Tuesday, August 28, 2007

John Edwards - the empiest of empty suits

John Edwards, demonstrating, once again, that his is the emptiest of empty suits.
Edwards criticized the federal government for under-funding special education. He also criticized the 5-year-old law, calling it a bad measure of how much children are learning. Children don't learn anything from taking tests, like those mandated by the law, he said.

That is, of course, poppycock. Children learn from taking tests. They learn how to perform in various situations, they learn the material better in preparing for assessment, they are exposed to it again in taking the assessment.

But even if they weren't learning from taking the tests, how else are you going to assess what, or whether, they are learning? And if we aren't assessing student learning, how do we know whether the schools are working or not? Lord Kelvin's dictum is relevant here.
I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely in your thoughts advanced to the state of Science, whatever the matter may be
- Sir William Thomson, Lord Kelvin

Or the shorter, pithier version - "If you can not measure it, you can not improve it." How can we know how to, or even if we need to, improve our educational system if we don't know how it's performing? And how do we measure its performance if not by finding out what the children in it have learned?

Contrast the wisdom of that with more from Edwards:
"I borrowed this line from a friend of mine who's from the South, but the way he says it is, 'a hog doesn't get fatter by weighing it,'" Edwards said.

But when you weigh it, you find out whether it's getting fatter or not, and can adjust your hog-fattening techniques accordingly. If you don't weigh it, you're just guessing. (Of course Edwards got rich by encouraging juries to just guess on whether or not doctors had caused birth defects, so one can understand his enthusiasm for the technique. That doesn't mean that the rest of us should be buying it...)

(H/T - The Baseball Crank)

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