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Deselection of the Bottom 8%: Lessons from Eugenics for Modern School Reform

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, to prevent our being swamped with incompetence.

Oliver Wendell Holmes (1927)

The majority of our teachers are hardworking and effective. But the previous estimates point clearly to the key imperative of eliminating the drag of the bottom teachers.

Eric Hanushek (2011)

One common strain of modern education reform has a direct, yet familiar logic: An education crisis persists despite more spending, smaller classes, or curricular changes. We have ignored the major cause of student achievement: teacher quality. Seniority and tenure have diluted the pool of talented teachers and impeded student learning. Reformers such as Michelle Rhee have acted on this assumption, implementing test-based accountability measures, merit pay, and lesser job protections. Unfortunately, the current educational reform movement shares its logic with the early-twentieth-century American eugenics movement, which in efforts to improve our gene pool, wrote a horrific chapter in our history.

In suggesting this provocative comparison, I hope to guide readers through three shared errors. Both eugenics and modern school reform view education too deterministically, share a faith in standardized tests, and exaggerate the fixedness of traits. Considering this comparison requires a reconsideration of early eugenics, not as merely precursors to Nazis, but as an optimistic and Progressive movement. What is now disdained as pseudoscientific racism was once widely accepted. To learn from history, however, we must not dismiss our ancestors as evil or senseless. Recognizing the noble intentions of the past allows us to compare it to the present and find the same misguided assumptions about human nature.

Left: Oliver Wendell Holmes

What was eugenics? In the decades after Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species (1859) loud protests became acceptance, and many hoped to combine Darwin’s findings with newly re-discovered genetic mechanisms of inheritance. Scientific research satisfied a collective urge for deterministic explanations; if our genes determine our intelligence, our personalities, and our futures, this knowledge could be used to improve humanity. How could a society use these discoveries to improve livestock, but refuse to use them for the betterment of society?

The first error of the eugenicists, and of the school reformers, is a deterministic view of a complex and uncertain process. The eugenicists began with Darwin’s animal models and findings that diseases run in families and jumped to the conclusion that genes determine everything from criminality to genius. Today’s school reformers begin with the finding that the teacher is the relatively largest in-school predictor of academic achievement as measured by test scores, and quickly jump to: ". . . the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher." Without a doubt, teachers matter. But to argue that a child’s teacher is the single most important factor in school success writ large is an unsupported leap from suggesting that certain test scores are more influenced by good teaching than by other conveniently measured variables.

If good genes singly cause success, and good teachers are responsible for student learning, then how do we define "good"? Many eugenicists and school reformers dismiss the problem. Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton wrote, "There is a sufficient consensus of opinion as to what kind of human beings are desirable in an ideal state, so that we need not trouble ourselves about further details for some time to come." The school reformers agree: We all know the difference between a great teacher and a poor one; we can worry about the details later. A great teacher imparts great learning, a poor teacher doesn’t.

The second common error becomes apparent once the need arises to concretely measure quality. Both eugenics and modern school reform share an overabundant faith in standardization, and in testing in particular. Eugenics arose just as the first intelligence tests were being created. Stanford psychologist Lewis Terman, who adapted a pioneering French intelligence test into the IQ test, was an early supporter of eugenics. Many statistical techniques now used by Stanford economist Eric Hanushek to measure teacher quality through student achievement were invented by Francis Galton, Karl Pearson, and Raymond Cattell, all pioneers in intelligence testing, and often supporters of eugenics ideas. Of course, "achievement" is now used instead of intelligence, as if the tests are entirely different from intelligence tests of days past. The tests have changed, but the unbounded faith in testing has not.

Right: Alexander Graham Bell

I do not wish impugn the statistical techniques themselves, or doubt progress in measuring what we aim to measure. However, in each moment, a refinement of the science of testing has been mistaken for readiness to apply to public policy and specific individual cases. A strong general relationship between conveniently measurable variables becomes riddled with errors when applied to individual personnel decisions. As these tools leave the lab (or the economist’s model) and enter policy reality, the uncertainty magnifies the bias and corruption that science is supposed to prevent. Whether using early IQ tests to reject immigrants at Ellis Island, or using Value-Added Measures (VAM) scores to fire or reward teachers, policymakers convinced they are using the latest microscope, are later seen holding a distorted mirror.

