"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Truth Doesn't Need Your Approval

John Calvin denounced Nicolaus Copernicus for saying that the Earth moved around the Sun. Calvin claimed that it was the Sun which moved.

We know now that the Earth, along with the other planets, asteroids, comets and other rocks and ice balls of various and sundry sizes (including the dwarf planet Pluto) do, indeed, orbit the Sun. The fact that early church leaders didn't believe it, didn't make it untrue. The Earth was steadily and quietly orbiting around the Sun all during the arguments in the 16th century (and earlier).

Anti-science/anti-intellectual arguments are still with us today...more than a third of all American don't "believe in" evolution (some recent surveys have claimed that the number of those not believing in evolution is higher...approaching half of all Americans, but those numbers may be skewed). Almost a fifth of all Americans deny that the world's climate is changing.

There is a large anti-science feeling in the US...a feeling that science is not reliable - probably due to the fact that as the findings change, so does science. The average person might see that as meaning that science is unreliable...as opposed to self-correcting.

This isn't new to the United States. Anti-intellectualism has been here for a long time. Isaac Asimov wrote
Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'
Asimov's position on this was obvious. Just because a free society allows people to have false ideas doesn't mean that we should, as a society, accept those false ideas as valid.

Sometimes the anti-science attitude comes from the government and the business community. Take one of the main conflict areas in the recent Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike -- Value Added Measures (VAM) as part of a teachers evaluation process.

Illinois state law requires that at least 30% of a teacher's evaluation must be determined by student progress -- clearly referring to standardized tests. Illinois is not the only state with that requirement, though. Dozens of states (including my home, Indiana) have jumped on the "use standardized tests to evaluate teachers" bandwagon. To be fair...many only did so in order to qualify for federal money from the Administration's Race to the Top program.

The CTU claimed, however, that those sorts of evaluations weren't valid.

Valerie Strauss agreed.
The [New York] Times can say that using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers is a sensible policy and Obama can say it and Education Secretary Arne Duncan can say it and Emanuel can say it and so can Bill Gates (who has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop it) and governors and mayor[s] from both parties, and heck, anybody can go ahead and shout it out as loud as they can.

It doesn’t make it true.
No amount of support for VAM based teacher evaluations changes the fact that researchers have found the method to be unreliable.

A group of Chicago area researchers objected when Mayor Emanuel came out with his plan to evaluate teachers using the method, and they urged restraint and caution. In Misconceptions and Realities about Teacher and Principal Evaluation the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE) wrote
Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth. Using them to measure the latter is akin to using a meter stick to weigh a person: you might be able to develop a formula that links height and weight, but there will be plenty of error in your calculations.
A similar objection was written by researchers in Georgia. The Georgia Researchers, Educators and Advocates for Teacher Evaluation Reform said
No evidence exists that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement...Testing companies themselves advise against the use of their instruments to evaluate educators...Assessments designed to evaluate student learning are not necessarily valid for measuring teacher effectiveness or student learning growth...
These researchers are joined by the National Research Council. Strauss notes in her article,
The National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academies, which include the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, issued a major report last year on this issue that said:
The standardized test scores that have been trumpeted to show improvement in the schools provide limited information about the causes of improvements or variability in student performance.This would be true, presumably, for any school system that use standardized tests as a measure of achievement.
In other words, using students' standardized test scores to evaluate a teachers effectiveness in the classroom is bad science. The real research shows that those methods are incorrect usages of standardized tests and they are unfair to students and teachers, and anyone else involved, including parents, communities and local governments. Just because you want something to work a certain way doesn't mean it does. Good science suggests that we not use these methods for teacher evaluation until they have been shown to be reliable and valid.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson said "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
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Stop the Testing Insanity!


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