Monday, June 25, 2012

Misdirection and relevance.

via Maui St and the Dim-post
It's quite refreshing to wander in on a Monday morning, sort of awake-ish (even though the coffee machine is broken) and right off the bat have a couple of well laid out posts that immediately get the brain going.

The immediate thing that leapt to my mind was the misdirection on class sizes. This is another case of evidence being used, if not deceitfully, then at the very least, not being used well. We have continually heard from those pushing the increase in class sizes as a good thing, that none of the research shows that increases in class sizes hurts student performance. Not only is this a little hard to believe, since it implies that you could continually increase class size without restriction, but it's not actually what the research suggests. The research that Hattie uses suggests that there's no significant difference between class sizes of 25 and 15. This is very much one of those cases where making the distinction is important. The research does not show that increasing class sizes from 25 to 27/28 is not harmful. The research has no opinion to offer on the subject. It may be neutral, it may be negative, we don't know. This, as Danyl says down the bottom of the post - sufficient cause to run a trial. Try it on a small scale in a few classrooms at a dozen schools round the country, compare them other classes at the same schools and see what the result is. You don't get call an extrapolation evidence though.

The relevance of the proposed charter schools is also bought into question. If you're relying on Hattie's research to justify increases in class sizes (despite it not actually supporting the argument) then why would you dismiss the relevance his assessments of things that do make a difference to educational success. In proposing charter schools, the government have done just that, ignored the fact that charter schools have a 0.2 effect (on a scale of 1 to -1) on achievement, with any proposed measure having an effectiveness of 0.5 being deemed somewhat pointless. Why not try some of the 66 very effective measures (>0.5) that Hattie suggests first.
As icing on the cake has anyone else noticed how when the idea of league tables are brought up, those who are opposed to the idea acknowledge that league tables might better inform parents but then worry that it will encourage schools to turn away under performing students (those who need the most help) and to teach to the test, narrowing educations focus - neither of which are good things. Those people who are pro league tables always seem to miss the second half? They only ever talk about how it will better inform parents, never about the legitimate concerns that have been raised by educators both here and overseas in systems where league tables are present?

More and more it looks like cherry picking on a massive scale on the part of the government. They use evidence for one thing to support another sort of related thing, then ignore the fact that the evidence they just misused actually supports more effective measures than the one they want to implement. And when people raise concerns about a (related but slightly different) issue, they ignore the more complex, damaging concerns and answer only the points that are trivially true.

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