"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The invention of lying and educational policy

Posted as a comment on "The invention of lying" – an interview with Naomi Oreskes, by Robert Eshelman,

The first two paragraphs of the interview:

Despite this spring's ferocious weather, which scientists warn could become more commonplace as the planet warms, climate change denial is en vogue, particularly among congressional Republicans. They claim the science is unsettled, and seek deep cuts in programs that would research and prepare for climate-change.

The GOP's current attacks on climate science, though, are part of a decades-long narrative that questions scientific authority. In Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego, and her co-author Erik M. Conway detail the right-wing's history of obscuring connections between tobacco smoke and cancer, sulfur dioxide emissions and acid rain, and, currently, fossil fuels and climate change. The Prospect talked with Oreskes about the denial; why tornados, floods, and wildfires should come as little surprise; and how Cold War ideology continues to define political debates -- even around climate change.



Education "reformers" (which include Arne Duncan, the current US Secretary of Education), have gone far beyond sowing seeds of doubt into well-established findings. Through the force of PR and money, they have promoted a view of learning that not only conflicts with the data but are making it national policy and federal law. As is the case in other areas, alternative "research institutes" have been set up to promote these views, but in the case of education, the traditional sources of knowledge now play little or no role in shaping policy.

Just a few examples:

The claim has been made that "intensive systematic phonics" is best way to teach reading, despite studies showing that intensive phonics has no significant impact on tests in which children have to understand what they read. In addition to controlled studies, Reading First, a program based on intensive systematic phonics, was shown to be no better than regular instruction, even though it included more instructional time. The current effort is to expand the Reading First approach to all grades (the "LEARN Act").

There is massive research published in "respectable" journals and books showing that better libraries are related to better reading achievement, and that self-selected reading results in profound improvement in nearly all aspects of literacy. Yet school and public library funding is declining nation-wide and the federal government has dropped funding of a program providing help to school libraries in high-poverty areas.

The US Dept of Education is vigorously pushing the most aggressive and expensive testing program ever seen in our history, despite evidence showing that more testing does not result in higher achievement.

At the state level: Study after study has shown that children in bilingual programs do better than children in all-English programs on tests of English reading. Yet bilingual education has been dismantled in several states. Follow-up studies have shown no improvement in English language development.

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