A Little of This and a Little of That

This posting places two stories together that at first glance may not seem related but at second glance point in the direction of what makes education founder and what makes it work.

The first concerns recently discovered fraud and malpractice at hospitals run by the Veterans Administration. The connection of this story with education becomes evident in an article discussing one possible contributing factor. It turns out that a prime suspect is badly conceived performance reviews’ being tied to “measurement” of “quality of work” using spurious “values.” One of the measurements, for example, tied performance increases to minimizing the number of follow-up visits regardless of need: “Good” doctors are so good that their patients don’t need to see them again, even if they do. Campbell’s Law applies to fields other than education, which of course Professor Campbell knew. I can’t wait to see whether the uproar leads to the cancellation of such ratings. If it does, may we please have an uproar leading to the cancellation of “effectiveness” ratings for teachers that do not rate effectiveness[1]?

The other, more upbeat, story comes from last year, but there is a background. Professor Barzun mentions in one of his articles the experimental testing of the Paideia program under the direct supervision of one of its founders, Professor Mortimer Adler. The test took place in the early 1980s at a public school in Oakland, California. It turns out that the program is not only still in existence but thriving at the Oakland Technical High School.  Students read great writing closely and examine it under the direction of teachers who probe their students’ understanding with Socratic questioning. It divides learning in three: knowledge, skill and understanding; and it uses different methods of teaching and learning to ensure that its graduates can manage all three kinds. Though admission to the program is competitive, the primary requirement is a willingness to do the work the program demands—and it demands plenty. In return, it provides not just an answer key to a multiple choice test but the ability to think, work and communicate well. My instrumentalist readers will want to know that graduates of Oakland Tech’s Paideia program enrol for college work everywhere from Laney and Chabot Colleges, the community colleges down the road, to Brown, Bryn Mawr, Cal Berkeley, Cal Poly, Cal State East Bay, Harvard, Howard, Johns Hopkins, Kenyon, MIT, Northwestern, Oberlin, Penn, Pratt, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Spelman, Stanford, and Wellesley. Well!

[1] See my last posting and an earlier one for a discussion of their worthlessness.

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