February 18, 2011

“As much as we went up, we'll go down”

Marc Comtois

Justin believes that Education Commissioner Gist's decision to delay implementation of tougher graduation requirements until 2014 is the day the reform died. I may not be quite as pessimistic, but I can understand his reasoning. One thing for sure is that, as reported in the Warwick Beacon, Warwick High School principals expect the improvements they saw this year go down next year. Toll Gate High's Principal Stephen Chrabaszcz:

As much as we went up, we'll go down...Please stop thinking that young people don’t know what’s going on....If we have a dramatic fall [in scores] next year I don’t want people to say, ‘What happened?’
Pilgrim High School Principal Dennis Mullen:
Students did take it seriously this year because it was tied to graduation....Scores [of the current sophomore class] could tank.
Gotta have a hammer.

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The trouble with hammers, all your problems begin to look like nails. Truly strange to watch this all being played out...

See "School Would Be Great If It Weren’t for the Damn Kids"...

Blaming students is the next logical step after blaming teachers. In fact, the two reflect the same general perspective on education, one in which commentators look down from their aeries and inform us that the trouble lies with the people in the classrooms rather than with the policies imposed on them...

Upon hearing someone castigate students for being insufficiently motivated, a noneconomist might be inclined to ask two questions. The first is: “Motivated to do what, exactly”? Anything they’re told, no matter how unengaging, inappropriate, or, well, demotivating? Whenever I see students made to cram facts into their short-term memories for a test, practice a series of decontextualized skills on yet another worksheet, listen passively to a lecture, or inch their way through the insipid prose of a corporate-produced textbook, I find myself thinking of a comment made by Frederick Herzberg, a critic of traditional workplace management: “Idleness, indifference, and irresponsibility,” he said, “are healthy responses to absurd work.”

What may look like simple apathy, laziness, or opposition on the part of kids often reflects a problem with what, and how, they’re being taught, or the extent to which they’ve been excluded from the process of making decisions about their own learning. Conversely, if you want to see (intrinsically) motivated kids, you need to visit classrooms or schools that take a nontraditional approach to education, places where students are more likely to be absorbed and frequently delighted, where what they’re doing is not merely “rigorous” (a word often applied to very difficult busywork) but meaningful.

Those who presume to weigh in on problems with education should visit schools that look very different from the ones that most of us attended -- and even more different from the chillingly militaristic places that rich white people cheerfully recommend for poor black children.

Read Dewey, Piaget, Bruner, and Montessori. Read the contemporary giants: Meier, Sizer, Goodlad. Read other educators who are thoughtful about what great classrooms look like and how to create them: Lilian Katz, Eleanor Duckworth, Constance Kamii, Harvey Daniels, Nancie Atwell, Jackie and Marty Brooks, Jim Beane, Steven Wolk, and many more.

Hear, hear.

Posted by: Russ at February 18, 2011 2:18 PM

Russ, except these are the Principals saying this, not "commentators." The head of the English Department at Pilgrim is also quoted in the piece.

Posted by: Marc at February 18, 2011 3:29 PM

Yes, and he's right. The kids took it seriously this year and won't next year. Mullen's just stating the obvious. All this was predicted by Kohn and others regarding extrinsic motivation techniques (they don't work).

“We had to think what would motivate the kids?” said Janice Place, head of the Pilgrim English Department. “For some it was graduating, others were concerned with the score, and for some it was the field day.”

Exactly the problem! And there's tons of research we're basically ignoring. Kohn has written extensively on this. Here's one example:

"From Degrading to De-Grading"

One of the most well-researched findings in the field of motivational psychology is that the more people are rewarded for doing something, the more they tend to lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward (Kohn, 1993). Thus, it shouldn’t be surprising that when students are told they’ll need to know something for a test – or, more generally, that something they’re about to do will count for a grade – they are likely to come to view that task (or book or idea) as a chore.

While it’s not impossible for a student to be concerned about getting high marks and also to like what he or she is doing, the practical reality is that these two ways of thinking generally pull in opposite directions. Some research has explicitly demonstrated that a “grade orientation” and a “learning orientation” are inversely related (Beck et al., 1991; Milton et al., 1986). More strikingly, study after study has found that students -- from elementary school to graduate school, and across cultures – demonstrate less interest in learning as a result of being graded (Benware and Deci, 1984; Butler, 1987; Butler and Nisan, 1986; Grolnick and Ryan, 1987; Harter and Guzman, 1986; Hughes et al., 1985; Kage, 1991; Salili et al., 1976). Thus, anyone who wants to see students get hooked on words and numbers and ideas already has reason to look for other ways of assessing and describing their achievement.

Posted by: Russ at February 18, 2011 4:02 PM

In addition to being a racist (albeit of the "excusable" progressive variety), the jackass Russ gleefully quotes decries the entire field of economics as myopic and too results-oriented. He then provides a laundry list of progressive-thinking authors that the reader *should* read if they are to speak intelligently on HIS field of education, assuming that anyone who disagrees with him is simply unfamiliar with the viewpoint.