The third error is a belief that important traits are fixed rather than changeable. Eugenics advocates regarded many human traits as fixed and hence sought to manage reproduction. Early supporters of eugenics began positively, by encouraging society’s winners. Galton’s book Hereditary Genius documented how genius ran in families, using the latest statistical techniques (some of which he invented; his contributions to statistics were impressive). "Positive" eugenics found acceptance among Progressives eager to use the tools of science improve their country’s future. Contests for "Fitter Families" and "Better Babies" were a staple at state fairs from 1915 through the 1920s. Another example of positive eugenics was a bonus (bankrolled by a conservative, segregationist organization) given to Air Corps officers. Some officers were offered a $4,000 bonus for fathering a child in 1940.

Although these relatively harmless positive eugenics efforts remained limited, negative eugenics became the most popular aspect of the eugenics movement, "successfully" promoting involuntary sterilization. Tens of thousands of poor women in mental institutions were involuntarily sterilized. In the Deep South, the "Mississippi appendectomy" was part of a systematic effort to reduce the "undesirable" population. These efforts were only accepted because of the premise of rigid and unchanging genetic traits (race, but also intelligence).

Left: Cynthia G. Brown, Secretary Arne Duncan, Kati Haycock and Mayor Michael Bloomberg by Ralph Alswang at Flickr.

 

School reformers are not so stark or broad. For example, involuntarily sterilization is different from telling someone to find another job. Further, overt racial resentment and competition is mostly absent from the current wave of education reform. But their writings and policies make it clear that reformers often regard good teaching as a permanent trait. This position is evident in the priorities of standard-bearer Teach for America, which places far more emphasis on recruitment and selection than on their five-week training program. Rhetoric that refers to "teacher talent" instead of "teaching effectiveness" reflects different assumptions about the possibility of improving teaching skills. These assumptions suggest improvement through performance bonuses and firing as opposed to support for training or classroom resources. Modern reform hopes to shape teacher selection, not behavior in the classroom. While suggesting "lowering barriers to entry" by reducing certification requirements, many reformers seek to improve the teacher corps through selection pressures, via increased competition from better teachers.

Both sets of reformers share good intentions. Just as many of the current school reformers consider themselves to be progressive, American eugenics was considered a progressive movement, and was often couched in terms of concern for the children and for the future of society. Like modern school reform, eugenics supporters included billionaire philanthropists (John D. Rockefeller), government luminaries (Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, President Theodore Roosevelt), non-profit activists (birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger), and eminent scientists (Alexander Graham Bell, Francis Galton, and several Nobel Prize winners).

Stephen Murdoch discusses IQ testing at Ellis Island:

 

I contend that policy efforts urgently focused on improving through selection, rather than supporting all who have chosen a profession, are doomed to fail. Despite confidence that we know the right people, and that science can reliably identify them, science has taken only small tentative steps using convenient measures. There is some genetic basis for intelligence. Teacher quality does matter. But the uncertainty and flexibility of both intelligence and teachers makes policy applications counterproductive. A few bold scientists, hoping to apply limited findings to solve social problems, make ridiculously confident assertions (e.g., "Getting rid of the bottom 8% of teachers would be worth 100 trillion dollars for our economy"). A few wealthy individuals, eager to use their fortunes for social good, support these assertions.

The three errors above are human errors, often stemming from sympathy and a desire to see a simple yet hidden lever to alleviate injustice in our society. We see a monster guarding that lever, behaving poorly as we try to move it. Yet despite our noble intentions, we will not be remembered as heroes or Supermen, striking down a monster. We will be not be saluted for our urgency. The monsters in our society are not unintelligent degenerates or teachers unions. When teachers are fired in front of crowded classrooms, escorted out by security guards, when standardized scores are printed in the newspaper to shame "ineffective" teachers, when we say that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, we will not be remembered for putting students first. When we agree that we need a dictator to slay those monsters keeping us from greatness, we are the monsters. And as our children get older, if they aren’t too busy taking a reading test to read a history book, they will look at us with uneasy shame and ask us why we didn’t do anything to stop it. :

