Posts Tagged ‘washington post’
How about doing something about the sad fact that teachers aren’t what they used to be?
This is a great example of a common cognitive bias. However, I’m not sure if it has a name, so I’ll just call it “good ol’ days (GOD) bias.” (if you know the common name for the bias, please leave it in the comments)
With GOD bias, people tend to think things are far worse today than they were in the past. Cohen, for example, makes a surprising claim: that “teacher’s aren’t what they used to be.” And given that he thinks it is a problem, he must think that teachers used to be better. And he says it is a “sad fact.” My question is, what is the basis for his claim. What evidence is he using? Has he seen any longitudinal data on teacher performance? He apparently thinks his readers will agree with the claim, as he makes no attempt to justify it. He called it a fact, so he must think the evidence is strong.
I think his claim is very likely false. It is really hard for me to imagine that teachers are worse nowadays. There has been a lot of progress during the past century in our understanding of child development. It would be surprising if this has not benefitted teachers.
I see GOD bias all the time. For example, whenver some violent crime is reported on the news, people make a comment like “our society is so much more violent today.” In reality, we are much less violent today. In the old days, people used to burn cats for fun, or have a duel to defend their honor, or attend a public hanging, or participate in a lynching. Activities that were acceptable a long time ago, are unfathomable now.
Local news programs are especially keen on encouraging GOD bias. They love to promote segments that try to scare parents into thinking their children are doing something scary. (in a menacing voice) “You won’t believe the latest teen trend.” Maybe it’s the latest teen drug craze. Or the latest use of technology. But there is always some “dangerous new trend” to scare parents with. The frightening news segments affect our perception — we believe these trends are more common then they really are. The result is we long for the days when the world was a safer place for kids. It’s notalgia for an age that never existed:
Or are these wholesome memories
really from reruns on TV
and ads in old garage sale magazines?
Columnists from our nation’s largest newspapers and magazines love to write about education reform. Even though they apparently know nothing about it, they are very quick to not only propose solutions, but to make it clear that these solutions would work. They imply (or directly state) that the only barriers to implementation are teacher’s unions or people who have too low of expectations for underprivileged kids. I’ve written about this before (link), and will do so again.
COHEN (2/3/09): Do your reading on education and you will find an emerging consensus. Abolish tenure. There are other ways to ensure that teachers are fairly treated without guaranteeing the jobs of the inept. (Cops don’t have tenure, and neither do columnists.) Ensure that the best teachers teach at the most challenging schools and ensure also that they get paid lavishly for doing so.
“Abolish tenure,” Cohen advises, assuring us that columnists lack it. In fact, Cohen has lasted so long at the Post, through so many comical blunders, that his career seems to stand as clear proof that big pundits simply don’t need it. “Ensure that teachers teach at the most challenging schools,” he further lectures Obama—without explaining how we can “ensure” such a thing, especially once we’ve removed their tenure. After all: For decades, “the best teachers” have been leaving urban systems in favor of suburban districts. Question: Might that exodus increase if these “best teachers” are forced to teach in schools they’d rather avoid?Further question: Could Obama possibly deal with a problem like that as part of an emergency measure, one he hopes to complete in two weeks? And by the way: Are “the best teachers” in one school setting necessarily “the best teachers” somewhere else? If Teacher X is great in an upper-end AP program, will he necessarily be “the best” when it comes to teaching low-income kids who are years below grade level? Such questions have never occurred to Cohen—yet he somehow thinks they can be addressed as part of the two-week stimulus effort. Just a guess: Because his columns take fifteen minutes, he may believe that quandries like this can be settled by this time next week.