Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.

Courtesy of Zenpundit, I read John S. Brown’s Learning 2.0: The Big Picture (PDF). Dr. Brown, a computer scientist, has a list of publications a mile long, and one of the pleasures of the blogosphere is having access to what such luminaries are thinking.

Dr. Brown’s note cover a lot of ground, from the distinction between explicit and tacit learning, the importance of learning communities, and the need for continuing education. However, two slides in particular strike me as especially dangerous, and public education would be better in this country if the ideas therein were banished:

First, EQ (Social / Emotional Intelligence) is a junk concept. It explains nothing beyond what you can explain with IQ (working memory capacity) and personality (the OCEAN Big 5 Model). Both personality and working memory capacity are highly heritable, and very hard to change. If we’re serious about achieving educational excellence through maximizing those traits, let’s increase the funding of the Centers for Disease Control and get serious with eugenics.

However, as the political, societal, and economic costs of that approach would be high — and the benefits far away — a more practical approach is called for. We need an educational infrastructure that can handle serious constraints on funding and the quality of teachers.

Spending v. Reading at American Public Schools

We have the outlines of a successful system in No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind sacrificed local control of schools for a system that enables scientific quality control. That is a good trade-off. Local control has given us a network of awful schools that do not do their job. Quantitatively measured standards may give us better outcomes.

What we need next is an expansion fo No Child Left Behind to focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). That is, we need to go beyond what NCLB provides, and have the Department of Education begin to focus on what is tested. So when it comes to English, we need more composition and less literature. We need more Mathematics in general. In science, we need better ability to perform tasks that are required in labwork (basic analysis, measurement, falsification), and less on building a “true understanding” of the concepts involved. Geography, history, psychology, and sociology should be focused on a general ‘Social Science’ that applies scientific methods to human questions.

See also: my critique of liberal education.

63 thoughts on “Science. Technology. Engineering. Mathematics.”

  1. Pierce,

    Thank you for your thoughts!

    There are many things that parents can do to get better education delivered to their kids.

    My focus is on what the state can do, but you are right that the most effective interventions are done by families themselves.

  2. We went back and forth about this in 2006. I hate to say this, but if they named me King for the day, the order for the day would be eugenics.

    Johnny can’t read because Johnny’s idiot parents keep fornicating in the back seat.

    Johnny can never learn to read. He doesn’t have the brains for it.

  3. As a society, we are not paying teachers enough to give us a set of workers capable of teaching students to an acceptable level.

    We need an industrial-engineering model for education, quality control which gets us to an acceptable set of minimum requirements (enough to begin either a technical training program or college upon graduation of high school). High school students should begin earning technical or college credits as soon as possible.

    The purposeful management of the gene pool will come in time.

  4. As a society, we are not paying teachers enough to give us a set of workers capable of teaching students to an acceptable level.

    Come on, Dan. You know better than that. The problem is not lack of teacher pay. If that were the case then Catholic schools would have worse teaching outcomes than public schools where teachers generally earn significantly more. The problem is a system where it is made difficult to evaluate teacher performance, reward good teachers and improve or eliminate poor teachers. As long as teachers unions are hooked in so strongly, particularly in towns run by Democrats, I don’t see that much is going to change.

  5. That would be a case in point. The Catholic school system does not get the same set of students that the public schools get. The outcomes are unlikely to be similar.

    For a brief time my wife taught Math in the public schools in Pierre, South Dakota. She was an excellent teacher. In the private sector she makes about 4 times as much as the average teacher with a similar level of experience. It’s a simple fact. Talent, if it has a choice, will gravitate to higher pay.

  6. Not that simple.

    Many charter school replace failing public schools that are supposedly in the “worst areas”. Then then go on to have better records then public schools in the “good areas”. If you ask the people who run the charter schools what the secret to their success is, they’ll tell you: “We let the teachers run the school.”

    Go up and read my link in the first comment, my mother was a school teacher for 20 years and shop steward for her union. But she hated both the union and the bureaucracy.

    The fact is that the bureaucracy and the teachers unions are in lockstep with each other. If you got rid of the teachers unions, the bureaucracy would simple proceed to fire all the good teachers.

