A new look at student performance…

A new look at student performance…

This article, reporting on the data of new hires at Google, should teach us a lesson.

Google is an expert in data collection, analysis, and the business of technology (which is pretty much the future of the modern world’s economic growth and is still barely mentioned in any school curriculum). They’ve reported that a new hire’s GPA and their success on Google’s legendary in-interview brain-teasers are NOT predictive of job performance.

Further, another study that I’ve just learned of shows that there is a score threshold for predicting success in scientific subjects, specifically math and physics, that does not exist in any other test for any other major. So maybe standardized tests are great… but only for technically minded students.

How long will it take us to integrate this new information into the way we educate our children? Considering the current stagnation of progressive, forward-thinking policy shifts, it will probably take decades.

Let’s just consider the possibility of breaking the strict guidelines of our current curriculum, allowing students to express their interests and creativity in an environment that fosters ideas and the analyzation of current events and breakthroughs. I would never suggest removing all levels of testing and quality control measures like grades… but this continuous discussion of “accountability” (which is typically aimed squarely at teachers) should start being refocused onto the policy maneuvers that brought us to the deficiencies we witness in our public education system.

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Testing in Education: An Identity Crisis

Testing in Education: An Identity Crisis

Are you for success of the whole? Or success of the individual? Is there a way to measure both, or just one?

Is education the filling of a bucket? Or the ignition of a flame? Obviously the amount that is in the bucket would be an easy measurement, but what about the “motivation” to increase the size of your bucket? How do you measure that?

Academia, bureaucracy, analytics, statistics, and democracy are all biased against the individual in favor of the collective, incremental good. But does collective, incremental improvement create happiness for the individual?

Are collective, incremental gains concurrent with the goal of education or is education a more personal, individual mission? In education, are we filling of the bucket or are we defining the bucket? Is it possible that conformity and standardization are extinguishing the flame of motivation as a byproduct?

This bias towards systematizing our schools is inherent in the modernization of the nation’s education. Individual differences are smoothed out by numbers and the students’ “superfluous,” individualized interests are left superfluous. The opportunities to create inspiration and ignite motivation are rarely measurable. What is the metric for inspiration?

Is this a defeat of spirit?

In psychometrics classes, large numbers and extensive sampling are necessary. Individuals are carefully conceptualized before all tests are administered, but sometimes the validity of the test isn’t well-known until the test has already been taken. Education gap wideningIn a normal high school history class, tests are content-driven and highly specific inquiries about the contents of your bucket. While in a job interview, the applicant is supposed to “stand out” and be a “special” graduate of the content-specific combine, i.e. their college and major.

Troubleshooting this dichotomy is a losing effort. These two processes of ordering achievement negate one another. Teachers are being forced into administering the contents that are allowed into the bucket, students are having the bucket poured over their heads, and the testing community is salivating over the NCLB-allocated government contracts.

The goal of hermeneutics is a humanist, idiosyncratic interpretation of one student while psychometrics assigns a model to our cognitive processes. Psychometrics includes “measurement” and cognitive “diagnosis” schemes that assert models of the average examinee’s content-specific thought processes. Human functions are implicitly algorithmic here, and the randomness and blurriness of higher-order processes, in effect the “humanity” of the individual, has been stripped because it can not be modeled with graphical analysis and Bayesian estimation. Variance cannot be eliminated from the human interactions that culminate in gaining an “education.” Algorithms cannot replace the teacher-student relationship.

Capitalism is an economic philosophy that lauds individual gains as a function of efficient supply chains, automation, and forecasting, i.e. systematization that streamlines productivity and profit for the few with the power to implement it. If we aren’t careful, the success of private equity hedging may influence the application of this perspective onto the nation’s education system.

Despite the fact that the natural order human beings evolved within, the current procedures for creating predictable results subverts spontaneity and subjugates nature into something repeatable and essentially unnatural. In contrast, babies emerge from the womb with eager eyes… learning to eat, crawl, walk, speak, run, jump, emote, share, etc. This natural urge for learning is then being confined to a classroom that is becoming more standardized… and to the child, it is rendered flavorless.

The problem is that a human being, whether you’re talking about the student or the teacher, will not go gently into that pre-packaged destiny. We must determine how to ignite their curiosity, give flavor to the content, learn from the data, and resist the temptation to eliminate the variance of the model.

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The NEW mathematical tools of Education Administration

The NEW mathematical tools of Education Administration

Research in education is finally approaching the next level, and judging by my graduate classes in statistics, we’re going to need some incredible brain power to use these new methodologies.

First and foremost on the VAM (Value-Added Modeling) for evaluating teachers, schools, and districts, the premiere tool is called HLM (Hierarchical Linear Modeling). To use this software reasonably well, you need about two courses in basic statistics, a course of linear regression, and another course of multi-level modeling. It’s a pain in the arse to interpret the numbers that come out of these models, but if you can do it, you can probably work for anyone from Operations Research departments to Goldman Sachs. As a quick summary, if you input last year’s scores, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, race, parents’ education, etc. then you should be able to predict a student’s score the following year. In companies if you plot the productivity vs. sick days used, chances are you’ll see a relationship in the data. If you’re working through multi-level regression work, I’ve found these resources that carried me through a few homework assignments as well as a midterm:

