Is a professed commitment to the tenets of “antiracism,” as defined by Ibram Kendi, now non-negotiable in the teaching profession? Are those of us who hold different views and ideals about student expectations, pedagogical practice, and school culture no longer welcome to lead classrooms with Black and Brown children? Read more.
The point is so obvious yet it cannot be said enough: We do not give families of color and those in poverty the same range of options and quality of education that White and affluent families often take for granted. It’s why I became a teacher, starting in 2002. I taught full-time for five years in a public school in the South Bronx, and intermittently since at a pair of Harlem charter schools. What drew me to this work and keeps me engaged in it is the manifest unfairness of American education to low-income, Black, and Brown children who comprise, without exception, every student I’ve ever taught.
For most of those twenty years, I’ve held a set of assumptions and ideals about what it means to be an effective teacher of children of color (and frankly, children of any race or background). It means holding every pupil to high standards and expectations for academics and classroom conduct; offering a rich and rigorous curriculum, taught as engagingly as possible; and fostering a school culture and climate that valorizes student achievement. Above all, it means holding firmly to the conviction that children do not fail. Rather adults fail children when schools do not deliver any or all of these ingredients.
The widening chasm between these principles and more recent shifts in ideology among education leaders in the name of “antiracism” is no longer possible to ignore or elide. It’s time to ask: Is a professed commitment to the tenets of antiracism now non-negotiable in our profession? Are those of us who hold different views and ideals about student expectations, pedagogical practice, and school culture no longer welcome to lead classrooms with Black and Brown children?
Here are some specific questions and issues that in my view need to be discussed urgently and honestly:
Is aspiring to “colorblindness” disqualifying?
For many of us, particularly those who came of age in the 1960s and 70s, the desire for a “colorblind” America is neither passivism in the face of bigotry nor a refusal to confront our biases. It’s a deeply held moral commitment. Dr. King’s vision of a nation where his children would be judged not by the color of their skin but the content of their character resonates as both a calling and a statement of the highest American aspirations. If I define “equity” as working toward an America where race no longer describes or limits us; if I reject the idea expressed by White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo and others that to be White is to be inherently racist and a beneficiary of unearned privileges; if I hold to a definition of racism that is manifested in behavior, not an immutable characteristic of my race over which I have no control, am I no longer fit to teach Black and Brown children?
Is the achievement gap real or is it racist even to refer to such a gap?
“The use of standardized tests to measure aptitude and intelligence is one of the most effective racist policies ever devised to degrade Black minds and legally exclude Black bodies,” writes Ibram X. Kendi in How to Be an An Antiracist. “We degrade Black minds every time we speak of an ‘academic achievement gap’ based on these numbers.”
As long-time readers may know, I'm no testing hawk. I have long described my relationship with standardized tests as complicated. But it’s clear and undeniable that vast amounts of resources and moral authority aimed at improving education outcomes for Black and Brown children over the past three decades are a product of the shame and urgency that we feel over these inexcusable gaps, mostly as measured by standardized tests.
Kendi, by a considerable margin our most influential thinker about antiracist thought and practice, dismisses all of this as the mere imposition of racial hierarchy and therefore as racist even to discuss. He writes that “our faith in standardized tests causes us to believe that the racial gap in test scores means something is wrong with the Black test takers–and not the tests.”
But this is not so. If the education reform movement has accomplished nothing else, it has made it unacceptable to evince any belief but the opposite one: The achievement gap is evidence of institutional failure, not a failure on the part of Black test-takers. Discrediting any reference to a racial achievement gap is counterproductive to the interests of students of color. The NAACP, the National Urban League, La Raza, and nine other civil right groups have denounced anti-testing efforts to “hide the achievement gap,” noting that test data “are critical for understanding whether and where there is equal opportunity.” Ian Rowe, a Black intellectual, Fordham trustee, and charter school founder, insists that antiracist policies and practices are becoming “the unintended, modern day version of the soft bigotry of low expectations.” I strongly agree. Does saying so render me unfit to teach Black and Brown children? How about Ian Rowe?