    It really wouldn’t be that hard to fix the school system. It wouldn’t even take extra money. All it would take is putting teachers in charge of the schools instead of bureaucrats and PhDs who have never taught a child…

  7. Please keep blogging on this topic.

    We need an industrial-engineering model for education, quality control which gets us to an acceptable set of minimum requirements (enough to begin either a technical training program or college upon graduation of high school).

    Yes, teaching should not be an art. There are to many inefficiencies in educational services. Productivity needs to rise, quality needs to rise, and cost should be dropping (as the cost to produce any good or service general declines somewhat over time).

    Since most K-12 education is government run, there hasn’t been much in the way of positive incentives for improvement.

  8. If you have had two children attend inner-city schools for 24 child years, I will listen to your simple plan.

    But I’m pretty skeptical.

    As for Charter schools, there are copious examples of their failures. Where they succeed, I would look first to how they selected students.

  9. High school students should begin earning technical or college credits as soon as possible.

    Yes yes yes!

    Did I just hear Ginrich or Rudy G. say the same thing in the last few weeks.

    If K-12 was completely voucher based, a student and his family would have an incentive to accelerate his education (or at least reach full potential).

    If you qualify to start taking college course at age 14 15 or 16, or 10 or whatever, then the voucher should be applicable to that.

    We need an teacher service delivery system that is more efficient (see prev post), but we all need a system [1] that includes:

    – Funding is voucher-to-student based
    – Customized program for each student (think IEP for each student and mass customization )
    – Private system with strict public accountability
    – a minimum common set of skills and knowledge required for each student

    [1]
    http://purpleslog.wordpress.com/2007/06/06/my-dream-for-a-21st-century-us-educational-system/

  10. My plan is based on my mother’s experience teaching in some of the worst neighborhoods in her district.

    One of the great success stories in public education was the Figerora St. School in Los Angeles. It went from being one of the worst schools in LAUSD to one of the best.

    What happened is that they hired a half-black/half-asian/woman as the principal. So she went in there and told all the teachers that if the students were so much as rude to them, she expected them to suspend the student for a day and a half (public school teachers have that right). She would then call the parents and make them come pick up the kid, if the parent was unwilling she would threaten to call child protective services. She would followup the next day to make sure the kid wasn’t just left at home unsupervised.

    In other words, if your kid acted up in school, you as a parent would lose at least a days wages.

    The district tried coming down on her hard, and she told them that since she and the teachers had the legal right to do this, they must be coming down on her because she was black/asian/female.

    So the district backed off.

    She turned that school around in 3 years.

    When my mom taught in LAUSD, she was written up for having a bulletin board with “too exciting” of colors. The colors: Orange/Black for Halloween. So my mom left LAUSD for the Simi Valley school district.

    In that district, Mmy mother taught in a poor neighborhood. She took it as a point of professional pride to make sure that every child that entered her classroom left at grade level.

    She would get in trouble from the bureaucracy whenever she would tell a parent “Hey, your kid is behind, they need to catch up”. Because the parents would call and complain, because often the kids had been behind for years, and the parents were never told. She was rocking the boat.

    She would also get in trouble for telling the bureaucrats that such and such magic program was shit, because it didn’t actually provide any classroom materials, it was just more paperwork for her to fill out. (all too common)

    You’re right that charter schools aren’t perfect. But they have about a 90% success rate, and most important, they rarely stay a failure. Public schools have a much lower success rate, and prior to NCLB, failing public schools stayed a failure.

    The thing is, its not necessary to move to something as drastic as making every school a charter school, or vouchers or whatever. Because all that is imposing fixes from above.

    Fixes from above don’t help the children, because all of that is indirect. The only people who matter in education are the children/the parents/the teachers.

    If we implemented a system where every parent was fully informed about their child’s performance vs. local and national grade level once a year by law, and we threw out the years of bureaucracy we’ve built up from decades of top down solutions in favor of just handing every principal and teacher a check once/year, the parents and teachers would fix this problem pretty quickly.

    That’s the essence of my plan.

  11. Currently I teach two sections of a senior level psychology course aimed at pre-service teachers currently finishing up their programs at the flagship university in our state.

