How green was my valley: how professional were my parents?

Parents and education 2

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Mayan
Mayan
7 years ago

It is quite common, almost the norm, in many of the Asian nations for children to be given (or subjected to, depending on your point of view) out-of-hours tutoring. I haven’t seen any data comparing the results for children who are tutored and who are not in those nations. Does anyone know of any such data?

conrad
conrad
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

It’s a biased sample in Aus — It’s not like it’s the dumb East Asians coming out. Indeed, I’m willing to bet that the kids of most rich professional groups coming out, Asian or not, are doing well (the white kids do well in HK for the same reason). The main interesting groups in my books are the ones that start poor but still make it.

On a different note, I like the idea of people using tutors since it is basically a cheap way to short-circuit the monopoly elite private schools have on teaching what is needed for exams. Perhaps one day they might actually have to start setting exams that force people to teach stuff rather than just get kids to remember the right things if it gets popular enough.

conrad
conrad
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

I’m not sure how efficient one-on-one tutoring is (this is really an empirical question), but it might well be cheaper than 30K of private school fees. Also, in terms of motivation, you don’t have causation in one direction. The reason some of these kids can put up with this sort of thing is because they’ve gone to primary schools in countries where what they have been taught has placed them in a much better position (especially in maths where Australia is doing more and more poorly — c.f., literacy). So they may well enjoy doing extra maths tutoring compared to kids that get nothing from it. No-one ever mentions this because no-one thinks about what primary school kids learn apart from in a few very restricted situations (it’s why it’s not a political issue). So instead we think it is all due to motivational differences between cultures caused by things that are more or less unchangeable (or intelligence differences, especially in the negative case), despite the fact that these scores vary all over the places across the decades.

My point with the teaching for exams stuff was that everyone gets a bad deal. If you look at outcomes data in university (not that there is any real definitive data), you find that of the 8-10 points more kids in private schools get compared to public school kids in their final exams, perhaps half isn’t related to any real learning. But this is just the mean. If you’re going to a school that gets, say, 25 points more than the average public school, are you really learning 25 point more of real stuff? I doubt it (selective schools excluded). You’re just learning how to pass exams and are taught by people that know how to game the system well.

All of this means that people are spending a lot of effort and money getting their kids to pass exams versus learn something useful. If private tutors can work this out, and I think that in some of these “cram” schools they have, and this becomes more commonplace, perhaps we might see a shift from teaching less useful things helping no-one which can be gamed easily to teaching things that matter more that cannot.

Tel
Tel
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

You’re just learning how to pass exams and are taught by people that know how to game the system well.

Teaching to the exam is a least-worst strategy. It’s very difficult to teach a large number of randomly chosen people to have a confident and intuitive feel for mathematics… but if you teach them the technique of solving exam questions then at least you can demonstrate you taught them something, and it’s achievable.

conrad
conrad
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Tel — I’m happy for teachers to teach to the test (especially at latter years). It’s just that you need to make the test such that you have to teach something useful to do it (e.g., how to write a document vs. how to memorize one), and you also need to make sure you don’t get rewarded the same amount for taking an alternative test (e.g., advanced versus business mathematics)

Tel
Tel
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Designing a good quality test is quite difficult, and has to be updated every single year. I’m sure there’s enough money in the education system as a whole to do this job but I’m not sure it’s glamorous enough to get money allocated.

As with everything, who checks the quality of the tests themselves? How does this information get back to the customers?

conrad
conrad
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Teaching to the test is part of the problem, and it’s very school dependent. An obvious example of this is that you have some places that are basically getting kids to memorize essays for the last two years of their schooling, which means that when they go to uni they end up failing everything. Making the final exams unpredictable would force schools to give up on this strategy. There are lots of non-obvious examples also.

I can also think of things that could make the system better.

The first thing that needs to happen is that some of the state governments need to admit that the high-level bureaucrats they have now have basically failed. This is a priori true — you can see it from test scores over time. Australian kids shouldn’t be worse at maths now than 30 years ago — we’re richer, have better resources, and we know much more about the development of mathematical competence. So something has gone wrong.

Second, after admitting this, they need to actually get decent people that really know stuff. There’s a big split between the edumacation people and people that actually care about data and measuring things and understanding how and why things are done differently in different places. This second group lost out in Australia and now just sit from the sidelines, whereas the second group won in the countries that are doing well.

Third, once they have decent people, they need to make things completely transparent. In particular, they need to document why they are teaching certain things and not teaching others across years, and this needs to be available to the public (and not just what they are teaching). This is especially important in early years where you need to learn more general skills rather than more particular things.

So, for example, at present they would have to post “we are not teaching times-tables in primary school because we think it is not relevant to a world with calculators”. Based on this, anybody that knows the slightest thing about early maths development could say: “This is rubbish. Kids need to develop spatial skills and automatize small sums in their heads as it forms the bases of more complicated mathematics”. These people could then provide references to this.

In the worst case, if the edumacation people can’t at least provide reasons as to why they’re teaching some things and not others at certain times across the 13 years, it’s a clear way of identifying the fact that they don’t know what they’re doing and hopefully people would be appalled by it. In addition, if they are having to justify themselves to the public, they would also have to get over the use of the education mumbo-jumbo that they like to use with each other.

Patrick
Patrick
7 years ago
Reply to  conrad

Hit a lot of my sweet a prioris too.

conrad
conrad
7 years ago
Reply to  Nicholas Gruen

Edumacation is a semi-derogatory term used to suggest poor quality in education. When it’s directed at groups, as in the way that I used it, it’s basically talking about a group of people that pretend to know a lot about how people learn but they really know very little. This isn’t necessarily their fault, as many actually wanted to learn something useful once (who wouldn’t?) but a lot but ended up in various education departments that are monopolized by these people who have their own journals, ways to describe things and so on. They’ve even got into neuro-education now, which some of the top people in the area do so appallingly it’s laughable. I just typed in “educational neuroscience” into google to confirm my own prejudices, and the first article that turned up was this. This is from ACER, a firm which is constantly contracted to do various things for education departments around Australia (generally poorly). It’s mild compared to some of the stuff you can find.

David Walker
David Walker(@d-w-griffiths)
7 years ago

Hard to escape the irony: the original title on the graph – Some school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students, regardless of what their parents do for a living – looks pretty much wrong. There’s a fairly consistent gap, and certainly nothing you’d bet wasn’t due to the vagaries of measurement and classification.

Tel
Tel
7 years ago

Some school systems manage to provide high-quality education to all students regardless of what their parents do for a living.

Not the ones shown in that diagram.

There’s a significant spread in almost every case, other than Albania and Kakakhstan. If I well stand back and squint a bit I can be confident that the spread is wider at the top of the graph and narrower at the bottom of the graph. Which is pretty much exactly what you would expect.

Just on a side issue, I’d be guessing that on the whole the “Managers” get paid better than the “Professionals” so money doesn’t directly translate to test scores. More likely there’s a lot of background information that gets passed from parents to kids, and management-oriented parents pass down the sort of skills that don’t get high test scores.

paul walter
paul walter
7 years ago

God bless Conrad and Nicholas.. that is a constructive conversation.