Monday, August 31, 2009

Helicopter Parenting. For Real.

I am guessing this dad was an unhappy adolescent, and is determined to buy his own kid a happy time in high school:

According to a Lake County Sheriff's Office report, Bart Sutherin flew his 14-year-old son to his first day of classes at East Ridge High School in a rented blue-and-white Hughes 300 helicopter this week...According to the Orlando Sentinel, Sutherin told officials that he wanted to ''make a positive impression on the other students'' on his son's first day of 9th grade.

Friday, August 28, 2009

We are not inspired

The American Association of School Administrators -- the professional organization of top officials who run our schools -- has posted its comments on the Obama administration's Race to the Top competition. Here is the top, very first, #1 aspect of the RTTT that ASSA comments on:

"p. 3 We encourage you to submit comments in advance of the date by which they must be received.”

Pretty innocent request: Get your memos in early if you can. I passed right over it, moved on to the meat of the guidelines. Not the eagle-eyed ASSA, which led its memo with this insightful, reasoned, child-centered, professional response to this outrageous, ham-handed request:

AASA Response:

"The regulations use thirty days as the response period. Why raise the possibility that only early submissions will be read by urging early submission? Why not shorten the comment period? If later submissions are not read or are not being taken into consideration, then the administration will forfeit the future possibility of being believed when claiming that it is actively listening to public comments."

Wowsers. Way to hook your audience. The remainder of the text makes for equally depressing reading. It is somewhat more on topic. But not any more inspiring.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Finally, some common sense on student loan debt

The College Board has put out a new and very sensible report on student loan debt levels. Given the hyperbolic media coverage of this topic, the bottom line might surprise you: debt loads are not terribly high. The median is $19,000 for those completing a BA.

Does $19,000 sound like a lot of money? Not given the value of a college education. And not given how much we spend on items of far less enduring value. The typical new car loan is for $29,000. That car is valueless after a decade, while human capital pays off over a lifetime. Further, the monthly payment for that car loan would be over $500, while for the student loan it would be about $200.

Mrs. Krabappel is not yet out of a job

This report on online education is being framed by the media as showing that online education beats face-to-face instruction in the classroom. So should we replace Mrs. Krabappel with a bevy of netbooks and a wireless router?

Not so fast. The research is far too weak to draw the conclusion that teachers can be replaced with online instruction.To their credit, the authors admit this up front:

"The most unexpected finding was that an extensive initial search of the published literature from 1996 through 2006 found no experimental or controlled quasi-experimental studies that both compared the learning effectiveness of online and face-to-face instruction for K–12 students and provided sufficient data for inclusion in a meta-analysis."

What were the limitations in the existing research that led the authors to this gloomy conclusion (which did not come across in the press reports)?

I) Internal validity

Out of 1000+ studies the authors reviewed, 33 were randomized trials, and 13 were comparison-control with decent controls. The rest, ewww. The RCTs did show pretty big positive effects (0.2 SD), however, and we know that research is not democratic. So, what's the problem?

..which leads us to...

II) External Validity

a) Just one of the 33 randomized trials (and four of the 13 comparison-control studies) took place in a K-12 school. The rest were in colleges or training programs for medical professionals.

b) None of the (five) K-12 studies compared face-to-face instruction with online learning, which is the comparison the we all have in mind when we read the media reports. Rather, the studies compared 1) face-to-face instruction with 2) face-to-face-instruction PLUS online learning. No teachers were taken out of the equation for the treatment or control group.

The bottom line (which did not come across in the press reports...) is that this research tells us nothing about whether online learning and face-to-face instruction in K-12 are substitutes in the learning process. It does provide us some evidence, however, that they are complements.