    We focus on a mastery program of route learning, capped with elaboration and application requirements. In this way, they build the mental schema for the material, and have to connect it to what they see happening in their classes, and programs they see school districts implementing.

    I am very proud of my students.

    I am still using the Classroom Democracy [1]. Both sections are currnetly in Cromwellian long parliaments [2], one with a very strong Prime Minister and the other managed by a Prime Minister who often delegates authority to a Prime Minister Pro Tempore

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/09/30/classroom-democracy-part-i-a-parliament-of-scholars.html
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Parliament

  12. If we implemented a system where every parent was fully informed about their child’s performance vs. local and national grade level once a year by law, and we threw out the years of bureaucracy we’ve built up from decades of top down solutions in favor of just handing every principal and teacher a check once/year, the parents and teachers would fix this problem pretty quickly.

    Your idea is a good one and has many merits.

    I think enforcing more discipline in classes were self-discipline is lax, will help immensely. Kids can do and say stuff in schools today that would get get me suspended.

    The big advantage of charters schools whether they are outside of the school district or staffed by district teachers (at least in Milwaukee) is that they dump much of the dead-weight regulations that do nothing but eat up time and cash.

    The flaw is that this will work only when parents are engaged or can become engaged with some incentives.

    Some parents have no desire to engage or to work with teachers. Not all can be reached.

    There are bad kids – some kids will never be moved from “bad” to”neutral” or “good”. They are ruined. They are perhaps lost and un-roverable. They should be separated out from those who can still learn. Perhaps a combo charter school X group home is their best hope.

    My current real world examples come from my sister wo has been teaching in the Milwaukee Public School System for almost 20 years (including at the toughest inner city schools) and from a former college and post-college roommate of mine who taught in Milwaukee (MPS) for awhile before moving on to Madison and then Minneapolis.

    Let’s call him Alex. Alex is a 6’5″ 275lbs black male with boundless energy and charisma who wants to do nothing but teach. His father is a teacher in the Chicago schools. His mom was a teacher turned university professor turned dean, turned VP, turned…I think university President somewhere else.

    Alex wanted to teach in MPS. He should have been exactly the kind of teacher they wanted. A black male from a solid family, of high moral standing, with charisma and skills. Also, no gang-banger could intimidate him (his cold angry don’t-fuck-with-me stare was cinematic and scary and awesometastic). Trust me, there is no one else like Alex in the world, and I mean that in all good ways.

    He was going to teach Spanish, ESL, and computer programming (he was a computer geek and started out as CompSci but couldn’t handle the calculus) at a Milwaukee Public high school with the promise that he would have his own classroom – that he would not be a floater.

    So he left his cushy teaching job in a Madison suburb took the teaching job at a “bad” school in a bad neighborhood. He would end up commuting from Madison to Milwaukee until his Madison lease ran out (crashing on me and my roomate’s couch several nights a week).

    Anyways, He arrived on day one to find out the principal who hired him had lied. Not only would he not have a room, he would only have a cart. Each class he taught was going to be in a different room. He said that was not the agreement. The principal said sorry that’s the way it is. Alex says get me my own classroom – as agreed upon – by end of semester or I am gone. The end of semester came and Alex asked for his room. The principal said not only am I not giving you a room, I never intended to give you one. Alex quit his job right then and went to work for the rest of the semester teaching computer programming for a rich private school in a Milwaukee suburb and he returned to Madison schools the next fall semester. MPS drove him out because management couldn’t keep their word on a simple agreement that was made.

    Alex was the kind of teacher as both educator and as sorely needed male role model that the Milwaukee needs,and they just let him go.

  13. The big advantage of charters schools whether they are outside of the school district or staffed by district teachers (at least in Milwaukee) is that they dump much of the dead-weight regulations that do nothing but eat up time and cash.

    Exactly, they just leave things more or less to the teachers. Charter schools tend to be good if the principal is good.

    Here’s another example: Textbooks can cost $200 each and are generally chosen by the district office with little or no input from the teachers actually using them. They’re often required to run through an insane gauntlet of political correctness (imagine trying to write about the Carter administration without mentioning that he was a peanut farmer so as not to offend people with peanut allergies).

    You can buy Harry Potter for $13, and a child is more likely to learn to read from that then any textbook I’ve ever seen. You can even let them keep the book at that price, which is further motivation.

