"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Ignoring Evidence

The Trump administration is clearly on a path of drawing policies and taking actions that simply ignore evidence. Its withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement is one recent example. Defending this decision, Trump cites a study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that estimates how much of an effect on global climate full compliance to the Paris agreement would have. Trump stresses that the effects are smal although one of the authors of the study, Erwan Monier, clearly states: The Paris agreement is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is only a step. It puts us on the right path to keep warming under 3 C, but even under the same level of commitment of the Paris agreement after 2030, our study indicates a 95 percent probability that the world will warm by more than 2 C by 2100.” On basic education, the situation is more or less the same. Trump and his education secretary Devos are likewise championing virtual charter schools. Here, evidence is also very much against their views.

A nationwide study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University in 2015 shows how much students in virtual schools are left behind compared to those enrolled in traditional public schools.

Above copied from
Online Charter School Study
The above differences are not trivial. A student in a virtual charter school falls behind by about 180 days in math. The difference is almost half a year behind.

Ignoring evidence usually does not look like ignorance. Oftentimes, it is a result of an adamant opinion that has been based on an idea or hypothesis that sounds reasonable. Online schooling does have a lot of potential. It can be tailored to each student. It does not require expensive infrastructure. It can reach children who do not have access to traditional schools. It is after all one way to draw back school dropouts. The idea is indeed reasonable. However, in reality, a lot of good ideas do not turn out to be good. For this reason, research is important. Sadly, the Trump administration works primarily on opinions it has long formed, completely ignoring evidence from research.

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