Does antiracism pedagogy demand—or even condone—inflicting emotional distress on children?
The most chilling revelation to emerge earlier this month from a whistleblowing teacher at New York City’s private Grace Church School was the headmaster’s acknowledgement captured in an audio recording that “we’re demonizing kids, we’re demonizing White people for being born.” George Davison admitted to teacher Paul Rossi that “we are using language that makes them feel less than, for nothing that they are personally responsible for.” Davison also conceded that he had “grave doubts about some of the stuff that gets spouted at us, in the name of antiracism.” This is a stunning set of admissions from the head of an institution charged with the education and welfare of children.
A respected colleague, also a veteran educator, suggested to me that what’s happening in schools now “might be the first time White children are being made to feel uncomfortable in school about their identities. But for the rest of our kids, it might be some of the first times they’re not being made to feel uncomfortable.” Another told me even more bluntly “there’s nothing wrong with children in elite private schools being made to feel uncomfortable about race.”
I cannot agree. Yes, a hallmark of a quality education is that it makes us uncomfortable. Attempts to create “safe spaces” where students never encounter upsetting words, images, or ideas strike many of us as misguided. Education inevitably includes confronting students with ideas, views, and information that they may find upsetting, but it never includes upsetting them because of who they are or what they look like. No element of ethical classroom practice should allow inflicting intentional harm or emotional distress on students—rich or poor, Black or White—or seek to make a virtue of it. It is immoral and educational malpractice. Neither should we encourage in children a sense of insurmountable oppression, victimhood, or grievance—the very opposite of the uplifting formation of mind and character that education should aspire to. Any pedagogy or curriculum that ascribes traits, motives, or mindsets to one particular race—oppressors versus oppressed; perfectionism, urgency, and individualism as “hallmarks of white supremacy culture,” etc.—cannot call itself “antiracist.” It is racist and unacceptable.
When “antiracism” conflicts with effective literacy practices, what should schools do?
There can be no question that every child in an American K–12 school should have the opportunity to see their history, heritage, and culture reflected in their education. No part of me is interested in imposing a “Eurocentric” curriculum on children, venerating “dead White males,” or presenting anything less than a clear-eyed view of American history. But efforts to “decolonize” curriculum, “disrupt texts,” or other efforts to de-emphasize “Whiteness” in curriculum seems less likely to liberate Black and Brown students than to hold them further back. This is not parochialism, but a reflection of how language proficiency works. It rests on a large body of common background knowledge shared between readers, writers, speakers, and listeners. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge—yet we must—the degree to which this both reflects and grows organically from the knowledge, allusions, and idioms of the culture that dominates it. In a diverse and plural society, language is a vernacular engine, borrowing words and allusions at a dizzying pace, but that is not a process that can be dictated or controlled. A clear-eyed view of language proficiency obligates us to expose children to the full range of taken-for-granted knowledge that their fellow citizens possess. At present, that requires familiarity with a substantial (if perhaps declining) amount of Western thought, literature, history, science, and art. To pretend otherwise is to risk cementing disadvantage in place, or to embrace a separatist impulse, neither of which can be countenanced.
In a review of his book in Education Next, another Black intellectual, John McWhorter, observed that Kendi’s antiracism philosophy “founders especially on education” and “subscribes to the notion getting around these days, from the contingent fascinated with White privilege, that things like close reasoning, the written word, and objectivity are ‘White’ practices, the imposition upon Black people of which is ‘racist.’” To adopt these views and put them into practice in schools serving Black and Brown children in the name of social justice is misguided at best, disastrous at worst.
Are White teachers still welcome in non-White charter schools?
“Are we really going to turn away people who want to do good work?” asks a teacher I spoke with recently who has reluctantly decided that this year will be her last. She is a successful, experienced teacher at a well-known network of high performing charter schools, not a naive young recruit with a savior complex. But her school’s embrace of critical race theory and its determination to be an antiracist institution has driven a change in the weather she can no longer ignore. Candid feedback, once a hallmark of this network’s professional practice, has become a racially-charged minefield among its diverse staff. Nothing about her teaching or relationships with students has changed, but she has gone from being a valued colleague to a figure of suspicion merely because of her race. Crucially, she was not openly critical of the shift in culture and its aggressive diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. “I really want to do the right thing. I really want to be a good ally,” she insists, “but I don’t feel included.” She will not be back next year. “They will say I walked away, but I was pushed.”