    My mom had trouble teaching one child to read. But he was interested in porcupines. So she bought him a book on porcupines and gave it to him. He learned to read. Another child wasn’t motivated, she bought him a subscription to Sports Illustrated.

    One of my mom’s most effective teaching aids? Made in Hershey Pennsylvania….

    She would give her kids Hershey bars as rewards.

  14. Charter schools strike me as having the same benefits (to the participants) and the same drawbacks (to others) as open enrollment — by allowing those who care more to work together, it gives their children better education while preventing free-riding parents (and their children) from benefiting.

    To quote Christ, and Bloom [1]:

    “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”

    We need a system that allows people to “opt-up” from the system, while providing a much better floor in terms of results than what we currently provide.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2006/03/17/review-of-global-brain-by-howard-bloom.html

  15. sonofsamphm1c

    While I am certainly open to the argument that Catholics are smarter than everybody else (after all, we are smart enough to choose the One True Church despite the false claims from heretics, heathens and atheists), I am not sure that is really the best explanation for the different results for Catholic schools and public schools operating in the same neighborhoods.

  16. It’s not Catholics are smarter, though the Russian-Germans who populated the area where I grew up are exceptionally bright, it’s that Catholic schools don’t take everybody. A public school, unless it is a magnet school or similar, takes everybody – practically the whole bell curve. Parents with children on the north end of he bell curve are more likely to send their kids to private schools, or magnet schools. Parents with kids on the south end of the bell curve are more likely to send their kids to public schools. Their children are more likely to have difficulty with reading and math because of their IQs.

    These are public high schools. They are in terrible neighborhoods. Upwards of 80% of their student body is minority. They are operated by two school districts, the DISD and HISD, that are widely perceived to be incompetent, and both districts are repeatedly subjected to scathing news stories in the local press. Both districts have many schools that are poor performing:

    http://hs.houstonisd.org/debakeyhs/

    http://www.dallasisd.org/schools/hs/TMC/about.htm

    Same incompetent administrators, same hiring practices, better students.

  17. We need a system that allows people to “opt-up” from the system, while providing a much better floor in terms of results than what we currently provide.

    Noted.

    Their should be a default that is acceptable.

    I would like each student to have an IEP (like they do with special ed students) worked out by an education specialist in conjunction with the student and their families. If the family doesn’t care the ed specialist can still create a custom plan for the student. I don’t like the idea of wasting a kid just because he has piss-poor parents.

    I kind like the idea of combo Charter Schools/Group Homes to remove kids from bad/troubled homes so as not to ruin them as well.

  18. School district by having teacher workers that are both unionized (with lobbyist) and being government employees are free of the incentives faciong most non-gov employees:

    1) Do bad work and you may be fired or at least won’t be getting raises

    2) Do good/great work and you might be paid more and/or promoted and/or coveted by other departments or other employers who want to pay you more

    3) iIf your organization does a bad work, customers will go elsewhere and you might loose your job

    4) If your department does a bad job, your work may be transfered to another department or it may outsourced to another company and you will loose your job

    5) If you figure out ways to be more productive or innovate, generally good things will happen for you, your department, and your organization.

  19. IEPs may be the wrong way to go.

    We have a classic quality problem — the average outcome is too bad, and there is no much variation in the system. When car quality was notoriously awful, Toyota did not scale up by creating IEPs for each car in the assembly line — Toyota used scientific management techniques to improve the average quality of the car and reduce the error rate.

    We know what to do. We know about reward schedules, learning curves, modeling, and the other components of learning. What has been missing it he political will to do the job right.

    The opposition comes from several quarters

    a) a local control movement that does not want to give control of the schools to the federal government
    b) “rent seeking” [1] parents who want to monopolize as many of school resources as possible, typically by getting their children IEPs
    c) “rent seeking” parents who want their children to get degrees, even if they have not earned those degrees
    d) social justice advocates who are aghast at the way that excellence in schools correlates with socio-economic status

    NCLB was a heroic effort by George Bush to begin breaking through this opposition. [2] The current focus on STEM looks like the second-stage of the assault.

