Good for you.
But before you do, I have four questions for you. I'd like you to be able to describe and/or explain each of the following, if you would be so kind.
1. Reggio Emelia
2. Campbell's Law
3. Simpson's Paradox
4. The Zone of Proximal Development
What, you are not even sure you've heard of most of them?
Congratulations, that might, based on my experience at a conference with a number of members of the Education Writers Association, qualify you for membership - as someone writing/opining about something for which you lack the requisite background.
Why these four? Well, for that you will have keep reading.
The fact that so few of those who do write or opine about matters educational can accurately respond to my four questions is part of what is wrong in our educational discourse in this nation, for it is the educational writers who bear the responsibility for informing the general public and also political leaders of the true issues in education, which if they do not know basic information, they cannot fairly do.
So let me give you a brief intro to each.
Reggio Emelia - is a small town in Italy, where Loris Malaguzzi and the parents of the villages around Reggio Emilia established the world's best early childhood education program, one that focuses on childhood development and formation of self identity through respect, responsibility, and community using a process not of lecture but of exploration
Campbell's Law - promulgated by Donald T. Campbell in 1976: The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor. This adage has been demonstrated time and again. If you pay policemen for the number of arrests they make, many will be dismissed and the community may pay substantial settlements for false arrests. If you change to pay them on the basis of percentage of arrests resulting in convictions or guilty pleas, only slam dunk cases will result in arrests, and many others will simply go free. Campbell's Law points at the basic flaw in attempting to reward education professionals on the basis of student test scores.
Simpson's Paradox - a statistical anomaly which explains why you need to disaggregate data. Let me illustrate
Year One ten students take an exam with a score range of 400-1600 (the old SAT0.
9 are white upper middle class who average 1000 = 9000
1 is black working class who scores 800 = 800
Total points 9800 average score is 980.
Next year both groups do better, but the mix is different
white upper middle class 8 x 1010 = 8080
black working class 2 x 810 = 1620
Total points 9700, average score is now 970.
OHMYGOD - our SAT scores dropped!!! Yes, but that was mean SAT score, and your mix now has more lower scoring students. If you report is the one overall mean score you present a distorted representation of what has actually happened, which is improvement in both groups.
Zone of Proximal Development - a basic concept of the constructivist approach to education. Developed by Lev Vygotsky, it describes the difference between what a child can do independently and what a child can do with help (usually from adults). The focus on education should therefore be in that zone, which is where the greatest learning/growth occurs, a place beyond the immediate comfort zone of the student but not so far away that s/he cannot see how, with adult help, to get there.
These are four key ideas that I think someone writing about education should understand.
I would also think that anyone writing about education nowadays should have some training in basic statistics, research design, and similar topics to be able to properly address "studies" and reports that make impossible claims that are easily disproved by one competent in the relevant disciplines. It might help if such writers could go beyond reading an executive summary that may not be supported by the underlying data in the report - that was certainly true of the seminal national education policy statement A Nation At Risk in 1983.
Somehow that seems too much to ask for our major media organizations. It is bad enough that pundits pontificate on topics about which they know little, although in the case of education everyone seems to think s/he is an expert merely by virtue of having sat in some kind of class at some point. It is far worse that those whose professional responsibility is to be writing about the subject lack the requisite knowledge and background.
But don't feel bad. You too could therefore be qualified to write for a major publication on education even though you do not even know much of the important terminology, and probably cannot name the important professional organizations in education - and here I mean neither the unions nor the alumni of Teach for America.
Just make enough money - then like Bill Gates and Eli Broad you will believe you are entitled to tell the professionals how to do education.
And if you yourself are not wealthy, decide to become a cheerleader for a key figure, like Richard Whitmire did for Michelle Rhee, or a particular approach, like Jay Mathews did for KIPP schools. You will sell some books and become an invited speaker which might bring you more income.
Just a few more questions, if I may.
Can you explain the difference between a value-added score and a gain score?
What is the summer learning loss and what impact should it have on our overall approach to educational policy?
Who was Coleman and how was his famous report misused by some for political purposes?
What, you don't know about these either? Well, welcome to the club. Feel free to start writing and opining about education. You will be in good company, with most of those who are already doing it.
Me? I'm going to have a beer, then get back to calling all the parents of my kids. Even though my first class is not until Monday morning. After all, we teachers only work 7 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have way too much time off, are not accountable, and overpaid, right?