As most of our readers know, I am a home-schooler. I am also, however, interested in improving the education that all the children in this nation receive, because I do care about children beyond the boundaries of my front door. I also know that my children are going to have to grow up and live and work with graduates from public school educations (and non grads, too). Anyway, Jenny D. is working on her doctorate in education. I only ‘discovered’ her blog when she hosted an education carnival a few weeks back, but since then I’ve been following her blog with interest.
I’m not very good at summing up- it will be no surprise to most of my readers that the more I try to summarize something, the longer it gets, and it’s just wrong to have a summary longer than the thing summarized. However, I’ll try to summarize what she’s working on. She’s trying to find a connection between teaching methods and educational results, and she hopes to be able to break down exactly what works for the best teachers so new teachers can begin their work with these scientifically proven techniques already under their belts. Of course, she also hopes this will put teachers “in a better position to stand up to pushy parents who think they know better how to teach.” Those who aren’t satisfied with my summary (and really, it’s weak) can read her own explanation here, and in the comments of this blogpost.
But she’s having trouble with finding a link between teaching methods and results (one of her commentors says it’s because she thinks teaching is a science when it’s really an art). Jenny D. wonders if maybe other things are more important that teaching methods- she hopes not, but she’s having queasy feelings about it all.
In this recent post she says,
“Meanwhile, if you knew how much I was fighting for findings. I want to graduate, but not out of bad findings. I want real findings. What if education is a “weak” treatment? What if parental background and SES and all are more potent “treatments” with regard to student outcome? What should I do?”
SES, for those who wonder, is socio-economic status. One of her commentors points out that teachers have been saying this for years. Another, one Garbo, suggests that while SES is the biggest predictor of success right now, maybe it doesn’t need to be. He hopes she finds techniques that overcome the drawbacks of a low SES.
This made me think of the NHERI findings on homeschoolers:
““Seven of the 12 independent variables did not explain statistically significant amounts of variance in students’ test scores. These 7 were (1) father’s [teacher] certification status, (2) mother’s [teacher] certification status, (3) family income, (4) money spent on home education, (5) legal status of family, (6) time spent in formal educational activities, and (7) age at which began formal education.”
““The fourth strength is that home education may be conducive to eliminating the potential negative effects of certain background factors. Low family income, low parental educational attainment, parents not having formal training as teachers, race or ethnicity of the student, gender of the student, not having a computer in the home, infrequent usage of public services (e.g., public libraries), a child commencing formal education relatively later in life, relatively small amounts of time spent in formal educational activities, and a child having a large (or small) number of siblings seem to have little influence on the academic achievement of the home educated. (Several references were provided earlier.) More specifically, in home education, educational attainment of parents, gender of student, and income of family may have weaker relationships to academic achievement than they do in public schools.”
I remember when that study came out. One especially interesting point was that the homeschooled children of parents who had dropped out of high school or graduated high school but never attended college scored just as well as the homeschooled children of college graduates. In public schools, however, children whose parents are high school drop outs or graduated but never attended college score markedly below their peers whose parents are college grads. This discrepancy prompted one wag to suggest that the results of NHERI’s study indicated that only parents with a college degree should send their children to school.
It seems probable to me that parental involvement is the most important issue in predicting educational success, trumping even SES and better than average teaching- and, in fact, in every discussion I’ve ever seen about why a school is failing its students, the teachers will say they can’t help it, it’s the parents’ fault- and, indeed, I can understand that really crummy and uncooperative parents can stick sugar in the gas tank of the best classroom. I find the topic very interesting, and it certainly raises many questions- but I don’t have answers (except I think more parents should homeschool
Would it be possible that the technique Garbo hopes to find, that technique needed to change the influence of SES on children’s performance (that’s an awkward sentence, but I hope it works) might address the interaction between school, teacher, and *parent* rather than what happens in the classroom?
What would that look like? I don’t really know. I have some ideas on an individual level, but largely I suspect we’d need a way to cause a mammoth-sized shift across the culture to alter some basic assumptions about parents, teachers, education, and responsibility.
American educators have said for years that they need smaller classes, better teacher/student ratios. Conservatives have said, basically, “Pish-posh- look at Japan.” It is true that Japanese classrooms have a higher student to teacher ratio. But Japanese children also have some of the most involved parents in the world. Is one to one instruction something that would help in situations where the parents are not involved and don’t care about education?
I’ve heard of a few schools trying a new (old, really, but new again) method where the students keep the same teacher over a period of several years. Would this kind of personal, long-term connection with one teacher help make up for the disadvantage of having parents who do not care about education?
And if this is impossible, if public schools really can’t overcome a lack of parental involvement, what does that mean? I’ve been rather pessimistic about it, but Garbo suggested Jenny D. look at the work an organization called No Excuses. It does look promising.