About the Author: Cedar Riener is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Randolph-Macon College, where he teaches General Psychology, History of Psychology, as well as courses in Sensation and Perception. His academic research focuses on embodied perception, or the way in which the state of our body influences our perception of the world. He holds a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of Virginia and an A.B. in the History of Science from Harvard University. Several members of his family are teachers and involved in public education, which might explain his occasional lapses from scientific detachment into passionate advocacy for the profession of teaching. He blogs at Cedar’s Digest and can be found on Twitter (@criener)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Comments 19 Comments

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  1. 1. CM doran 9:51 am 07/19/2011

    Interesting. There is also student quality and parent quality.

    Wouldn’t it help all of us to raise up the underperforming students and parents? How to do this without being "arrogant" and "targeting" certain groups?

    Each child deserves a great teacher, but education begins at home, with each baby. I feel that many give up–it is much easier in the short-term, but long term–disastrous.

    What is the answer?

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  2. 2. Archimedes 10:06 am 07/19/2011

    The USA has, since the revolution of the late 1960′s and early 1970′s, changed from a society based upon republican ideals to one based upon Orwellian, authoritarian, and Machiavellian ideals. The educational system has been included in this dysfunctional radicalism with has resulted in the catastrophic decline in our educational system. Rejecting republican norms, the separate and equal status of the individual, the basis of the American Revolution, the basis of the Age of Reason, and the basis Age of Enlightenment, the same has led the education system into a new "Dark Ages" in which reason, self respect, and respect for the rights of others are replaced by political, social, cultural, and economic dogmatism and oppression.

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  3. 3. GeekStatus 10:23 am 07/19/2011

    Why are you comparing eugenics to school reform? Its apples and oranges. Its a nature vs nurture argument.

    Eugenics is very effective at increasing desirable traits. See dog breeding. I don’t exactly agree with eugenics, but not because its ineffective at its intended goals. You seem to be using that stigma to sensationalize a biased school reform article.

    Why is this on SciAm anyway?

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  4. 4. rationalrevolution 11:05 am 07/19/2011

    Great article, I just wanted to note that Darwin himself held anti-eugenic views and in fact went to great pains to say that culture played a larger role in the development of people’s abilities than biology did. See my article here:

    The Misportrayal of Darwin as a Racist:
    http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/darwin_nazism.htm

    But on the major subject of education reform, yes, spot on.

    I see much of the "education reform" movement, especially the teacher focus, as a means of shifting attention away from the broader societal factors that have the much bigger impacts on individual development and student achievement. Yes, we should all want good teachers, but the fact is that teachers ARE NOT the primary driver of student achievement, economic and family factors are. It’s much easier to blame teachers than it is to fix the growing economic inequality that is largely at the root of student achievement issues, especially when so many of those promoting the "reforms" are themselves the super-rich…

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  5. 5. benwade 12:03 pm 07/19/2011

    While I would ordinarily agree with anyone who points out the inability of politician to compose clear, meaningful, and correctly targeted laws, your argument consists of a series of "straw man" arguments. For anyone unfamiliar with the term, a "straw man" argument is type of fallacious argument based on a misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To "attack a straw man" is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by replacing it with a superficially similar yet unequivalent proposition, and refuting that proposition rather than refuting the original position. The only thing the author left unsaid is that people who advocate that some, obviously incompetent, teachers be fired, is to call them Nazis.

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  6. 6. criener 12:34 pm 07/19/2011

    Which of my three arguments is a straw man?

    I tried to quote and link to the actual arguments that school reformers have made.

    Do Value Added metrics actually work? Are they consistent and valid?

    I understand what is a straw man, but I tried to be very specific in exactly how I think eugenics and these particular approaches to school reform are related.
    I agree with your distaste for straw man arguments, but I think analogies are merited if one is explicit about the dimensions one is comparing. If you disagree with how I have described these school reformers, please feel free to tell me. I am pretty familiar with Michelle Rhee’s tenure in DC, and with the actions she took. Where is the sophistication that I am missing?

