Sunday, January 27, 2013

Is Teaching Still a Viable Career Path?

One of the worst questions I'm asked nowadays are questions along the lines of "What should I major in?"  To which I have no good answer--I don't know what I'd do in this generation's shoes.  About the only "safe" majors are probably finance/accounting.  A few seem to be trying to go into teaching, to which I offer two main pieces of advice:

1.  Get a degree in the subject you want to teach, not a degree in education of that subject (if applicable).

2.  Get a second major or minor or in some way, shape, or form, start preparing for "Plan B", because there's nearly a 50% chance they'll need it within five years.

I offer this advice for one main reason:  teacher turnover is insane.  The reasons are myriad, but they probably all fall under "burnout" (or "stress", financial or otherwise) in some fashion (whether it's being blamed for all of society's woes, the attacks on their benefits, or what have you).  And it got me thinking: 

Is becoming a teacher a viable career path anymore?

No one goes into teaching for the pay; it's always been (way, in my admittedly biased humble opinion) too low.  But at this point, after stagnation and massive increases in health care costs, is it really viable to go into teaching as a career?  I see it more as a second income for couples at this point; I could not in good conscience recommend it as a "primary" (sole income) career path for college-bound students.  Update:  Though this may finally make it worthwhile; $10,000 bachelor's degrees in science and math education.  (Though I'd still recommend a backup plan.)

Like most middle-class salaries, teaching salaries have stagnated (below).  But again, given that they were already low, has teaching fallen from "middle class" (financially) because of the constant erosion of their salary by rising health care costs?

Average teacher salaries (constant dollars):  (Note:  I wish I had an "average salary" for teachers' first five years; I imagine these figures below are greatly skewed up by the fact that the teaching population is aging.  The current average age is ~41, which means these figures are probably for teachers averaging 15-20 years of experience.) with graphics!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Hattie vs. Willingham (and science)

So I'm currently trying to read Dr. Willingham's When Can You Trust the Experts and Dr. Hattie's Visible Learning....  Granted, my bias is for the scientist (Willingham), not the education major.  But I thought it funny that last night I read from Trust things to the effect of watching out for marketing buzz-words preying on enlightenment area thinking:  "research [or evidence] based", unlocking potential, etc."  Turn to Hattie:

Reveals teaching's Holy Grail (right off the cover) 

Yeah,  To paraphrase Willingham:  there is no "magic bullet", no "hidden potential".  (Also, it's...odd...that education's "Holy Grail" would have garnered a total of 12 reviews on Amazon after 3+ years.)

Turn to the back of Visible:

"...represents the largest ever collection of evidence-based reaserch...."

"Evidence-based" was one of the meaningless buzz phrases Willingham said to watch out for.  (What exactly is NON evidence-based research???)

Oddly enough, this shows up just two paragraphs later (also from the rear cover of Visible):

"Although the current evidence-based fad has turned into a debate about test scores...."

Wait, what?  Did the book's back cover just call this book part of a fad???  Methinks they probably should have used "trend" or "movement" if they wanted to promote this book.

I'm going to have an extremely difficult time giving Hattie's book a fair shake; I've already read a few things that make me dubious.  And one thing that, while not discrediting the whole book, shoots a pretty big hole in it:

"Matching style of learning" (pg 195)

d=0.41  Wow, so matching students to their learning styles has an "average" effect?  In other words, something that does not exist has a sizable (average) impact?  Neat.  What does this say about the methodology?

A few other quick points:

1.  This is a synthesis of meta-analyses.  Which I think is the same thing as saying it's a meta-analysis of meta-analyses, but everyone would see the immediate problem here; you're now two levels away from the raw data.  (To continue the banking analogy, this is like the mortgaged-based derivatives; their value collapsed because no one knew what they were really based on after being sliced and diced, repackaged and so on.)  And you've now "massaged" the numbers twice, introducing error the first time, then compounding it.

2.  Who peer-reviewed this work?  (I'm pretty sure the answer is "no one".)

3.  I'm still not convinced these effect-sizes mean a whole lot in and of themselves.  As of right now, I see no measurement of whether or not the effects are real, just that they are "big".  And the definition of "big" is ambiguous.  More on this later; I'm still trying to really figure these out before I open my mouth.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What do Banks and Bad Ideas in Education Have in Common?

They're too big to fail.

As I was reading through Dr. Willingham's When Can You Trust the Experts last night it hit me:  many of these bad ideas (e.g., Marzano, learning styles, no zero policies) are now "too big to fail."  Too many people have made their careers on these ideas.  Too many people have careers based on these ideas (see below).  So even if you could get through the "it must be right because everyone believes it" mentality, you would still have an uphill fight--displacing people in administration that base their livelihoods on (essentially) wasting time and money.  (And of course, these people would have an added incentive to NOT believe what they were doing was useless, and they're in power...which means getting through that "this doesn't work/this isn't real" barrier may very well be impossible.)

My district alone has a seven-person "Accountability and Assessment" department that includes:

Director of Assessment and Accountability
Program Manager for Testing, Grants, Development & Evaluation
Program Manager for Assessment and Data Analysis
Program Evaluator and Data Analyst
Test Development Specialist
Test Warehouse Operator
Clerical Assistant

We won't ask why a seven-person department needs a Director and two managers.  Gotta love that near 1:1 ratio of managers to non-managers!  (And I got $5 that says that the clerical assistant does more real [honest] work than the managers and director combined--and for half their salary.  ;) )

Potential solution:  Education grad schools need to focus more on how to conduct and/or review research.  This will (hopefully...) start putting more knowledgeable people in power down the road, thus avoiding falling for these bad ideas.

Update:  1/19/13

Just heard this and thought it apropos:  "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"--Upton Sinclair