The Skeptical Teacher

Musings of a science teacher & skeptic in an age of woo.

Posts Tagged ‘reform’

The State of U.S. Science Education: Not Good

Posted by mattusmaximus on February 27, 2012

It seems that in the United States we could be doing a much better job of teaching our young people about science (big surprise there).  However, it doesn’t become apparent just how troublesome the situation is until you take a look at the standards for public science education laid down by the states.  One look at this map gives you some idea of the challenge we face…

Image from Your State Sucks at Science

The well respected Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which regularly tracks issues related to science and education, has provided a summary of the survey of state science standards.  You can read more about their summary, as well as a breakdown of the standards state-by-state, here…

American science performance is lagging as the economy becomes increasingly high tech, but  our current science standards are doing little to solve the problem. Reviewers evaluated science standards for every state for this report and their findings were deeply troubling: The majority of states earned Ds or Fs for their standards in this crucial subject, with only six jurisdictions receiving As. Explore all the state report cards and see how your state performed. [emphasis added]

This is particularly problematic because the 21st century is going to be one of intensifying competition between the United States and developing nations such as China and India.  If we cannot (or will not) beef up our science education then we are only hurting ourselves in the long run.

Why is it that the U.S., the most powerful and technologically advanced nation (so far) on the planet, seems to have this weird relationship with science where we appear to almost disdain it?  My thoughts on that in a future blog post…

Posted in education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Teachers & Merit Pay: The Research Says It Doesn’t Work

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 4, 2010

There are a lot of people in the political class talking about the need for education reform.  In fact, being a teacher of over 15 years myself, I can definitely say that on the science & mathematics side of things we need to get our butts in gear or we are in serious trouble.  So, I’m all for “education reform”, but I am concerned that many who wish to make necessary changes to our primary & secondary public educational system could be pursuing ineffective solutions or even make things worse.

For example, one of the buzz phrases going around in many education circles these days is “merit pay.”  The whole idea of merit pay is that you tie the salaries of teachers to the performance of their students, either by assessing how much kids have learned via their grades or on standardized tests.  At first blush, this sounds like a great idea – the really good, energetic, and inspiring teachers get paid more and the lazy slugs get paid less.  Meanwhile, it gives other teachers an incentive to become more involved & innovative in the classroom so that – the logic goes – they get the students to learn more.

But there’s one big problem with the entire concept of merit pay: it seems that it doesn’t work. In a recent National Public Radio story it was revealed that there is now extensive research which calls into question the validity of merit pay…

Study: Teacher Bonuses Don’t Improve Test Scores

Offering big bonuses to teachers failed to raise students’ test scores in a three-year study released Tuesday that calls into question the Obama administration’s push for merit pay to improve education.

The study, conducted in the metropolitan Nashville school system by Vanderbilt University’s National Center on Performance Incentives, was described by the researchers as the nation’s first scientifically rigorous look at merit pay for teachers.

It found that students whose teachers were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved test scores registered the same gains on standardized exams as those whose teachers were given no such incentives.

That’s some pretty damning evidence against the merit pay concept.  At least, it is damning evidence against the manner in which merit pay is being proposed to be implemented the way that many education reformers wish to see it done.  Personally, though I have some ideological hangups with the idea of merit pay (full disclosure: I am a strong proponent of teachers’ unions), I am not willing to completely throw the baby out with the bathwater on the basis of this one study; I think more research is necessary.  However, I think it is worth slowing down the rush by many to push merit pay as some kind of cure-all for the broken parts of our public education system.  I like how the lead researcher of the study puts it:

“I think most people agree today that the current way in which we compensate teachers is broken,” said Matthew Springer, executive director of the Vanderbilt center and lead researcher on the study. “But we don’t know what the better way is yet.” [emphasis added]

As I said before, I’m all for reforming education & getting bad teachers out of the profession (we need it), but we cannot simply get hung up on the latest fad to come along (and if you’ve been in education in the U.S. for any length of time, you know that such fads are a common occurrence).  In that sense, this research serves as a cautionary tale.  And, in my opinion, we cannot expect to find one solution that will fit all of the problems in our public education system which varies so widely in terms of socio-economic conditions, ethnicity, culture, etc.  We are going to have to probably find local solutions & local reforms to the specific problems of local schools – which means our education reformers should avoid the temptation to simply jump onto the merit pay bandwagon because it promises to fix everything.  Solutions to such complex societal problems are not so easy.

In closing, I’d like to finish with the final paragraph of the NPR article reporting on the study:

“It’s not enough to say, ‘I’ll pay you more if you do better.’ You’ve got to help people know how to do better,” said Amy Wilkins, vice president of the Education Trust, a Washington think tank. “Absolutely we should reward them once they do better, but to think merit pay alone will get them there is insane.”

Posted in economics, education | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Why So Much of Polling is B.S. — F**k You, Frank!

Posted by mattusmaximus on October 3, 2009

“The numbers don’t lie” goes an oft-quoted saying… and that’s true, for the most part.  Numbers don’t lie, but what does lie is the people who are reporting the numbers.  The recent brouhaha over health care reform in the United States has brought this fact about numbers & statistics into stark relief of late.  Most people, when they read a poll, don’t really think about the numbers all that much, or they are too innumerate to really understand what they’re reading – which is how so many are easily manipulated.  And oftentimes the polls are self-contradictory.

