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Quotes of the Day

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GarthHarries.jpg
Call me old fashioned and curmudgeonly, but I can't stand it when the wonks break out in a "research shows" chorus with no references. If research so valiantly and definitively shows it, you should be able to tell us whose research shows it.

The quote of the day is a tie; both quotes hail from the Teachers College forum on class size this afternoon.

1) In introducing NYC Department of Education's Garth Harries, who is the "Chief Portfolio Officer" and the former "engagement manager" at McKinsey, TC prof Carolyn Riehl said, "These titles - we usually don't think about them in education - so I'm sure it makes for some great cocktail party conversation."

2) After Harries spoke at length about how the effect of teacher quality is much larger than the effect of reduced class size, an audience member asked him to cite some studies supporting this claim. Harries replied, "Uh, I can't quote to you on what the research is, but I can (pause) get it to you." Research shows!

For a paper on teacher effects using the STAR data, see "How Large are Teacher Effects?"
6 Comments

How could the Chief Portfolio Officer of the NYC DOE cite research when he is an MBA, not a researcher? Like everyone else in the top layer of the city's Department of Education, he knows nothing about research or teaching.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but I'd draw a distinction between policymakers and policy wonks. I'm more tolerant of policymakers being generally aware of the research findings in an area, but not being able to cite chapter and verse. That's wholly consistent with the "enlightenment" model of the relationship between research and policy espoused by Carol Weiss and others, where the point is not that any one study can serve as the definitive word on an issue, but rather that over time, research on a topic accumulates in a way that informs how policymakers frame problems and potential solutions. In contrast, I do expect policy wonks who are "selling" policies in an entrepreneurial way to have a very good grasp of the relevant research literature. Someone like Harries could be viewed as a policymaker -- but if he's saying, "Here's how we do it here, and you should do it this way too!" I'd say he's crossing the line into policy wonk, and holding him to the higher standard is perfectly appropriate.

And hey, eduwonkette, I thought I had the curmudgeon market cornered on this blog!

Ah, it's like the elusive "They" often cited at my schools, as in, "They say that students with ADHD need medication." Who the heck is "They" and how do I become a part of it so I can espouse my opinion as fact?

In the era of data-driven decision making, it would be nice to have some actual data. That is why educational bandwagon ideas get zillions of dollars* funded and my schools are struggling to get basic supplies.

*note delicious irony: I have no data to support my claim.

I was the one who asked Harries about the studies about teacher quality (funny, but I didn't see anyone there with a little mask). I also asked him to tell us what factors are being used to determine TQ other than test scores of their kids. He said that the issue of what makes up TQ is a hard question. So much for the research on TQ, which anti-class size propagandists are bandying about to justify their case. It's interesting how they all scoff at the concept of coming up with the money to reduce class size but don't do much scoffing when 200 billion materializes for Bear Stearns or a trillion magically appears for a war. (Did they say it shouldn't be fought until enough quality soldiers are found?)

That's not exactly what the research says. Clive Belfield, who's an economist, made an interesting case at AERA that raising teachers' salaries by 10% would be more cost-effective than reducing class size for all elementary students. The effect was indirect: increased salaries would attract and retain more good teachers. He wasn't suggesting that no money be spent, just that it should be spent on salary increases rather than class size reduction.

The trouble -- from a policy-maker on the ground point of view -- with the "raise salaries instead of reducing class size" approach is that the time scale for effectiveness is long.

If you're a district with below average salaries you may get better results in the short term with a salary boost -- you'll get/keep good teachers who would otherwise go elsewhere.

But for increased salaries to be effective on a large scale you have to wait for its marginal effect on teachers making decisions about entering or leaving the profession to accumulate into a meaningful difference in teacher quality.

In constrast, money spent reducing class size gives you smaller classes right now.

Also -- again from a policy-maker on the ground perspective -- lower class size appears (rightly or wrongly) to be a key indicator of educational quality to many parents. If you're a district where voter approval matters, reduced class size is more appealing than increased teacher salaries -- though my sense is that a growing number of voters recognize that teachers are underpaid compared to similar professions.

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  • Rachel: The trouble -- from a policy-maker on the ground point read more
  • DW: That's not exactly what the research says. Clive Belfield, who's read more
  • Norm: I was the one who asked Harries about the studies read more
  • Rebecca: Ah, it's like the elusive "They" often cited at my read more
  • skoolboy: Maybe I'm splitting hairs, but I'd draw a distinction between read more

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