Laura Chapman on Eric Hanushek

When Laura Chapman read Some DAMPoet’s poem, “Economists are Like Weathermen,” she responded with an informative comment. I know Eric (Rick) well. We served together for years on the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on Education. I wrote a bit about Rick in “Reign of Error,” and pointed out that his work has long applied econometrics to education. He was featured as an expert voice in “Waiting for ‘Superman’” where he reinforced the film’s message that public education is failing, choice are better, bad teachers cause low scores, and the best way to raise test scores is to fire teachers who can’t raise test scores. He has testified as an expert witness in court cases against increased funding for schools. I quoted at length from one of his articles in which he claimed that firing the bottom 5-7 teachers and replacing them with average teachers would cause a leap in test scores that would make us equal to Finland. The Gross Domestic Product would then soar by $112 trillion, just because of those higher test scores.

Laura writes:

Don’t get me started. The creep of econometric thinking into education has gone beyond reason, and the reason is this: Economists are addicted to scores on tests as indicators of anything that catches their fancy–school quality, teacher quality, instructional quality, cognitive skills, worker skills, state ranking in economic growth, national ranks in productivity, the fate of the nation’s economy.

On March 9, 2017, The Wall Street Journal published an Op Ed by economist Eric A. Hanushek titled “American Teachers Unions Oppose Innovative Schools—in Africa with the subtitle “Bridge Academies show promising results in Kenya and Uganda, but unions see them only as a threat.”

It begins “No longer content to oppose educational innovation at home, the unions representing America’s teachers have gone abroad in search of monsters to slay.

For nearly a decade, Bridge International Academies has run a chain of successful private schools in the slums of Kenya and Uganda. A for-profit company, Bridge has shown that it’s possible to provide high-quality, low-cost primary education to poor children in the developing world….”

Readers are at least informed that Dr. Hanushek s a consultant for Bridge International Academies. The WSJ is an advertorial for Bridge, well place to attract even more investors to this not so low cost system of education with all questions and answers delivered on computers.

Hanushek has been VAMing teachers since his dissertation, about 1968. He is a frequent contributor of dubious statistics to legal cases that blame teacher unions for students who are “underperforming.” Like Chetty he is a serial publisher of inferences about the fate of the economy based on student test scores.

I do not doubt that he and many economists are well-trained statisticians, but if economists who pontificate about schools could not rely on test scores as the coin of their realm, they would probably be out of the education business business.

Here is a sample of the amazing inferences that can be made when you rely only on formulas to think about schools. Quote:

“Our primary analysis relies on these estimates of skills for students educated in each of the states. Minnesota, North Dakota, Massachusetts, Montana, and Vermont make up the top five states, whereas Hawaii, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi constitute the bottom five states. The top-performing state (Minnesota) surpasses the bottom-performing state (Mississippi) by 0.87 standard deviations.

Various analyses suggest that the average learning gain from one grade to the next is roughly between one-quarter and one-third of a standard deviation in test scores (Hanushek, Peterson, and Woessmann (2013), p. 72).

Thus, the average eighth-grade math achievement difference between the top- and the bottom-performing state amounts to about three grade-level equivalents – highlighting the problem of relying exclusively on school attainment without regard to quality. ”

From Hanushek, Eric A., Paul E. Peterson, and Ludger Woessmann. 2013. Endangering prosperity: A global view of the American school. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

These three economists are also responsible for the use of standard deviations to assert that this or that intervention or comparison of schools yield a gain of “days of learning,” or months, or years. Those inferential leaps are really absurd.

from sarah


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