From the sauna into the frying pan

Brief programming note: part of the reason why my blog-writing has been lagging this semester is because I had two major talks to prepare in the last few months. One of them was a presentation about a month ago at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, and I will be joining them this summer as the director of the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation. It has been a marvelous 18 years, and I will miss my friends and colleagues at USF even as I look forward to taking up the new post.

I have seen plenty of change in USF and in Florida since coming here in 1996, and I have discussed many of them on this blog. I expect to continue commenting on education in Florida, add some about Arizona, and other places as well. During the move and my first few months, this blog may be less active than at other times, but I hope to carve out enough time to get back to regular blogging by the end of 2014.

Education Policy Noise Index

Well, I feel as if Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday on the need for academics as public intellectuals was pointed right at me, since I have fallen way behind in blogging thus far this year. For the record, Kristof is wrong on the trends but correct on the general need.

So, for this morning, a small something based on UC Riverside physicist John Baez’s Crackpot Index: a way to measure how much you may be contributing to education policy noise without making substantive contributions. The higher the number, the more you contribute to noise. Note: Asterisks denote carryovers from Baez’s Crackpot Index

  • A -5 point starting credit.* (I.e., you get a few points’ leeway.)
  • A -1 point credit for every full year as a classroom teacher. (I.e., more leeway with teaching experience.)
  • A -1 point credit for every full year that a child of yours attended school… and you were the parent getting her/him/them up, fed, dressed, and out the door. (I.e., more leeway with active parenting.)
  • 1 point for every undocumented factual claim that is widely agreed to be false by those with varying policy preferences.
  • 1 point for claiming that a single empirical study is definitive proof of anything.
  • 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.*
  • 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.*
  • 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.*
  • 5 points for each ad-hominem slur against someone who disagrees with you on policy.
  • 5 points for each uncritical repetition of someone else’s false statement or ad-hominem slur.
  • 5 points for rationalizing one’s ad-hominem slur, someone else’s ad-hominem slur, or a repetition of someone else’s ad-hominem slur by reference to free speech, the need to balance opponents’ views, or “starting a conversation.”
  • 5 points for each claim that the anecdotal experience of a single school or school district represents universal experience or otherwise is proof of a policy claim.
  • 5 points for each claim that a single figure or chart is demonstrable proof of a policy claim. (10 more for referring to such a figure/chart as an “infographic”)
  • 5 points for each reference to an unreviewed paper that contradicts the results of a widely accepted empirical study published in a refereed journal.
  • 5 points for each conclusory use of “disruption,” “paradigm shift,” “the new normal,” or any term that has appeared on the Lake Superior State University List of Words to be Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.
  • 10 points for each mention of “personalization” when the referent is the use of a computer algorithm.
  • 10 points for any (other) reinterpretation of an existing word to mean the opposite of its recognized, ordinary denotation.
  • 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.*
  • 10 points for each reference to a policy opponent as a “special interest group” or member thereof (10 more for describing one or more allies as pure-hearted, hard-working, etc., in the same piece).
  • 10 points for each mention of “defenders of the status quo” to refer to opponents of any current policy/practice.
  • 10 points for each mention of “corporate reformer” to refer to policy opponents who are not in fact employees of or direct recipients of support from a for-profit corporation.
  • 10 points for each reference to current practices as “industrial-era education” (or similar phrasing).
  • 10 points for having a PR firm or other non-academic proxy be the primary disseminator of an allegedy empirical paper.
  • 20 points for each reference to an unreviewed paper that contradicts the results of a competent meta-analysis published in a refereed journal.
  • 30 points for every use of a John Birch Society argument. (20 more for referring to water fluoridation or world government.)
  • 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.*

I reserve the right to modify this list based on any absurdity that appears in education policy discourse.

Addendum: Parenting and teaching earn negative points, or credits against creating noise. My apologies if that was not clear.

Join USF’s educational studies masters program!

My college is starting up an educational studies masters program this year–we’d love to have you apply!–and if you click the link, you’ll see a discussion of who would benefit from the program, how to combine an ed studies masters degree with doctoral programs, and post-graduate outcomes. The following is the transparent end sentence: “The concentration is recently approved, and we do not have post-graduate employment statistics yet.”

What is true is that there is data on post-graduate job data for this field of study in the state university system in general: of the 134 graduates of programs at sister institutions from 2006-07 through 2010-11, one year after graduation 75% of them were working in the state of Florida, 68% full-time, and the average salary was $50K and change.

If you are admitted to and join the 33-hour non-licensure educational studies masters program at USF, you will learn the following:

  • Why there is now a website called “BeyondEducation” with this measure, along with some initial forays in similar ways at the University of Texas and other places.
  • The limits of such data — both statistical and otherwise.
  • The types of bureaucratic operations in schools (both K-12 and higher ed) that may lead that measure to be even more misleading than what you might guess without that knowledge.
  • The major issues surrounding questions of equality of schooling from a social-science standpoint.
  • A general grounding in the history of education.

My program colleagues are great teachers as well as fellow historians of education, and if you have questions about the problem, I am happy to answer them by email.

“Instructional design” and “authentic assessment” strike me as hubris

If I were a sloppy New York Times reporter, I’d start this blog post by constructing a faux-trend narrative about the increasing use of “design” in educational discourse or practice. But I’m not a reporter and don’t work for the Times, so I will just note that in the past six months I have come across enough references to “design philosophy” in education to rub me the wrong way. Not enough to take off skin, but to give me a bit of rhetorical rugburn. The argument runs something like this: “We need to design educational experiences so that we can …” and here append a predicate of your choice: engage the alienated, close the achievement gap, focus on important learning objectives, or solve the split-end crisis in cosmetology.

Yes and no.

Continue reading ““Instructional design” and “authentic assessment” strike me as hubris”

Erratum for “Writing History in the Digital Age”

I realized this morning that I had omitted an acknowledgment in my chapter for Writing History in the Digital Age. In the chapter, I noted that for some historians, there were places to write about methods and specifically mentioned archaeology as one of those fields. What I failed to mention was my debt to USF colleague Phil Levy for pointing that out in a discussion on a different matter. I remembered the conversation for the chapter but failed to write the acknowledgment.