Sunlit Water

January 20, 2007

Like A Broken Pencil

Filed under: Politics — by teofilo @ 5:57 pm

Has anyone else noticed that online discussions of education policy are particularly unlikely to be productive, even compared to other online political discussions?  I think it’s because education is an issue about which everyone has personal experience that, for most people, tends to overwhelm any other considerations.  It’s also a complicated issue involving lots of problems and few clear solutions, which makes generalizing from personal experience, as many people (myself included) are inclined to do, not necessarily very helpful.  Perhaps there is a way to avoid all this and have useful, productive debates about education, but I’m not holding out much hope.

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9 Comments »

  1. Perhaps there is a way to avoid all this and have useful, productive debates about education, but I’m not holding out much hope.

    I read educational statistics studies in my free time, but since this is sort of weird, you’re probably right.

    The problem, like you say, is that personal, anecdotal experience is almost entirely irrelevant to these sorts of policy discussions. I say we let the statisticians decide.

    Comment by Matt F — January 20, 2007 @ 6:28 pm |Reply

  2. That’s basically how things work in practice, isn’t it? Educational policy seems like a pretty under-the-radar thing when it comes to actual lawmaking. I don’t know if the statisticians will necessarily draw the right conclusions policy-wise from their statistics, though. It really is a big mess.

    Comment by teofilo — January 20, 2007 @ 6:33 pm |Reply

  3. That was sort of tongue-in-cheek; stat folks are good at figuring out what programs work, but not so much at coming up with new stuff.

    I don’t know about it being low-profile, though. No Child Left Behind was a pretty visible piece of legislation (and pretty flawed, but that’s a different matter).

    Comment by Matt F — January 20, 2007 @ 6:47 pm |Reply

  4. You’re right about NCLB; I was forgetting about that. Aside from it, though, it does seem like education policy is a largely a matter of deep-in-various-budget-bills funding tweaks. Maybe this is a mistaken perception on my part. (Or maybe it just isn’t as salient an issue as it was a few years ago, with NCLB and the whole voucher debate before it. In fact, that’s probably more likely.)

    Comment by teofilo — January 20, 2007 @ 6:51 pm |Reply

  5. Personal experience colors my opinion of education in general, as it must everybody’s but I don’t think this extends to educational policy, which as you say, is about statistically significant outcomes and tweaks. I certainly know good teaching from bad as a matter of experience, but don’t know how policy is supposed to determine which you get. Resources, better working conditions probably make the better more likely, but that seems obvious.

    Comment by idontpay — January 20, 2007 @ 9:36 pm |Reply

  6. NCLB not withstanding, federal policy and federal spending play a proportionately small or tiny role in on-the-ground educational policy. Local control is still overwhelmingly the situation, which at least in my state means school board members within a township, within a school district, within a county…it’s about four layers before you even get to the state level.

    IME, education at present is so locally-specific that trying to have national policy discussions is like trying to come up with standardized weather policy for the entire U.S.

    Comment by Witt — January 21, 2007 @ 10:48 am |Reply

  7. In times of drought, no cloud should be left unseeded!

    Also, I think Witt gets it pretty much right. NCLB may be an early step in what may be an eventual nationalization of education policy, but outside of some court cases with national implications, education does still really seem to be more of a local/state issue.

    Comment by eb — January 21, 2007 @ 2:48 pm |Reply

  8. That’s kind of what I meant in 2; because education is such a local issue in practice, national education policy mostly consists of distributing relatively small amounts of money in accordance with what the statistics show works better. Not that this has much effect.

    Comment by teofilo — January 21, 2007 @ 3:05 pm |Reply

  9. National weather policy

    Comment by eb — January 22, 2007 @ 11:23 pm |Reply


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