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  7. 7. criener 12:38 pm 07/19/2011

    I agree that education begins at home, and very early.
    I am in favor of greater funding for early childhood education. I don’t think there is one solution, but I think as a general rule, the more that we target social programs to everybody, the better they will be. I think universal pre-K has a better chance of being a better program than two separate pre-K’s, one for the have’s and one for the have-nots (which is more or less what we have now).

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  8. 8. criener 12:40 pm 07/19/2011

    The problem is that it is not as easy to define "desirable traits" for people as it is for pea plants or poodles.
    I think it is on Sci Am because this is partly a history of science story, and partly a matter of misinterpretation of current scientific evidence.

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  9. 9. benwade 6:58 pm 07/19/2011

    Hello Mr. Riener,
    First, let me say that I am honored that you took the time to address my comment personally. Secondly, I should state my own biases. I am a parent and my concerns naturally lie with the quality of education my child receives. Further, my parenthood is still rather new to me, and I only recently have had an opportunity to be actively involved in my child’s education. This “new” parenthood has made me very dissatisfied with the educational system generally, and with the quality of some of the teachers specifically.

    You ask, “Which of my three arguments is a straw man?” While I mean no offense, I would have to say that the entire article consists of a series of attempts to contrast and compare to very different things. In the opening to your blog entry, you quote Oliver Wendell Holmes (a very distant cousin of mine) in his statement in favor in support of eugenics, and then attempt to liken his statement to that of Mr. Hanushek. The only real point of similarity between the statements of these learned gentlemen is the fact that they both state the obvious: that people who do a bad job, either as a parent or as a teacher, are costly to society. The differences between the two statements are overarching. Mr. Holmes wrote in support of performing a forced surgical procedure upon a, now, protected class. Mr. Hanushek’s unstated remedy is probably far less traumatic. Although I do not know what remedy he espouses, I would be willing to bet that it would require poor teachers to find new employment. How different are these statements? We now hold that everyone has the right to reproduce no matter how poor a parent they may be. We do not yet explicitly state that everyone has a right to their job, no matter how bad they are at it.
    I could go on for pages, but I think that since I begin to identify the straw man fallacy in your opening remarks, I think that to go on would belabor the obvious. I will however make on addition statement. You note, “The second common error becomes apparent once the need arises to concretely measure quality. Both eugenics and modern school reform share an overabundant faith in standardization, and in testing in particular.”

    As it happens I have been involved in healthcare quality improvement for years. Similar objections have been raised for years by physicians as their private enclaves have been invaded by people they see as attempting to divorce the art from the art and science of medicine. They have pointed correctly, as have you, to the problems and limitations of standardized measures of quality. While I agree that developing standards by which to measure quality is extremely difficult and error prone, it can be done. Further, a very legitimate question that springs to mind is: if you refuse to develop standards to determine efficacy, then what do you do? Hope and pray that your doctor knows what she’s doing as she cuts into you? Likewise, what are our options as parents if we as a society refuse to acknowledge that some people are better teachers than others?

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  10. 10. benwade 7:10 pm 07/19/2011

    In both cases we as a society have said in effect, "Stop. We have to figure out some way of determining which doctor (or teacher, or nurse, or pilot) is a good and safe practitioner, and who is not." While we do no fire doctors, nurses, and pilots, we do suspend their licenses. This is neither unreasonable nor impossible. Neither is it draconian or a product of inflexible thinking. It is the only moral response to a situation in which one person, a professional, holds other peoples’ live in their hands. If you think that teachers don’t hold their students lives in their hands, then I must respectfully disagree.

    My apologies for the grammatical and spelling errors, but I just pounded this out. I look forward to your response.

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  11. 11. criener 7:43 pm 07/19/2011

    Thanks for responding. I know the post is provocative and offensive to some, but I genuinely want to engage with people who disagree with me.
    I am also a parent, and went to some of the public schools that are being "reformed" and my father still teaches there. While I think it is best to couch our language in data and evidence, I do have considerable personal stake in the matter, as well as passionate opinions.
    As far as the analogy with healthcare, I can see the resistance to measurement that you refer to. I would be in favor of some of the reforms that Atul Gawande mentions in The Checklist. Pilots similarly were against checklists and measurement in their profession. I think those differ from teaching in that the reform debate takes place in the context of a larger respect for their profession. Doctors have grand rounds and many hospitals have systems in place for learning from mistakes. We don’t have crude metrics punishing cancer wards for death rates compared to pediatric outpatient clinics, and we allow individual hospitals a lot of leeway in deciding how to address their "achievement gaps." Ok, maybe some doctors will disagree, but this is not coming from politicians at the local, state, or federal level as it is from profit-minded hospital administrators.