There is good evidence to suggest that children benefit from having Black teachers, and the move to recruit and support more men and women of color into classrooms is an unambiguous benefit. Can not committed teachers of all races work together to advance educational opportunity? If the answer is no, something has gone very wrong.
Paul Rossi, the Grace Church math teacher whose whistleblowing letter lifted the lid on abusive practices in his school, wrote that the antiracist training he received “sounds righteous, but it is the opposite of truth in advertising. It requires teachers like myself to treat students differently on the basis of race.” This is not an accident or misapplication. It’s a manifestation of Kendi’s now-familiar aphorism “the only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination.” But this is anathema in a publicly-funded system of public schools that must strive to prepare all children equally. Rossi speaks for many of us in the profession who share his concern that what is being done in the name of equity “reinforces the worst impulses we have as human beings: our tendency toward tribalism and sectarianism that a truly liberal education is meant to transcend.”
Committed ideologues have exhibited an unhelpful tendency to dismiss criticism of antiracist pedagogies and practices, even from would-be allies, as discomfort with “de-centering Whiteness,” fear of displacement, an unwillingness to “do the work,” or simply a manifestation of unrepentant racism. But these simple tropes elide far more challenging issues that we need to grapple with forthrightly, in our (hopefully) shared mission to advance the interests of Black and Brown children: Does standard practice in this field now insist that we view students exclusively or even primarily through the lens of their race? What if I believe that fixing institutions that routinely fail Black and Brown children is just as important as changing racial attitudes? If I do not believe that white supremacy is the primary stumbling block to educational progress, if I think that literacy—not antiracism—is the last word in educational equity, if I’m unwilling to accept uncritically the new antiracism orthodoxy, am I still welcome in classrooms where all or most of the students are not White?
I cannot be made comfortable with the idea that teachers should conceive of ourselves primarily as social engineers whose responsibility is to dismantle “systemic racism” in the name of “equity.” When I took on this work, no part of me signed up to disrupt, dismantle, or overthrow anything. We are teachers, not revolutionaries. Does saying so render me unfit to teach?
It’s time for districts, charter school networks, and school leaders to grapple with these issues candidly and unflinchingly. What are the non-negotiable beliefs that a teacher must have to stand in front of a classroom where all or most of the students are Black or Brown? What beliefs are disqualifying? Let’s also ask parents of color. In the view of many teachers, effective education for all children means high standards and expectations, both academically and behaviorally. That meets my test for antiracist education. But does it meet yours? Would you feel comfortable with me as your child’s teacher? Yes or no?
Despite the progress schools and districts have made on returning fully to in-person instruction, some of the habits and apprehensions they’ve developed over the last thirteen months could impede their upcoming education recovery efforts. The global shock and disruption mean schools should not underestimate how this post-Covid hangover could linger in the weeks and years ahead, carrying with it significant repercussions as the work of stabilizing the system gets underway.
Even now, a whopping 70 percent of K–12 educators still believe the pandemic is a “real threat” to their school district. Parents, too, have their reservations, with some planning on waiting until their children have been vaccinated before sending them back to school, which for younger children probably won’t happen until next year. What’s more, low-income and minority students—especially those living in marginalized communities—are the most likely to be missing out on in-person learning and the least likely to return to school. Taken together, these philosophical and demographic divides might make the already formidable task of catching students up even more challenging.
Three things in particular could really gum up the works.
The first is whether mask-wearing should still be required in schools in 2022 and beyond, an argument that is as much about our raging culture wars as it is about public safety. Vaccines are now available to any adult that wants one, generally without delay. Partly because of this, some parents are beginning to wonder why their children should be compelled to wear masks if the adults in the school have already achieved immunity, or decided to take their chances without the miracle of modern medicine.