Multilevel Regression Modeling Resources

Probability has also become a major focal point for estimating how random characteristics of schools, teachers, and students can be modeled. For a great introduction to probability theory, Ross is the major book that all beginners seem to find the most appropriate:A First Course in Probability (8th Edition). The major takeaway from probability theory is the “probability distribution.” For the best possible overview of the interconnectedness of this (insanely) difficult topic (well, at first…), this paper is a beautiful graphical organizer. Anyone who begins this little tumble down the rabbit hole will also be drawn to Bayesian Data Analysis. You’ll also probably need to get a good grip on R (the programming language) as well… So, if this is you and you’re trying to figure out this mess of Bayesian analysis (also related to Artificial Intelligence, Neural Networks, and forecasting), you’ll probably want this book with the cute little puppies on the front:

Finally, IRT (also known as Item Response Theory) is how they grade the SATs. CDM (Cognitive Diagnosis Modeling) is an evolution of IRT and is the umbrella concept of the multifaceted models that have arisen to explain the ways we can test for specific skills. It is extremely complex and requires algorithms such as the Expectation-Maximization Method or Maximum Likelihook methods (which again, require insane amounts of statistics training in probability and inference).

If you’re looking into developing a strong program in statistical analysis in education, this is your foundation. Policy and management aside, this is how to extract the data that is required to make policy arguments. If your superintendent isn’t aware of these tools, it’s time to go to a board meeting.

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Who can change policy?

Who can change policy?

College work is in full swing.

(hilarious as I’m turning 34… am I smart or stupid? Will my wife still love me when it’s over?)

As I re-engage my creative mind within the collegiate terra firma of mental fertility, there is one glaring detail that lingers on the horizon as I simultaneously beseech myself to stay abreast of the national epidemic of political gridlock:

There is no shortage of interesting ideas!

Seriously… I hear good ideas everyday. Very few of them should be implemented with 100% faith and ubiquity, but they should be attempted nonetheless.

The Chicago teachers’ strike is a very good example of the final compromise that could have been entertained months ago while the details of the “initial” teacher assessment model could have been fine-tuned through the collaboration of the union AND the mayor’s office. If one employs the “golden axiom of social intelligence” [We are smarter than I] a successful strategy would reveal itself with minimal energy:

  1. Collaboratively discuss theoretical model that may prove accurate.
  2. Make predictions.
  3. Strategize implementation to answer the questions of BOTH parties (the union AND the administration).
  4. Implement for a provisional year.
  5. Employ third party expertise to THOROUGHLY analyze results.
  6. Present results to both parties and meet collaboratively to discuss & critique. Compare with predictions.
  7. Renegotiate steps 1, 2, & 3 before implementing within policy.

Mutual respect and mutual goals should be the new paradigm for local, state, and federal policy. When we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, we can finally have the open mind to attempt collaborative solutions.

A closing note: one interesting consequence of collaboration is the revelation of selfish spearheads of personal belief. Ardent figureheads of unyielding ideas are of more danger to our communal benefit than those who are willing to compromise. If democracy is a sacred idea, we must reduce the power of metaphoric monarchs. The union president doesn’t always support EACH of its members and the superintendent’s policy is RARELY a result of administrative consensus.

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A Modern Education

A Modern Education

There are a litany of modern skills that are passing directly over the heads of our current public schools.

If you’re reading this, you’re already using one mode of modern communication that is definitely used in modern classrooms, yet the mechanism of its use is rarely touched upon. The modern teacher often struggles with educating students on plagiarism and proper citations of wikipedia, but they would be highly unusual if they displayed the knowledge of using hyperlinks, blogging software, and search engine optimization. My ability to post my thoughts on this webpage is a product of modern technology and software of which few of my friends are even literate. Yet the basics of digital communication are being taught in first grade schools in such countries as India, China, South Korea, and even ESTONIA. But why not the United States?

Here, innovation is a significant piece of the economic puzzle but it is also necessary for us to advance the goals of education considering that the world’s technological changes are happening so quickly while our American schools’ curricula have been at a near standstill for 120 years. Globalization is requiring aggregate research, a larger pool of statistics, adaptive communication, fluency in data interpretation, and a modern concept of the word “social.” Yet most teachers would scoff at this skill set, demanding that students receive a traditional “encompassing” view of segmented subjects such as English and American literary classics, American history, mathematics, science, physical education, and a foreign language. They will rarely connect the literature with history, mathematics with science, and technology is utterly absent. Physical education glosses over nutrition and anatomy, and emotional health is a laugh among most gym teachers. And let’s not even get started on foreign languages and the kind of pseudo-patriotism in this country. Nor will I even attempt to opine over the legislation of Creationism in today’s biology classes. Euthanasia will surely follow.

Under the “globalization” foundation of our future, I will expound upon one single word that is evolving so rapidly that most academics are struggling to keep pace with both the definition of it, as well as the technology of it. This word is “SOCIAL.”

Social sciences have rarely been treated as “science.” If it were, the typical quotes such as, “the winner writes the history books” wouldn’t exist. Qualitative interpretations of historical texts and census data usually usurp the type of cause & effect logic that governs quantitative analysis. But in the last 20 years our scientists have begun to demonstrate that social behavior is consistent with neurology, that emotional response hinders neurological function, and that rapport is chemical!

Despite these sociological breakthroughs, the word “Social” is also a new underpinning of the most expansive communication platform on the planet, the internet. We are using “social media” and “social networking” in ways that most of the world could have never dreamed… in business, in journalism, in education, and even acdemics.

I started The MUNIVERSITY with the goal of teaching the modern ideas of “Social Intelligence,” starting from the students’ understanding of interpersonal skills, and then expanding their personal sphere of networking & influence and extending their mastered sense of personal communication into the technological sphere of the internet.

If you’d like to stay connected to The MUNIVERSITY and use some of our resources for your own benefit or use, sign up for our free newsletter and our forum!

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