    Before NCLB, “teaching to the test” was an attack against testing
    After the next push for STEM, “teaching to the test” will be specifically encouraged

    I really hope Obama pulls through on this.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_rent
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/07/11/no-child-left-behind-the-quantitative-revolution-applied-to-publi-schools.html

  20. Excellence in schools doesn’t have to correspond with socio-economic status. That’s a cop-out by the school system.

    I don’t care how poor you are, you can fucking learn to read. The schools aren’t even accomplishing that…

    We don’t need more top-down solutions, we need bottom-up solutions that restore control to the teachers, while keeping the parents informed.

    Pretty simple really:

    1. Make a “trust the teachers” rule that any school district is considered “compliant” with whatever government program du jour is mandating whatever if they simply hand the money directly to the principal/teachers.

    (i.e. if the kid can’t read, learning to read is more of a priority than AIDS/anti-racism/whatever).

    2. Mandate that parents have to be informed twice a year on how their children performed vs. a nationwide standardized test.

    Then just get out of the fucking way. Parent’s want their kids to do well in school, even poor parents. But the current system keeps the parents and teachers powerless.

  21. We have a classic quality problem — the average outcome is too bad, and there is no much variation in the system. When car quality was notoriously awful, Toyota did not scale up by creating IEPs for each car in the assembly line — Toyota used scientific management techniques to improve the average quality of the car and reduce the error rate.

    Insn’t this the system that Dewey wanted – an industrial approach to education – the same for all? You can throuigh TPS/Lean/Kaizan at it to make it more effecient, but it is stil la mostly one size fits all system. That is so 20th century. The 21st century should be about mass customization. Heck even TPS was about short production runs which allowed more effieicnet use of time and materials and more variety of end things produced (if that is what the customer desired). We have seen an explosion in choice for the consumer product we buy to fit our needs and preferences, why should we assume there is one best education system?

    We know what to do. We know about reward schedules, learning curves, modeling, and the other components of learning. What has been missing it he political will to do the job right.

    Do we really though? It was my understanding that most of the experiments in teaching methods don’t really gather scientific data and nothing quanititative can really be learned from them, or at least that was the case in Milwaukee. IS that we “feel” we know what to do, or do we “know” we know what to do?

    Note: when I am talking IEPs, I don’t mean turning each kid into a special ed student. Kids have all different levels of skills, different learning rates, and styles. There is so much wast in these schools for kids.

    In grade school, I essentially learned nothing new in Math after second grade, reading after second grade, nothing at all of science, and almost nothing of social science. I was at the 99.9 percentile on the standardized test but there was nothing for me. I should have been doing algerbara and geometry in 3-6 grade and calculus in Junior high. I was reading so far ahead of my level I should have been able to just go off on my own writing essays and reading stuff. I didn’t learn science stuff in school until Junior High (our science programs we pretty good at the 7-12 level). I should have been taking college course (at least of some sort) by 9th or 10th grade. Instead I was getting D’s and my Mom was being told I hated to read. To my Mom’s credit she chewed out the teacher noting that I was reading about 20 books a week from the public library and anything else I could get my hands on – I just wasn’t reading down to the 3rd grade level of books.

    In junior high what I had that was bad was learning Spanish. Since I was now in the lower rung, there was also nothing for me. Most kids were getting it and much faster then me. I need more help and attention so I was screwed. The class didn’t allow that sort of extra attention.

    I feel much of the public money spent educating me K7 was wasted and miss applied.

    One size does not fit all.

    I am okay with the goals of NCLB in the sense that it may get educastion service providers more effective, but I think we need more then just incremental improvements. I don’t think a real TPS or Six Sigma approach looking at education service providers would just be the Dewey system but better. I think it would look much different.

  22. I don’t care how poor you are, you can fucking learn to read. The schools aren’t even accomplishing that…

    Yep. My sister teacher mild CD. If they can learn to read, regular kids sure can.

  23. Purpleslog,

    I really don’t know what Dewey believed. His name is invoked so often to defend so many ideas that either he is all over the place or easily misunderstood. For now I have better things to do than read his volumes to understand him.

    I reacted to the “IEP” comment as I did because, in my experience, IEPs are used to allow students to go on while learning less material than their classmates.