For example, look at this recent article – which is, refreshingly, a good example of critical thinking in the modern media – concerning the question of polling public opinion on health care reform…

Health care polls leave pols dizzy

Legislators hoping to learn what their constituents think about the issue — and how to vote to keep them happy — face a dizzying deluge of hard-to-reconcile data, some of which suggests that voters are more than a little confused, as well.

What to make of it, for example, when one poll finds that 63 percent think “death panels” are a “distortion” or “scare tactic,” and only 30 percent think the issue is “legitimate,” while another finds that 41 percent believe that people would die because “government panels” would prevent them from getting the treatment they needed?

Or when one survey finds that 55 percent of Americans support the public option, while another says 79 percent favor one — but also notes that only 37 percent people surveyed actually knew what “public option” meant?

And because there is such ambiguity in these polls, those with an agenda can usually cherry-pick whatever data they want to make a case for their particular argument.  Even changing the wording of a particular question just slightly can have a huge impact…

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Posted in mathematics, media woo, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Rep. Barney Frank PWNs Holocaust Deniers at his Town Hall!

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 19, 2009

In the ongoing drama that are the August town hall meetings in the U.S., the stupidity displayed by some continues to amaze me. Probably the most vile thing being spewed by various rightwing nutbags are comparisons of health care reform to Nazism.  In fact, this can be viewed as a kind of Holocaust denial, because it ignores & distorts the real reasons why the Nazis murdered so many people in that dark period of human history…

Health care debate turns vile with Nazi analogy

Right-wing loudmouths distort history, diminish true evil of the Holocaust

Rush Limbaugh and those invoking the Nazi analogy to attack President Barack Obama’s effort to reform health care in America are not “insane” as David Brooks pronounced on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the rest of the loud-mouthed right wing are, when they even hint at an analogy to the Nazis in talking about Obama’s health reform effort, engaged in something far worse than insanity. They are engaged in the vile evil of Holocaust denial. …

But if you want a REAL treat, just take a few moments to watch this video of Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts putting one of these lunatics in her place:

Let me put this very simply: this isn’t about whether you prefer Obama’s health care plan or not, it is about crushing nonsensical, conspiracy theorist b.s.  Politicians of both parties should watch Frank’s response and copy it in their town halls. If they don’t have the balls to stand up to some fruitcake spouting “health care reform = Nazism” nonsense, then they don’t deserve to be in office. I don’t care who they are… Republican or Democrat. That sort of vile & stupid talk has no place in civil and mature discourse, and our elected officials should have the courage to stand up against it.

Frank’s response was spot frakkin’ on. Win 😀

Posted in Holocaust denial, politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Sarah Palin: A Case Study in the Politics of Lies & Nonsense

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 14, 2009

I recently posted about how irrational & uncivil the discourse on health care reform has become, and the role that extreme right wingers have in it.  Well, now former VP candidate and Alaska governor Sarah Palin has provided a perfect example of how insane & dishonest these nutters can be in the pursuit of their ideology.

Recently, Palin made an outlandish, and completely false, claim about President Obama’s proposals to overhaul health care – specifically, she made a claim about “death panels” that would encourage euthanasia of the elderly & children with birth defects which was subsequently & thoroughly debunked by non-partisan sources…

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin says the health care overhaul bill would set up a “death panel.” Federal bureaucrats would play God, ruling on whether ailing seniors are worth enough to society to deserve life-sustaining medical care. Palin and other critics are wrong. Nothing in the legislation would carry out such a bleak vision. The provision that has caused the uproar would instead authorize Medicare to pay doctors for counseling patients about end-of-life care, if the patient wishes.

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Posted in politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

On Health Care, Rightwing Nutbags Choose Lies & Misinformation Over Civil Discourse

Posted by mattusmaximus on August 12, 2009

Okay, so the hot U.S. political topic of the day is health care reform.  I am not going to make this a post about advocating for or against a specific kind of legislation, though personally I do have my preferences.  Rather, this post is about the manner in which the debate, or lack thereof, is progressing concerning this all-important topic.

Sadly, there is a large amount of misinformation and outright lies being spread about health care reform, and much of it is being fueled by uncritical & hysterical thinking via TV ads and the Internet.  Most of these lies are being spewed by various rightwing groups with the express purpose of derailing any kind of reform, and the movement is encouraging people not to take part in a civilized debate & discourse (which is needed).  Rather, this movement is actively encouraging people to attend Congressional town hall meetings solely for the purpose of disrupting them with angry shouts and even death threats.  Yes, that’s right – some members of Congress have been getting death threats.

So what can one do to cut through all the b.s. and get “just the facts”?  I’d say the best thing to do is go to a non-partisan source, such as  They’ve been doing a bang up job of looking into various claims about health care reform, as well as some of the outrageous garbage which is causing such a stir.  Let’s take a quick look at some of the big lies repeated of late, and how takes them on…

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Posted in politics, psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

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