    To address your first point, you are right that I was being provocative and taking some literary license in comparing Holmes with Hanushek. I thought that I tried to constrain this by outlining exactly how I was comparing them. You are right that the control over ones own reproduction is not the same as a job (which I thought I addressed in a later paragraph). But the rationale behind eliminating the "bottom 8%" is strikingly similar to me. First, it costs society to ignore them. Second, we can identify them with standardized tests. Third, that they can’t be meaningfully improved. I see this train of logic as similar.

    I’ll add that we do fire teachers, just as we suspend licenses, for similar infractions. But they go through a process just as the others do. Current reforms suggest that we need to fire more teachers, based on test scores, not malfeasance. I disagree.

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  12. 12. tabeles 8:11 pm 07/19/2011

    Buried in this posting is what might be seen as a hidden agenda, Teach for America which the author would see as using some "eugenics" criteria as more important than the training these individuals receive before entering the classroom. It is the standard argument by those who have suffered through teacher education curricula to become certified. What is forgotten is that most of those selected by TFA are required to take the same persiflage that currently licensed teachers had to suffer through and teach. Additionally, they are probably better supported by TFA and peers than those licensed faculty.

    What the author also neglects is the recent recommendations of the NCATE Blue Ribbon panel which might be seen to support the TFA teaching of teachers approach. Furthermore, the author is reluctant to even suggest that there are persons in the classroom who definitely should not be there regardless of rank and time in grade. One might believe that the blog is a union argument wrapped in academic rhetoric.

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  13. 13. criener 8:50 pm 07/19/2011

    @tabeles Thanks for commenting, and for teaching me a new word. Persiflage: -noun 2. a frivolous or flippant style of treating a subject.
    My argument against Teach for America as a scalable solution for solving education problems (the article linked expands upon this) is:
    First, they focus on selection, rather than training. I am sure that their 5 week program is rigorous and well-designed, but I am highly skeptical of any 5 weeks outside of a classroom is going to be better than 4 years inside a classroom. If TFA supports their teachers for the (often limited) time they are in the classroom, great for them. We should do more of that in the public system. I am all for more support and mentorship in the classroom, and I don’t think the current ed school/training and certification process status quo is perfect. But I don’t think the problem is a shortage of freshly graduated Ivy Leaguers.

    Thanks for the referral to the NCATE Blue Ribbon panel report. Much of that sounds good to me, especially the emphasis on clinical practice:
    <blockquote>
    The reward structure in academe and P-12 schools’ staffing models must shift to value learning to teach, and to support placing clinical practice at the center of teacher preparation. The current practice of supervision of student teachers in schools now is typically assigned to a teacher as extra work, usually with no training, support, or changes in schedule. Schools need to adopt a new staffing model patterned after medical preparation, in which teachers, mentors and coaches, and teacher interns and residents work together as part of teams.
    </blockquote>
    I don’t see how this is a TFA-style approach.

    I am in favor of the professionalization of teaching (see Howard Gardner’s op ed in NYT today). If I thought TFA was involved in that project, I would support them. Unfortunately, when I see TFA advertising that its alums have the inside track with <a href="http://www.teachforamerica.org/after-the-corps/employer-partnerships/goldman-sachs/">Goldman Sachs</a> that doesn’t convince me that they want to promote teaching as a career and a profession.
    If this is seen as a pro-union argument, so be it. I am no defender of Barbara Bullock (corrupt DCPS union head), but I just don’t see unions as the elephant in the room of any education debate. There are lots of bigger elephants.
    I did a follow up post on <a href="http://cedarsdigest.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/charges-of-edu-nihilism/">my blog</a> about ed reform I am in favor of, if you are still interested.