    “Mass Customization” has been advocated by educational psychologists for fifty years, all the way back to B.F. Skinner and his Teaching Machine. What is happening now is that the cost of teaching machines is approaching the cost of books — a $200 netbook is not significantly more expensive than a $120 textbook. As cheap laptops become even less expensive and more durable, we will reach the point where it’s cheaper to mass customize much of education than to give teachers a payraise.

    Psychology was one of the first social disciplines to be subjected to the Quantitative Revolution — at least in the United States, the whole constellation of Germanic qualitative psychology (Freud, Adler, Wundt) had largely been replaced by quantitative analysis by the 1920s. Though this came under systematic attack in the 1970s (largely thanks to Marxists of the Bill Ayres variety), the funding agencies have in recent years played a great role in solidifying educational psychology as a science.

    A good example of a real study is Bandura’s famous study on the modeling of violence. [1]

    Pierce Wetter,

    2. Mandate that parents have to be informed twice a year on how their children performed vs. a nationwide standardized test.

    Then just get out of the fucking way. Parent’s want their kids to do well in school, even poor parents. But the current system keeps the parents and teachers powerless.

    The problem, wrt establishing a floor on quality, is that people who are dim, give up easily, don’t care, and blame others for their failures tend to be poorer than those that don’t. They have kids, and these traits heritable. Thus, SES predicts performance, even though it does not determine performance.

    [1] http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Bandura/bobo.htm

  24. Even in poor neighborhoods there are still parents who want their kids to read. You guys are talking like there are just a few manufacturing defects. The school system is much more fucked up than that. Only 90% of rich kids and 50% of poor kids are learning to read.

    In manufacturing terms, that would be as if 50% of the cars on the road didn’t have tires. That’s not a defect, that’s a catastrophic failure. Those aren’t even cars at that point.

    But there is a much higher percentage then just 50% of poor parents who want their kids to learn to read. Once you get them engaged, and setup the system so that they can insist their kids learn to read, peer pressure will actually end up dragging along the rest of the poor kids.

  25. Cars don’t have IQs.

    This is a public high school. The district has a horrible reputation. It has several schools that have unacceptable results. I would say the student body is 90% minority and 90% poor. They don’t just want their kid to read, they want them to become doctors, nurses, etc. Read the SAT stats:

    http://hs.houstonisd.org/debakeyhs/AboutUs.html

    Same superintendent. Same school board. Same teacher pool. Same everything except one thing: they filter their student body – just like a private school.

    My cousin teaches at what we jokingly call “Lock Up High”. His students are felons. He has some students who cannot learn to read. Period. Can’t. They’re not all minority. Whatever advancements he can make with them, they’ve forgotten it within days. Their test scores are in the published statistics for his school system. Zeros are a drag.

  26. Pierece,

    Even in poor neighborhoods there are still parents who want their kids to read.

    Yes.

    But wanting to is not the same thing as being willing to put a marginal amount of resources to achieving that goal.

    And there are parents who are willing in low SES groups. Just fewer of them.

    You guys are talking like there are just a few manufacturing defects. The school system is much more fucked up than that. Only 90% of rich kids and 50% of poor kids are learning to read.

    In manufacturing terms, that would be as if 50% of the cars on the road didn’t have tires. That’s not a defect, that’s a catastrophic failure. Those aren’t even cars at that point.

    Agreed. Socialist states such as the Soviet Union and the PRC famously had error rates of 95% in some factories.

    Fortunately, we know how to address error rates. The problem is that such a scientific management approach is generally incompatible with mushy-headed thinking, rent-seeking behaviors, and so on.

    sonofsamphm1c,

    Cars don’t have IQs.

    True.

    Once we realize that IQ is essentially a measure of how steep learning curves are, however, it becomes a modifier variable during production. Industiral management faces issues like this all the time.

    My cousin teaches at what we jokingly call “Lock Up High”. His students are felons. He has some students who cannot learn to read. Period. Can’t. They’re not all minority. Whatever advancements he can make with them, they’ve forgotten it within days. Their test scores are in the published statistics for his school system. Zeros are a drag.

    Except for those with severe learning disabilities or severe developmental delays, everyone can learn to read.

    Not everyone can learn to read on their own. Not everyone can leard to read while controlling their own reward schedules.