To be sure, some teachers and students could continue to wear masks in perpetuity; there should be no quarrel with those who make this choice. The tension arises now that we’ve entered a period of declining prevalence and rising vaccination rates. Case in point, Arizona’s governor just lifted the state’s mask ordinance in light of their rapid progress on vaccines. In response, the state’s schools chief threw a fit, calling the decision a “bomb” that’s been dropped upon Arizona’s schools. This kind of rhetoric may have been defensible in April 2020 when vaccines were a distant possibility, but it’s borderline irresponsible a year later given the tools and information now at our disposal.
Is it really a big deal to ask students to wear a mask? If the goal is to get more families—especially families of color—comfortable with sending their children back to school, there’s an argument to be made that mask mandates might help. The counterargument is that an indefinite enforcement of mask-wearing becomes superfluous as infection levels drop and as more students and teachers get vaccinated. Blanket mask edicts also fail to take into account local circumstances and other trade-offs to say nothing of the disincentives towards vaccination that can be created.
Regardless, this issue is coming to a head between parents and school districts across the country. Consider the words of Courtney Ann Taylor, a mother in Georgia who recently delivered an impassioned plea on behalf of her six-year-old daughter to her local school board:
It’s April 2021 and it’s time. Take these masks off of my child. And I know what I’m going to be met with: “But Ms. Taylor, the CDC.” We did not vote for people at the CDC. We did elect leaders who do create policy. We elected the five of you. We chose you to make difficult decisions for our children…
The video of her testimony has since gone viral, generating equal parts sympathy and scorn. But if left unresolved, this fracas could pose a real distraction to getting schools back to any semblance of the ordinary. It also illustrates the fact that not everyone is ready to rush headlong into a world where all schools are reopened as normal.
Second, the future of standardized testing and the information those exams provide will be in greater jeopardy following two consecutive years without them in many jurisdictions. From Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., millions of students, teachers, and families will have grown accustomed to the absence of a yearly academic checkup, and, the thinking goes among testing opponents, they will be none the worse for it. As a result, the never-ending debate is about to enter new and uncharted territory as more parents and educators alike question the whole premise of the current testing regime. Indeed, if federal education law has been tested by the pandemic, it’s by the stress that’s been exerted upon annual assessments and results-based accountability.
Finally, there’s the pernicious spread and stickiness of the four-day school week, a subject I’ve written about previously in this space. It was largely an Intermountain West phenomenon until the pandemic. The idea has since exploded as thousands of districts have used the discredited pretense of deep cleaning to dial back the amount of live instruction per week. To wit, the four-day model is now common in New England states, and there’s a real danger that schools and systems have become attached to it. If these districts carry the abbreviated school week into the next school year, there will be even fewer instructional minutes and hours available at a moment when time on task is of the essence.
We are nothing if not creatures of habit, and in the case of keeping masks on, testing off, and four-day school weeks the new normal, these routines may prove to be stubborn habits to break. According to the American Psychological Association, nearly half of Americans feel uneasy about returning to their pre-pandemic lives—including those that have already been vaccinated. Schools and districts will be called upon to help overcome this post-Covid hangover. So while it’s heartening to know that teachers are setting their sights on the tutoring and other programming that may soon be required—with policymakers laying out the tools to help—we would do well to keep an eye on the abiding crisis-mongering and bad-news bias that continue to shape habits and threaten to handicap the best laid plans for reopening schools.
Fordham has two models in mind. The first is fairly conservative. It features improved instructional materials, professional learning, and accountability, while adding high-dosage tutoring and mental health services. The second is an experimental “move at your own pace” model, featuring personalized learning and up to an extra year of schooling, such as a 2.5 grade, for most students. “[W]e need to be willing to rethink our traditional ways of doing school,” he writes, and there’s no question he’s most excited about the experimental model.
Integral to both is the need for innovation and evolution based on research and development. And that is all to the good. It’s hard to fault the open and well-rounded approach that is embodied in the crowd-sourced Acceleration Imperative platform. Practitioners as well as policymakers are encouraged to drive the process with their own views.
