kitchen table math, the sequel: are parents rational?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

are parents rational?

Steve H. needs to hie himself over to Dan Willingham's blog right this minute and share his wit and wisdom re: parents and their ability to think as clearly as a person who has obtained a professional administrative services credential.  


SteveH said...

Maybe I missed the place to respond. I am a little bit surprised that he takes this position.

"School choice might benefit the system, or it might not. But the argument that it will work because “Parents will pick the best schools for their kids” is not persuasive."

This is a strawman. Who ever said that the goal is to pick the "best schools" or that even best schools will be created. This is a common anti-choice argument. Somehow, choice not only has to be better, but best.

"Should society intervene if parents send their child to a school that the parents ought to know is terrible? And are we, as a society, going to allow people to make poor choices for which there is a collective cost? Perhaps this is the educational equivalent of letting people choose to drive without wearing a seatbelt."

Um, parents currently send their kids to schools that ARE terrible because they have no choice!

There are no guarantees for all, but for many individuals parents and kids, it is a guarantee.

Catherine Johnson said...

The site ate the comment I left last night.

I just left this one, which I hope gets posted:

Hi Dawn!

The title of this post asks what happens "if people aren't rational," but the only people in the post are parents.

Parents are no more irrational than teachers, administrators, or ed school professors, and our incentives are better. As Joe Williams points out in his book Cheating Our Children, parents are the only actors in the system whose entire focus is the individual child.

The public school system is structured to serve the interests of the adults (not that it does that well - more irrationality, I guess). That's why the grownups have unions and tenure and lifetime benefits, etc.

The children have no such protections or entitlements, nor do they have an entitlement to learn. Courts have ruled for many years in many states that "educational malpractice" does not exist.

When you look at the situation from the point of view of incentives (which involves the social environment), not irrationality (which restricts analysis to the individual), you see things differently.

Yes, parents will be irrational, and, yes, parents will make mistakes.

But we are the only people in the entire sorry mess who absolutely have our kids' interests at heart. Many of us are going to recognize our mistakes and correct them, or try to, something your basic public school does not do.

Catherine Johnson said...

Steve - you have to scroll down pretty far to find the comments window.

Dawn left a terrific comment.

SteveH said...

My new comment just appeared, but not your comment?!?

I'm a little surprised at his position that choice might cost him leverage with his public school. I'm not sure what leverage he is talking about.

This might happen if there was a mass migration out of a school, but would that many people make such a bad decision? In any town, there might be an initial group that will jump ship, but the public school still has the home court advantage, and they will do more to keep students from leaving. I call that more leverage.

If a lot of students leave, then there are much bigger problems going on that won't be solved using whatever leverage they had before. It's much more difficult to argue that a mass migration out is based on bad parental decisions.

I would suspect that one of two things would happen. A charter school would pop up in the same town near the public school, or, more likely, the regular public school will become much more in tune with what the parents want.

Besides, if we are talking about leverage, the leverage of choice is much more powerful on an individual basis than any sort of leverage one might have with a school.

Dawn said...

Thanks Catherine. :D

He's actually annoying me a little. It seems that his response to many of the comments is to say that x was the point of his post but each time it seems that the value of x changes. In one comment it's that parents won't choose the best school, in another it's that they won't leave bad schools in sufficient numbers to effect change. I get the feeling that he thinks by making one point he's making related points by default. There's faulty logic there.

SteveH said...

"... each time it seems that the value of x changes."

That was my view.

He is trying to hide behind a very narrow definition even though he casts implications all over the place.

It wasn't a clearly defined proposition, but he had already decided on the answer.

Catherine Johnson said...

I had another thought last night, which was that as far as the field of behavioral economics goes, everyone is irrational.

But people who have attended ed schools & are now employed by public schools have been exposed to, taught, and tested on an institutional irrationality to boot.

That's not to say it always 'takes,' but the institution of American public schools is irrational.