    The notion of civil rights for students has concrete negative outcomes for low-ability students.

  27. I used the term “Dewey System” to mean the current system.

    I am not familiar with (and am getting out of my comfort area) those uses of mass customization. I get the term from “MegaTrends”.

  28. One of the problems with fixing education is that you have to start at the bottom. If a child has reached high school and still hasn’t learned to read, things are much, much harder.

    Really, if we came up with the perfect fix for education, it would take 10 years to actually work, because we’d have to wait for this generation of students to work their way from 2nd/3rd through high school.

    What I’m really talking about, because I have the most indirect experience is primary school education. That’s where kids are supposed to learn to read, and that’s where the schools start failing.

    Trying to fix things in high school is like trying to fix the proverbial car by working on the engine when it doesn’t have any wheels.

    But I maintain that if you start really informing parents how their kids are doing compared to other kids at their grade level, and empower teachers to actually be able to help individual kids by giving them the discretionary funds they need, that all the elements are already in place.

  29. Purpleslog,

    One idea of how to mass customize education: hook up a Rosetta stone [1] like system for language, science, mathematics, reading comprehension, etc on netbooks for every schoolchild. Pay the kid some amount of money (1 to 5 cents, say) for every screen passed. Have as your goal to get every child to the level where he is able to attend some form of post-secondary education (from technical training to university.

    This becomes a very big deal when enacting this plan is cheaper than an increase in the pay raise.

    Pierce Wetter.

    I absolutely agree on the need for better mastery by students by the time they get to high school. Really, by the time a child is 14, he’s mentally ready for college if he has the appropriate background knowledge. The time to drill in the basic facts, knowledge, and methods is elementary and middle school.

    [1] http://www.rosettastone.com/

  30. sonofsamphm1c

    It’s not Catholics are smarter, though the Russian-Germans who populated the area where I grew up are exceptionally bright, it’s that Catholic schools don’t take everybody. A public school, unless it is a magnet school or similar, takes everybody – practically the whole bell curve.

    Back when I was in a Catholic elementary school, there were a certain number of kids who were there because they had been expelled from the public schools, usually for bad behavior. This was back when public schools could expel kids. I guess that today those kids might have been put on drugs but at the time the procedure was that they would be expelled from public school for acting up and once they went to Catholic school, the nuns would hit them for that kind of behavior. The system was pretty effective at teaching them all to read and, for the most part, graduate.

  31. I found out today that a local Democratic politician I was rather personally opposed to in real life has been instrumental in reforming this state’s education system to standardized testing, and has brought quality control principles to the whole subject.

    I remember watching his candidacy from beginning to end, often very up close, hoping it would fail at every juncture.

    Crazy. I was wrong on that one.

  32. A favorite joke of mine, Mark: A boy had trouble learning math. His parents tried everything they could think of to get him to learn, but nothing worked. Finally, out of desperation, they followed someone’s suggestion of sending him to Catholic school. He came home the first day, went straight to his room, and started studying; every day was like this afterward.

    At the end of the quarter, he came home, handed his report card to his mother and went to his room to study. Upon seeing the A for math, his mother ran to his room to congratulate him. “Was it the tutoring?” she asked; he replied in the negative. “Was it the classical music?”; nope. This is interrogation continued for a little while with the same results. “So what was it?!”

    “First day, I saw the guy they nailed to the plus sign and knew they were serious!”

  33. One of my students did an elaboration activity on Mr. Canada’s work in Harlem [1]. Here was my response, in part:

    One word that researchers use among themselves is ‘overdetermined,’ as
    in ‘the failure of low-SES blacks is overdetermined: too much is going
    wrong for any one fix to help.” It’s a depressing situation, and one
    that will require a lot of hard work from a lot of different angles to
    overcome.

    Geoffrey Canada looks like he’s willing to put his neck out, and try
    to be a part of the solution

    Canada’s problem doing as much as he can in the current system. I wish him the best.

    Like the joke, btw. 🙂

    [1] http://www.slate.com/blogs/blogs/schoolhouse/archive/2008/09/29/replication.aspx

  34. During the platform discussions this year at the DNC, there were quite interesting results from the crowd. One of the speakers spoke in favor of a nationwide standardize test.

