Friday, May 15, 2015
20 Minute Kids
So there I was watching one of many “Teacher/Education” messages that have been on the airwaves of late when I saw a face I vaguely recognized. This fellow was discussing how testing is failing children because it's not actually measuring, well no, accurately measuring the intelligence of children. I disagree in principle because testing is proven to show whether a student has gotten a grasp on material. Testing is also a known predictor of future performance. I agree with him and the media campaign in general that too much emphasis on testing can lead to teaching to the test which is detrimental. If children are taught problem solved processes, then they will generally do well on tests, provided they grasp the problem solving process. But that's not really what got me. What bothered me was his discussion of intelligence. In the video he said, and I'm paraphrasing somewhat: What if a kid needs 20 minutes to solve a problem? Well to me, the clear answer was that the kid is slow as hell. But the implication of the spot was that the kid that takes 20 minutes to solve a problem that another kid takes 1 minute to solve is somehow just as intelligent. Sorry, but that is dead wrong. If a kid takes 20 minutes to solve a problem that should take 1 minute, that kid is 20x less able to solve problems of that magnitude. That's a big deal. And lets be clear that as problems increase in difficulty the 20 minute student is going to fall further and further behind. Now lets give due credit for things like test prep which does help students to do better on tests by getting them familiar with the kinds of questions that they will be faced with. For example, I do a lot of DYI on my car. Since I'm familiar with the kinds of issues that come up in and around an engine, I can step to any car and have an idea about what may be wrong. An engine may have a different configuration but I'll be able to recognize most of the parts. The difference would be that it might take me longer to deal with the 'new” engine than with the one that I'm already very familiar with. Test prep is kind of like that. You get to practice the same kinds of question but when the test comes the exact problem facing you will be unique and that's where the problem solvers (essentially those who are good with abstract thought and can memorize thought processes ) do better than those who hope the numbers involved or the words involved aren't too large or too complex respectively. Knowing this, and given the 20-1 ratio laid out by the speaker in the video, can you imagine how far apart these two students would be after a year? 4 years? 15? Can you imagine being the 1 minute kid stuck in a school of 20 minute kids? Other implications are that if you have school districts full of 20 minute kids is it fair to even compare them to school districts with 1 minute kids? Clearly the differences aren't going to be solved with money. The speaker made it clear that it is the child's own ability that makes him take 20 minutes. Expand this idea to a city. To a state. To a country. The implications are staggering. I think the narrator didn't realize that he had made an argument For educational stratification and possibly for charter schools and the like. If you are a parent of a 1 minute kid and you live in a district full of 20 minute kids, you know that your kid's education is going to be screwed as they have to keep the class at a pace that the 20 minute kids can handle. In essence for every 20 minutes of instruction time, your child has lost 19 minutes of education. In a one hour class that's 57 minutes (1 minutes of education per 20 minutes of "instruction") of his time wasted. Does this happen? Certainly. Back when I was in JHS I was in an accelerated class. We had a substitute teacher who apparently was used to dealing with 20 minute students. She wasted 2 days of our time going over material we already knew and was upset when we rebelled because we knew our time was being wasted. It got to the point where we complained to the higher ups that we objected to this teacher. I can imagine similar time wasting efforts are going on in schools across the country. Whoever thought up that particular media campaign might want to reconsider airing it in the future. It doesn't really say what they think it says.