And yet, despite all these praiseworthy attributes, Petrilli’s ideas and the Acceleration Imperative are unlikely to ever get up to full speed for two big reasons. One is the lack of money to pay for many of the ideas. The other is lack of enough attention to management support for frontline teachers and administrators.
Money is, of course, a familiar and contentious subject. But few would dispute that some of the proposals put forth by Fordham—for example, extended school time, an extra year of schooling, high-dosage tutoring, and mental health services—are pricey. Yet the price tags are almost never factored in or even mentioned.
Yes, all the federal bucks flowing from pandemic relief bills seem to be creating a new education zeitgeist that is lifting educators from the depth of pandemic despair to the heights of reimagined, better—and more expensive—futures forever. But let the buyer beware. The money won’t be around longer than a few years. Plus there is the danger that much of it will be wasted because of pressures to spend rapidly, and to spread the money too thinly in response to the political clout of competing interests.
In any event, long-term implementation of reforms like those on Petrilli’s list and in the Acceleration Imperative will cost a lot more money than school systems will have after the federal funding bonanza runs out.
Further, management support for administrators and teachers has not gotten the attention it deserves—although it is, arguably, more important and riskier. For decades, education reforms, particularly instructional policies and programs, have petered out because of inept implementation. In part, that’s because of the well-recognized fact that education R & D is a near wasteland in comparison to medicine, industry, science, and technology. It’s also because of policy and practice churn caused by education politics. And most basic, educators are not generally good managers. They lack professional training and suffer from a professional culture that devalues managerial skills and accountability principles.
These management weaknesses call into question some of the benefits of that hardy perennial for reformers—innovation. Thinking outside of the box or letting a thousand flowers bloom are worthy principles, particularly for ossified education bureaucracies. Yet, as the late Robert Slavin, an expert on evidence-based best practices, said: “The problem of education reform is not a lack of good ideas, but a lack of good ideas sensibly implemented.”
So how do we balance being open-minded and experimental against making sure what we’re already supposed to be doing is being done effectively? For instance, would grade 2.5 be needed if early interventions were well funded and implemented efficiently—especially high-dosage tutoring within a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework. The weight of evidence says it wouldn’t.
To get to the right balance, state departments of education have an underappreciated role to play in high-quality implementation of current and future policies and practices. Contrary to conventional understandings, SEAs have legal control and responsibility under state laws and federal laws (such as ESSA, IDEA, and Title I) to ensure that funds are well spent. To this end, their critical role includes basic tasks that should influence what goes on in the classroom. They should presumptively require (subject to waivers for compelling reasons) evidence-based best instructional practices. At the same time, while empowering local educators, they must provide detailed technical assistance, including professional development and practice manuals. Then they must vigorously monitor for fidelity of implementation, collect data on outcomes, and guide continuous improvement.
An exemplar is John White’s past work in Louisiana. As state superintendent, he “quietly engineered a system of curriculum-driven reforms...with incentives for districts and schools statewide to adopt and implement [them].” However, few if any state departments have done the same. Robert Pondiscio recently noted the “open question...whether literacy laws—from mandating phonics to third grade retention policies—can have a beneficial effect on classroom practice.” We can’t answer that until such laws, far flung across the states, are adequately funded and well managed.
One illustration: The Council of Chief State School Officers, in a detailed report, Third Grade Reading Laws: Implementation and Impact, emphasizes “Passing a law is only the beginning.” I know from my current research on such laws that it is virtually impossible to get data on implementation or outcomes from the many states and national organizations I have contacted.
That doesn’t mean that federal or state dictates should emasculate local control, and it couldn’t happen even if desired, given the political potency of local control. But surely evidence-based best practices, as ESSA and many state laws already require, should be outside the realm of local autonomy.
While expressing these concerns about Petrilli’s proposals and the Acceleration Imperative, I root for what they’re driving at. I hope I have not undersold the value of their ideas and commitment to sustainable implementation. Still, without incorporating more money and much better management, the reform designs, I fear, will fall far short of their potential.