    So who knows.

    But with all this talk about quality, I have to say, that companies that really were serious about quality found that they had to give the workers on the production line the power to shutdown the line when necessary.

    Apply that to schools, and that means giving teachers control of the district…

  35. Pierece,

    But with all this talk about quality, I have to say, that companies that really were serious about quality found that they had to give the workers on the production line the power to shutdown the line when necessary.

    Apply that to schools, and that means giving teachers control of the district…

    I love this analogy, but could you explain how the conclusion follows?

    The Toyota Production System allows a worker to stop the line, I believe, but Toyota factories are not run on Soviet (worker-self-rule) lines.

  36. Yes, in a true TPS, workers can stop the line. They are empowered to make many decisions…and trained to make them well.

    Most American managers hated TPS because they saw it as taking power from them. That just showed how f#cked they where in the head. The manager should have been worried about the success of his department, his product, his company, etc. Instead they were worried about power issues. Any US worker that can manage his home and budget, and serve on a church committee )or PTA or Boy Scouts or whatever) can thrive in TPS (or in a Lean system [1]).

    I have been able to insert aspect of TPS (Just-in-time, Kaizan, Automation, Pokayoke, and even a little bit of Kanban) in aspect of designing and managing IT related processes…I just avoided calling them “Lean” or TPS. I have been 100% unsuccessful in getting any useful TPS oriented metrics established and used.

    [1]
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lean_manufacturing

  37. Mark in Texas – when I was in high school there were around a dozen kids who came into our class from the local Catholic high school – all were kicked out.

  38. At 9th grade in Junior High was when the K8 local catholic schools rejoined the public school system. They were behind in math and science by a grade level or 2.

    They were not behavioral problems though.

    Hmm…I do recall getting into a few fistfight at Church CCD classes. I took came of business. I went Roman on their asses when I got crossed.

  39. My uncle, who runs a little architecture/construction business, would complain that the worst hooligan problem he ever had were students from the Catholic high school.

  40. After decades of successive “top-down” fixes in education, teachers have less and less say in what and how they get to teach children.

    So if I was going to continue the manufacturing analogy, imagine if our worker at Toyota got given plastic wrenches to use with substandard parts, and then were yelled at if the resulting cars didn’t work.

    Contrast that with Toyota after a quality overhaul where workers were given a Snap-On catalog from which to purchase the tools they need, and were allowed to throw back any parts that have obvious defects.

    So this emphasis on quality is fine, but if you use the same recipe you get the same bread. You’ll find that Quality starts with giving control to the person closest to the product, which in this case is the teachers.

  41. The only one for whom I know the reason for expulsion was Billy. Boys were required to wear blue blazers and grey slacks. Boring. The girls were required to wear blue blazers and matching plaid skirts. Oddly titillating. One day Billy got fed up with his blue blazer and protested to the Nuns by burning it in the parking lot in front of the school.

    I’ve been told that Billy is now a multi-millionaire.

  42. When the term is used politically, “quality” just means good, in some inoffensive manner

    In education, this generally amounts to an agreement on the part of everyone not to embarrass each other, so that local school boards do not adopt rigorous examination requirements, and teachers focus on qualitative measures such as “portfolios” or empty quantitative ones such as “receiving a diploma.”

    When the term is used in an industrial setting, quality refers to decreasing the variation in outcomes while increasing the average outcome.

    TPS works because any employee on the line is empowered to stop it when he or shoes unacceptable in producct quality or production procedure.

    Nothing like NCLB has ever been attempted before in American educational history. I don’t know what ‘decades of successive “top-down” fixes in education’ Pierce is talking about.

    The entire educational system, pre-NCLB, was set up on encouraging exactly the meaningless variation in quality and procedure that TPS is designed to prevent.

    We have a great higher ed system, and a great economy. The better as kids get out of our horrid public schools and into something more real, the better. A rigorous, TPS-like system of education would enable this, save a tremendous amount of time and money, and finally get us the “quality” education system we need.

  43. I would assume he means from the local school board, or local superintendent, or state board of education. Those are all varying degrees of local control.

    Did ACT and SAT tests not provide a sort of national standard?

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