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  14. 14. vnsharma 9:42 pm 07/19/2011

    The Article followed by the comments is interesting in the sense that downward jiourney is accepted by them all. Americans as usual fail to understand that their society is taking a downward journey on Education and everything else because of their single direction journey towards making more and more Money and ever increasing Consumerist Culture. The Greed is the word. But a very simple understand on Limits to development and limits to Consumerism should have given them understanding of the corrected path.

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  15. 15. BenRiley 9:58 am 07/20/2011

    There are three reasons I find this article offensive, misguided and ironic.

    First, as commenter Benwade rightly points out, your analogy equating the modern education-reform movement to the turn-of-century eugenics is a straw man, one designed to inflame the passions rather than stimulate reasoned debate. Sprinkled throughout your post are references to Nazis, forced sterilizations, and genetic screening, with the obvious intent of suggesting (subtly) that ed reformers have similar ends in mind. You’ve stolen a page right out of the Willie Horton guilt-by-association playbook, which is why I mercilessly excoriated you on Twitter yesterday. And sentences such as "overt racial resentment and competition is mostly absent from the current wave of education reform" hardly absolve you from blame. "Mostly?"

    Second, your argument is based on the misguided premise that ed reformers believe "good teaching [is] a permanent trait." In fact, the very opposite is true. Organizations such as Teacher U (now Relay), The New Teacher Project, Urban Teacher Center, Academy of Urban Leadership, Urban Education Institute at U. Chicago, and MATCH Public Charter School all devote extensive time, money and effort into teacher training. Like TFA, all use selectivity in determining admission to their program in the hopes of attracting the best and brightest into the profession. Virtually every other country that scores highly on international education assessments, including Finland, Japan, Singapore, and Canada, also use selectivity — combined with clinical training and ongoing professional support — to improve teaching quality. If you think that ed reformers believe the ability to teach is based on some innate quality, you’ll need more than your single reference to TFA to back that claim up.

    Finally, the deep irony of your post is that, to the extent that we have anything to learn from the eugenics movement when it comes to modern education reform, it’s that we should never assume that our fates are predestined by factors outside our control. There are many who decry reform efforts on the grounds that a single school or teacher cannot be expected to "overcome poverty." And yet, every day, there are thousands of schools and teachers proving that children who come from the roughest of neighborhoods, with every odd stacked against them, are capable of succeeding academically and living a healthy, productive, happy life. You may disagree with our methods, but to imply we are modern-day eugenicists? Well, shame on you.

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  16. 16. criener 8:57 pm 07/20/2011

    Mr. Riley, thanks for commenting here, I gave up on the twitter conversation because it was too hard to fit into 140 char chunks.
    First, I can agree that if I had just made an analogy from Hanushek to Holmes, and left it at that, that it would have been a strawman. But I tried to identify precisely the limits and logic of my historical analogy. I didn’t "sprinkle" references to Nazi-ism, I made a systematic and structured argument based on as much evidence as I could reasonably link to in a guest blog post. If you feel that all eugenics was evil, all eugenicists were just as evil as Nazis, and that was the analogy I was trying to make, then my piece clearly failed to make clear its aims. I apologize for that. My intention was to first attempt to humanize the eugenics movement, not merely as a group of racists with flimsy evidence and ideological fervor. I did not elaborate on the optimism or the Progressivism of the early eugenicists, but it was there. The precursor of the IQ test was designed (by Pierre Binet) when France began a push for universal schooling, and wanted to make sure that the school was not simply sorted along class lines. These scientists believed that an intelligence test would be better than relying on teachers or parents, who might simply place rich kids in advanced classes and poor kids in lower ones. What they didn’t realize was that their "objective" test was biased as well.
    Regarding my first point: that some ed reformers have an overly simple view of a complex process. The quote in the middle of that paragraph is from "How to Fix our Schools: a manifesto from Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee and other school leaders." For something titled a manifesto, it is remarkably brief and focused. I don’t think this is cherry picking reformers that are somehow fringe, the list of signatories is long and representative.
    Another sentence from that manifesto gets to my second point: "let’s stop pretending that everyone who goes into the classroom has the ability and temperament to lift our children to excellence." As a cognitive psychologist, I may be overly sensitive to this language
    , but when I see words like "ability" and "temperament," I I assume the author is referring to stable, trait-like qualities. The authors could have chosen words such as "training," "expertise," "experience," or even "desire" which would have indicated more flexibility. They did not (in fact, they deliberately contrasted it with training, as in- "training is all well and good, but some are hopeless").

