Monday, November 25, 2013

Public schools and the power of mental frames

Simon Singh has an interesting talk on the power of mental frames. His discussion relates to the larger issue of the big bang, something that I am clearly not an expert on, but I think his point is valid in another arena as well.

Singh's point seems to be that sometimes people see and hear things that are not really there. He also suggests that there are those who intentionally try to shape what we see and hear. This is especially true in situations where there seems to be a lot of noise or interference. Because our minds seek meaning we sometimes make connections and fill in the blanks with patterns and organization that is really not there.

In conversations about education there is a lot of noise. There are many conflicting opinions about the state of education - especially public education. There are those who are trying to get us to make connections that I do not believe are there. There are those who are planting ideas in the hopes of convincing us that public education is broken.

But public education is not broken.

Yet, there are those who continue to fill us with the idea that public education is broken. When Governor Snyder took office he started a dashboard to report on what he considered to be key indicators to measure success. One of the measures that he chose to highlight was the ACT college readiness benchmarks. According to this benchmark only 18.1% of Michigan high school graduates are ready for college.

But this is a classic case of what Singh was talking about  - planting ideas in the hope of creating meaning that is not there.

If one looked further one could find on a state of Michigan website evidence that for the graduating class of 2012 (switch the view to percentage) over 60% enrolled in college.

The cynic might suggest, "Yes those students enrolled in college, but how many were actually prepared for college?"

The cynic might believe that only 18% of the graduating class of 2012 was actually prepared for college. After all that is what Governor Snyder and the Michigan education dashboard would have you believe.

But that is not the case. (Switch the view to percentage) Only 17% needed remediation in math, only 11% needed remediation in writing, and less than 10% needed remediation in reading.

Governor Snyder could have highlighted these numbers on the Michigan education dashboard. But he didn't. Instead he chose to highlight a number that he hoped would create and reinforce a mental frame that would have us look at public education as a failure.

But public education is not a failure.

Can public education get better? Absolutely!

But public schools meet the needs of students and prepare students for the next step in their life. Instead of listening to those who want to persuade us that something is wrong, we should instead look at the data and listen to those who will help us see that public schools are doing good work and preparing student to be successful.


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