Numerous studies have found that the quality of child care is too low and that we need to do more to strengthen it. And the problem is not confined to center-based care. According to a 2014 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, 48 percent of home-based childcare rendered by a relative (sorry Mom!) or a non-relative was reported to be low- or medium-quality (based on everything from interactions with the child, to the quality of activities, to the adequacy of the space and furnishings). Moreover, childcare arrangements are often of poorer quality for disadvantaged children. For example, only 16 percent of children from families in the bottom income quintile received care rated to be good or better.
The ability of policymakers to make top-down changes in the quality of home-based care is limited, but better information about how parents perceive quality could make for bottom-up improvements, which are even more needed post pandemic. A recent study in the Economics of Education Review documents an experiment that sheds light on how parents think about childcare quality through their revealed preferences.
Researchers from American University and the University of Arizona designed a large field experiment that focuses exclusively on the “unlisted paid market of childcare,” meaning caregivers seeking work within the home of the family requesting childcare and paid by that family at a negotiated rate. Caregivers tend to be nannies, au pairs, and babysitters generally with no prior relationship with the family. They are unlicensed, operating outside of their state’s center-based regulatory regimes, and consequently are likely to be less skilled, younger, and more disadvantaged than their center-based peers.
Analysts randomly assigned several characteristics to fictitious caregiver profiles that they created on a large, online childcare job service that connects families with providers. More specifically, they assigned three dimensions of caregiving: affordability, which is the hourly price of childcare; quality, which is caregiver education and experience; and convenience, which is caregiver car ownership and availability. The randomization was carefully carried out to ensure that the treatment variables assigned to the profiles were balanced across families’ observable characteristics.
Between March 2017 and May 2018, they deployed these fictitious profiles to respond to 8,000 job advertisements in eight large cities across the United States. Job postings were chosen for a response based on an assessment of the perceived “seriousness” of the posting family, location of work within thirty miles of the central city zip code, an offer of ongoing employment, and a few other criteria.
Analysts used eight identical profiles (the only difference was the first name of the applicant), with one application submitted in response to each posting. All profiles were of a thirty-year-old white female with the same photo, who was English-speaking, non-smoking, completed first-aid training, and was comfortable around pets. In a nutshell, they examined the likelihood that their made-up applicant—with a given set of randomly assigned characteristics—would receive an interview request or an on-the-spot hire.
The topline finding is that parents are extremely sensitive to the cost of childcare. Caregivers charging $10 to $15 per hour had a one in three chance of receiving an interview; when the hourly wage increases to $20 to $25 per hour, the odds fell to one in eight. Parents also demonstrated strong preferences for quality, particularly caregivers with higher educational attainment. More specifically, compared to individuals with a high school degree, those profiles with an associate degree were 25 percent more likely to receive an interview, and those with a bachelor’s 37 percent more likely. There were declining returns to experience in that those with three, five, seven, and nine years of work experience were preferred over those with just one year, but the response rates fall off for those with more than nine years. Applicants with cars were 15 percent more likely to receive an interview, but parents seem indifferent to caregivers with a higher level of availability, which is defined as the flexibility to work nights and weekends, presumably because most are looking for caregivers to cover the traditional work day. Additional analyses find that the wage variable—specifically what looks like willingness to pay—is actually driven by ability to pay as reflected in the families’ income levels.
The researchers conclude that low-quality childcare may be explained by lack of affordability or information available to identify high-quality childcare, rather than parents not valuing it. Parents can only assess—and place a value upon—the information at their disposal. Thankfully, formal, state-licensed programs are now collecting more detailed measures of quality that are being linked to outcomes. As we get better measures of childcare quality, those definitions should trickle down to the home-based sector. Because, although it’s super convenient to have a provider come to your house to look after little Susie, they need to do far more than babysit.
SOURCE: James A. Gordon, Chris M. Herbst, and Erdal Tekin, “Who's minding the kids? Experimental evidence on the demand for child care quality,” Economics of Education Review 80 (2018): 102076.
