Promising miracles

The Confidence Men are consultants who claim they know how to raise student achievement dramatically, writes Eric Hanushek in the summer issue of Education Next.

(Lawrence) Picus and (Allen) Odden . . . claim that a specific set of policies can shift average student performance upward by three to six standard deviations, an extraordinary gain. The policies they identify include providing a year of full-day kindergarten, reducing class size to 15 students through grade 3, using multi-age classrooms, hiring classroom coaches, employing one-to-one tutoring for disadvantaged students, getting half of the students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch to attend summer school, embedding technology within the classroom, creating a gifted and talented program for the top 5 percent of all students, and accelerating instruction for the 2 percent of students capable of benefiting from it.

Raising achievement by a standard deviation — the difference in scores between the average fourth and eighth grader — would wipe out the racial achievement gap and send U.S. students soaring ahead of Korean and Japanese students.

After their policies are fully implemented in Washington (state), Albert Einstein, were he not participating in these programs, would find himself achieving at or below the state average.

And it will happen in one year, the consultants predict.

Not going to happen, writes Hanushek.

Also in Education Next, writer Barbara Feinberg analyzes the influence of Lucy Calkins on how schools teach writing. Once an advocate of teaching children to discover their own writing style, Calkins has suffered “hardening of the ideologies,” writes Feinberg.

Students are supposed to be write about their own experiences, so fantasy is taboo. Only “realistic fiction” is exempt from the ban.

Recently, New York City teachers were asked to describe how top-down mandates affect their teaching. Many complained the Calkins’ writing workship method was far too rigid, prescriptive and sometimes irrelevant.

A kindergarten teacher reported how she was instructed to ask her students, on the third day of class, “to reflect on how they’d grown as writers.”

“Ridiculous,” the teacher said.

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  1. I wonder what it takes to get into a racket like that? Anything that increases the price of the cars driven by Picus and Odden by five or six standard deviations cries out for investigation.

  2. “accelerating instruction for the 2 percent of students capable of benefiting from it.”

    BS… I think that at least 15 to 20% of students would benefit from academic acceleration. Walk into any middle class classroom in this country and there will be at least that many students who are bored and ready to move on while the teacher remediates the rest of the class.

    Besides, there is no true acceleration in this country. Those who would point to things like 7th and 8th grade algebra as acceleration are wrong… that is advancement, not acceleration. It still takes 3 years for these kids to get to Calculus, just like it would take 3 years for a student who started Algebra I in 10th grade.

    True acceleration would have students progress through a years worth of study in say 6 – 9 months. If acceleration was done properly, there would be a cumulative effect; each year accelerated students would be further and further ahead of their peers in standard paced classes.

  3. wahoofive says:

    Love the no-fiction rule, too. We’ve spent years eliminating non-fiction writing, replacing objective essays with blather about “feelings” (my 8th-grade daughter actually thinks an “essay” is a description of your emotional response to something). Pretty soon we’ll eliminate writing altogether, replacing it with text-messaging shorthand and emoticons.

  4. Hunter McDaniel says:

    Is one of these guys named Harold Hill?

  5. Looking at the graph labeled “Science Fiction”, it seems that classroom coaches are much more cost-effective than any other reform in the list. I don’t exactly know what a classroom coach does, but if they’re so effective, why not use them to replace teachers?

    Parentalacation makes a good point regarding advancement versus acceleration. I can see where grade-skipping in a single-tracked school might have limited benefit, which in turn might not always be worth any drawbacks.

  6. Three to six standard deviations? Uh, we’re talking about a normally distributed population. Remember the 68-95-99.7 rule? 99.7% of the data in the distribution lie within three standard deviations from the mean. I’d say “confidence men” is a good label for these charlatans.

  7. I can’t imagine a six year old “growing as a writer” in three days any other way than growing a new tooth.