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  17. 17. criener 9:44 pm 07/20/2011

    (cont’d)
    Regarding the "mostly" clear of racial resentment, sentence, you are right, that was a cheap shot. I was remembering a Richard Whitmire piece in the Puffington Host where he implied that DC African Americans let their race pride blind them from appreciating Michelle Rhee getting rid of corrupt and incompetent DCPS workers who Marion Barry hired as political patronage. Whitmire was asserting that the children of these African Americans parents would have been better off letting Rhee clean house of their incompetent brethren, but they chose to defend their friends’ jobs rather than their children’s future. Grr. But Whitmire, despite being Michelle Rhee’s biographer, is hardly a representative reformer, so I should have left that "mostly" out.
    Regarding your claim that Finland and Japan use selectivity, I agree. I responded (after I recovered from the excoriation, of course) that they mostly use selectivity (rather than de-selectivity) and they do so within the context of a respected and supported profession. I think this is quite different than what, for example, Michelle Rhee was trying to do in DC. I am not arguing against selecting teachers. Obviously, if 10 people apply for a job, you have to use some criteria to hire one. But I think when we hire 5 of those ten, and 2-3 quit teaching within 5 years, we should not be focusing on firing 1 of the remaining 2-3, or selecting a better 5 of the 10, or even expanding the 10 to 20 by doubling the salary. The way that we get 50-100 people applying to teach (the way they do in Finland, the way we do in college teaching) is by making the job itself less draining and more supportive of teachers developing expertise and practical wisdom.
    Finally, the lesson from eugenics is absolutely NOT "we should never assume that our fates are predestined by factors outside our control." "Factors outside out control don’t control our destiny" makes a great tagline for a self-help book, but you don’t need to know anything about eugenics to conclude that.
    I am all for "overcoming poverty," but I think to do that we have to be realistic about the effects of poverty, and not game the numbers.
    Your last comment bothers me for it implies about experienced teachers who are against this brand of ed reform. They have devoted their lives to education, many in the urban schools being reformed. Does their doubt about the miraculous effects of a few charter schools imply that they despair of the poverty-overwhelming possibilities of their own life’s work?

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  18. 18. storyoualid 6:28 pm 01/25/2012

    Buried in this posting is what might be seen as a hidden agenda, Teach for America which the author would see as using some “eugenics” criteria as more important than the training these individuals receive before entering the classroom. It is the standard argument by those who have suffered through teacher education curricula to become certified. What is forgotten is that most of those selected by TFA are required to take the same persiflage that currently licensed teachers had to suffer through and teach. Additionally, they are probably better supported by TFA and peers than those licensed faculty.
    قصص اطفال

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  19. 19. storyoualid 8:19 pm 07/27/2012

    Mr. Riley, thanks for commenting here, I gave up on the twitter conversation because it was too hard to fit into 140 char chunks.
    First, I can agree that if I had just made an analogy from Hanushek to Holmes, and left it at that, that it would have been a strawman. But I tried to identify precisely the limits and logic of my historical analogy. I didn’t “sprinkle” references to Nazi-ism, I made a systematic and structured argument based on as much evidence as I could reasonably link to in a guest blog post. If you feel that all eugenics was evil, all eugenicists were just as evil as Nazis, and that was the analogy I was trying to make, then my piece clearly failed to make clear its aims. I apologize for that. My intention was to first attempt to humanize the eugenics movement, not merely as a group of racists with flimsy evidence and ideological fervor. I did not elaborate on the optimism or the Progressivism of the early eugenicists, but it was there. The precursor of the IQ test was designed (by Pierre Binet) when France began a push for universal schooling, and wanted to make sure that the school was not simply sorted along class lines. These scientists believed that an intelligence test would be better than relying on teachers or parents, who might simply place rich kids in advanced classes and poor kids in lower ones. What they didn’t realize was that their “objective” test was biased as well.
    http://medicinetherapy.blogspot.com/

    Link to this

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