Problem solving involves a complex set of mental steps, even when it happens quickly. A group of researchers from the University of Virginia sought to test one specific aspect of the process—the types of solutions people consider—and uncovered what could be an important human attribute, with significant implications for public policy.
They were interested in determining whether problem solvers have a tendency to opt for additive or subtractive solutions. That is, when faced with a problem that requires the transformation of an object, idea, or situation—say, a change to a recipe—how often do people add components (ingredients or steps, perhaps, if it’s a recipe) versus take them away?
The researchers conducted eight separate experiments, three in person and the rest virtually. Approximately 200 to 300 people participated in each for a total n-size of 1,585. Examples of experiments include modifying a Lego structure to support a brick, when adding pieces cost money and removing pieces is free; improving the design of a mini-golf hole, where multiple changes are allowed and recorded; and fixing a multi-colored asymmetrical digital grid pattern to be perfectly symmetrical by changing block colors, in which the only correct option was a subtractive one.
The bottom line is that no matter the problem at hand or the incentives provided, people tend to default to additive transformations and, in doing so, completely overlook subtractive options. For example, in the digital grid experiment, only 20 percent of participants favored subtracting blocks even though that was the only successful option. In another experiment, just 11 percent of improvement suggestions offered to an incoming university president via anonymous drop box were subtractive in nature. Across the board, participants choosing a subtractive transformation in an experiment never cracked 40 percent. In fact, most experiments were closer to 25 percent.
Participants did offer a greater number of subtractive solutions when they were given specific instructions to consider taking something away, when such options were made obvious (“Improve this grilled cheese and chocolate sandwich”), and when they were provided with several opportunities to propose solutions such as with the mini-golf example. But the researchers note that the need for such conditions underscores the human predisposition toward additive options.
The study concludes by saying that this bias toward addition—where “more” automatically equals “better”—could explain certain aspects of societal ills such as overburdened schedules, institutional red tape, and damaging effects on the planet. In a Washington Post analysis of the study, one of the researchers points to legislation and public policy as other areas where less might be more. In the realm of education, there is a tendency toward making teaching and the running of schools more complex over time, not less. We are forever adding new initiatives—putting new problems to solve on teachers’ plates while never taking anything off. If only decisionmakers could see and embrace “addition by subtraction,” new and better solutions may be more likely to emerge.
SOURCE: Gabrielle S. Adams, Benjamin A. Converse, Andrew H. Hales, and Leidy E. Klotz, “People systematically overlook subtractive changes,” Nature (April 2021).
On this week’s podcast, Clarice Schillinger, founder of Keeping Kids in School PAC, joins Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss her experience leading the movement for five-day-a-week, in-person instruction for Pennsylvania public school kids. On the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the reading skills of fourth graders who perform at low levels on NAEP.
Amber's Research Minute
Sheida White, John Sabatini, Bitnara Jasmine Park, Jing Chen, Jared Bernstein, & Mengyi Li, "The 2018 NAEP Oral Reading Fluency Study," NCES, U.S. Department of Education (April 2021).
If you listen on Apple Podcasts, please leave us a rating and review - we'd love to hear what you think! The Education Gadfly Show is available on all major podcast platforms.
- D.C. district leaders made it clear that they expect all children to be back in school in the fall unless students or families have a legitimate health concern. —Washington Post
- Tennessee’s department of education ruled that public school districts won’t be offering hybrid options in the fall, putting an end to the widely-despised “Roomers and Zoomers” model. —WBIR 10 News
- Virginia's new approach to middle and high school math could “erode rather than advance equity.” —Andy Rotherham
- “Charter founder Seth Andrew charged with stealing over $200,000 from civics-focused network he created.” —The 74
- Parents, students, and teachers from both sides of the aisle are fed up with woke indoctrination. —Erika Sanzi
- Thousands of districts are doing four-day weeks this year, robbing students of learning time to follow costly and unnecessary cleaning protocols. —The 74
- Des Moines public school students, encouraged by teachers and principals, are missing class to protest a bill that could expand charter schools. —Des Moines Register