This should tell you everything you need to know about the author of that pitiful article and Russ, who voluntarily chooses to associate himself with him. The whole thing just screams elitism and holier-than-thou condescention.

Posted by: Dan at February 18, 2011 4:12 PM

What a surprise! Ad hominem attacks from another of the local brownshirts.

You seem to be mistaking Kohn's comments for my own, and I think you totally misunderstand his comment about economists (or noneconomists). Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation is something discussed extensively in behavioral economics (but most noneconomists might be included to ask questions).

I've posted Dan Pink's presentation before and encourage folks to find it ("The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us").

Posted by: Russ at February 18, 2011 4:59 PM

Well, Russ, you are the one who so highly recommended Kohn. It's a little strange that you would distance yourself from him now.

I too found your post mere ideological posturing. I wonder why is it that you are so quick to quote from your spurious, one-sided Leftist reference sources, but hardly ever say anything original of your own.

Posted by: BobN at February 18, 2011 5:39 PM

"What a surprise! Ad hominem attacks from another of the local brownshirts."

I see you've jumped on the nonsensical and utterly confused OldTimeLefty bandwagon of accusing libertarians of authoritarianism. I'm not going to even ask how you arrived at this bizarre delusion, because when I asked OTL the same question his totally incoherent response only robbed me of Intelligence Quotient by damaging the logic circuits of my brain.

"You seem to be mistaking Kohn's comments for my own"

And now you pull David S's weasel tactic of quoting others and then distancing yourself from them when they are picked apart, even though you openly ADOPTED the statement with your concurrence at the end of your comment. More dodge tactics from the progressives here to avoid responsibility and scrutiny. Why don't you say what you mean, Russ? Or do you always need others to speak for you?

Posted by: Dan at February 18, 2011 6:26 PM

Let me follow-up Russ's comment by providing a link to progressive favorite Dan Pink's 2010 interview on EconTalk with economist Russ Roberts.


It's just sad, more than anything, on how Pink relies upon a grand total of two cherry-picked studies and draws the most unfounded and unscientific conclusions from them to confirm his own preexisting progressive biases about education and incentives. Roberts does a good job of putting a finger on how Pink's conclusions don't rationally follow from the actual data and methodology of the experiments he relies upon.

Posted by: Dan at February 18, 2011 6:43 PM

"Why don't you say what you mean, Russ? Or do you always need others to speak for you?"

My opinions are out there, more so than most. And if you don't care what experts think in the field, feel free not to let those things get in the way of your thinking.

And sorry, did you "pick something apart?" I didn't see anything like that meriting response, but admittedly I tend to ignore most of the rants.

Posted by: Russ at February 21, 2011 9:57 AM

Please do have a listen to Dan Pink's interview above. Pink and Roberts even discuss Alfie Kohn!

I'll have to listen if I get a chance later, but the notes in the link aren't the damning critique that Dan suggests. In the notes, Roberts is quoted as saying he "Agree[s] and disagree[s] in part."

Posted by: Russ at February 21, 2011 10:31 AM
I see you've jumped on the nonsensical and utterly confused OldTimeLefty bandwagon of accusing libertarians of authoritarianism. I'm not going to even ask how you arrived at this bizarre delusion...

Dan, if you don't want to be thought of as a brownshirt perhaps you should lay off on the naming calling or was calling me a jackass intended to foster open debate? You're welcome to continue but don't then wonder why some might consider you a (verbal) thug.

Posted by: Russ at February 21, 2011 10:55 AM

Russ, I've never completely disagreed with somebody in my life. If somebody arrived at a certain conclusion, they probably have at least one valid premise.

Of course Roberts doesn't disagree with Pink that "people are complicated" and there are incentives other than money in play. Pink's reliance on two very limited cherry-picked studies that don't even support his conclusions is what is damning.

And I didn't call you a jackass. I called the person you quoted a jackass. Which he is.

Posted by: Dan at February 21, 2011 1:59 PM

Like I said, feel free to flame those who disagree with you (nothing elitist or condescending about that).

So how about Deming? The man was a giant in the process improvement world and said much the same things as Kohn (see "The New Economics"). I suppose hes' a "jackass" as well for disagreeing with you? I only referenced Pink because you seemed to misunderstand Kohn's quote about noneconomists.

Posted by: Russ at February 21, 2011 3:34 PM

You know the real curious thing here is the skepticism Pink's or Kohn's well documented and researched ideas meet and the utter lack of skepticism towards the assertion that standardized testing improves quality. You guys don't find that odd? I wonder why that is? What a mystery!

Posted by: Russ at February 21, 2011 4:24 PM

Dan, I'd be curious to know what sets you off about my suggestion that schools undertake a similar process (as Deming said, the key is "by what method) to what industry uses when doing continuous improvement. I don't see anything ideological about the stance; it's just what works.

As near as I can tell, the attitude is it can't be right if someone who is progressive in their politics supports it (note - I'm also someone who works on data quality improvement using these same techniques, which I guess makes me an "elitist" for the sin of having relevant business experience).

Posted by: Russ at February 22, 2011 12:50 PM
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