" or "balanced reading" (is that right, Plum? You're the educraponomer here).

2) Parents would have to have good testing results from before to after, as well as good "current standing" for each of their kids, and know what the change was from year to year.

3) Parents would have to have valid choices.

Addressing item three, I'd like to see a good voucher system. Have your public schools, charter schools, and private schools. Give parents the money that flows automatically to public schools for each kid go to the school of the parent's choice -- provided that the school does items one and two above. Then allow the schools to remove disruptive children at their whim -- no exceptions. You could even provide struggling parents (below the poverty line) a dollar-for-dollar matching ABOVE what the voucher is, so they could get their kids into better schools and feel invested in their kid's education.

What would define a public, charter, or private school would be from where the original capital came.

The addition of good testing would, or course, tell you which teachers are worth a plug nickel and which aren't, and solve the problem of pay for teachers. It would also tell you which ed schools good teachers tend to come from, thus addressing Allen's point.


"Then allow the schools to remove disruptive children at their whim" - public schools? Won't happen. Can't happen. Not legal. Not even good public policy. Public schools will continue to be stuck with job of attempting to teach the most expensive, most difficult to educate, and most disruptive kids.

I'm not sure how testing teachers will tell you who is a good teacher. My guess is that, right now, I could beat most public school teachers on most tests in most subjects. But I've been in the classroom as a substitute teacher, and I know that I lack the disposition and interest to be a great teacher. (So I should be teaching, and get paid more than the other teachers, because I can beat them on a test?)

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