kitchen table math, the sequel: Help desk - How much do focus groups cost?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Help desk - How much do focus groups cost?

Does anyone know?

How much does it cost to hire a firm or an individual to run focus groups and write a report?

What I would specifically like to know is the prices for a firm not associated with the public education world to do this.

How much would it cost to hire a political polling firm, for instance?

If any of you has information, I'd love to hear.


Catherine Johnson said...

I fear my town has crossed over into a who new level of Always Worse Than You Thinkness.

More than fear.

Feel pretty convinced.

Catherine Johnson said...

Trouble in paradise.

Anonymous said...

I don't know the answer to your question, but your question is also poorly formed :-)

Are you talking about a statistically *valid* focus group that will actually tell you a truth? Or are you talking about a focus group that will come back with a predefined answer (this one is very useful for sales pitches)?

I'd assume that the costs were different ...

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

Our town calls them "charrettes". They are a way to make the public think they have a say in something that has already been pre-decided. It happened when our zoning laws were changed to a New Urbanist model. We are anything but an urban town, but many want to control what you do with your property.

There is also the Delphi Method, where facilitators are used to divide the known dissenters into separate focus groups where they can be controlled. The goal is to get everyone to agree with their solution. Dissent is not considered helpful. You're either part of the (their) solution, or you're part of the problem.

Then, the school can just do the analysis and report themselves. Our school committee did a major analysis to see if we should change our high school of record (out town does not have our own high school.) No explicit merit function was ever defined. They just collected facts for each high school in the area. This left it open for them to vaguely apply their own weighting values. They started to use the word "viable" to allow them to consider schools that were clearly not as good as our current one. However, a poll of townspeople easily outranked their "viable" angle.

A town will not pay for a study that might come up with a solution that disagrees with what they want. When our schools held a facilitated open house study for their five year strategic plan, so many fundamental assumptions (like full inclusion, curricula, and no TAG) were off the table that the process was virtually meaningless.

momod4 said...

Steve, you're absolutely right. When my older kids were in HS (late 80s), the county schools ran a parent vote, in our HS cluster, on whether to keep the current 7-8 JHS format or change to a 6-7-8 MS format. The vote was overwhelmingly to keep the JHS format; I think the MS vote was in the single digits - in a cluster where the HS had almost 2000 kids, plus the MS and 4-5 ES. The county moved immediately to a MS format. Apparently the county ed was required to take a vote, but not required to pay any attention to it. My younger kids were there in the MS format; the JHS academic focus gone, touchy-feely (all the worst aspects of young adolescence) emphasized and the ES artsy-crafty stuff in.

lgm said...

My experience is the same as SteveH's. Delphi method, and there will be shills in the audience...approximately one per small group.

Auntie Ann said...

Our school's private, and they make a point of never taking questions when multiple parents are present. If you want to ask something, it's always "set up an appointment to talk about your kid." The one chance parents grabbed to actually speak en masse a couple years ago was a major embarrassment for the administration. They made fools of themselves and ended up browbeating a popular parent and humiliating themselves further--all of this with an outside advisor present who was perfectly willing to take questions (she looked like a deer caught in the headlights when the wave of dissatisfaction began to build.) The school will never open themselves up to another event like that; they simply don't want to hear it.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Ask google, and you'll find hits like

which claims $2-3k (in 2009)

Catherine Johnson said...

Are you talking about a statistically *valid* focus group that will actually tell you a truth? Or are you talking about a focus group that will come back with a predefined answer (this one is very useful for sales pitches)?

I'm asking about statistically valid focus groups that will actually tell us a truth.

Any ideas?

Catherine Johnson said...

Auntie Ann ---- I can see the look on the face of the advisor now.

What was the issue?

Catherine Johnson said...

gasstation - thank you!

What our superintendent wants to do is hire a "consulting firm" to conduct focus groups all over town, produce a statistical analysis, and write goals for the new strategic planning process.

What would that run if you were hiring a real consulting firm, do you think?

("Real" in Mark's sense.)

Auntie Ann said...

Math. They were explaining what they were doing in the different grade levels to teach math (they used EM, but were converting to SM--in a project-based cooperative learning environment, of course.) Some things were good, for example, during our time at the school they have introduced math minutes for math facts.

I believe it was as this meeting that they said both that they didn't consider themselves a college-prep school (which leads to the question: what do they expect their students to do when they turn 18?) and also that they will only use Common Core as a guideline--in other words, they feel no obligation to actually provide even the Common Core. They also said they don't use either EM or SM as a complete curriculum, but only as part of building their own curriculum to their own tastes. Since these are universally humanities majors, their tastes do not lean towards STEM.

You can see why the parents were upset, and why, when the school goes through 8th, most parents who actually want their kids to be prepared for high school and college (and calculus in 12th), and parents who actually can see their kids in a STEM career, flee after 6th.

Instead of listening to complaints and dealing with the issues, the school take an "it's our way or the highway" approach.

Catherine Johnson said...

momof4 --

I mentioned my version of that story earlier. The district **did** do a survey of parent satisfaction with Math Trailblazers.

I tallied the comments and found 80 positive comments about Trailblazers to 151 negative.

The then-interim director of curriculum told the board the parent survey was positive (on grounds that most parents said their children were learning math & were on grade level -- something generic like that).

She also said that people purveying the view that the survey was unfavorable to Math Trailblazers were wrong and were misleading the public.

Catherine Johnson said...

Auntie Ann ---Interesting that your school introduced Math Minutes --- that's exactly what happened here.

I was assuming we were unique ---- are schools going back to timed worksheets???

Does anyone know?

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

Catherine asked

"What our superintendent wants to do is hire a "consulting firm" to conduct focus groups all over town, produce a statistical analysis, and write goals for the new strategic planning process.

What would that run if you were hiring a real consulting firm, do you think?"

That depends on how much the friend that the superintendent wants to hire charges. I'm very dubious about managers who hire consultants to run focus groups to determine public opinion—it is the standard operating procedure in our small city, and it rarely leads to good results—either a very tiny, highly biased sample is made with questions carefully tailored to elicit what the consultant believes the group hiring them wants to hear, or there are large open meetings that get packed by one interest group.

Focus groups are generally used in industry to see whether a particular marketing campaign is likely to work, not to get at the truth of anything real.

Auntie Ann said...

The math minute (technically "Rocket Math") thing at our school was the work of a single teacher. She taught a combined K-1 class and introduced them. I believe she faced stiff opposition from other teachers and the administration; but, it still spread throughout K-5. It happened so suddenly that our 13 year old didn't really get these at all, but our 11 year old did them throughout his K-5 years.

I also think this is the same teacher who asked if we really wanted "drill and kill?!" when we wanted worksheets like this (when our older kid was in her class.) To which we answered, "Yes!" Somehow, she got the message and had introduced them within a year or two of that conversation.

Catherine Johnson said...

That's an amazing story.

In our case, we had (as I keep mentioning) over a decade of parent uprisings over Trailblazers.

I also spent a lot of time writing "teach to mastery" posts for the Parents Forum.

Finally, just a couple of years ago, the middle school teachers had a middle-school teacher uprising, which the then-curriculum director characterized as brave. (I don't know the ins and outs; it's possible she put them up to it ---- OR it's possible they were emboldened by the fact that they knew they would have very strong parent support & 'cover.')

In any event, it was obvious that the interim curriculum director knew what automaticity was and thought it was a good albeit out of fashion thing.

She brought in the timed worksheets, and they're still here.

With the math scores being as good as they are, I expect them to stay.

But we'll see.

palisadesk said...

We used Rocket Math (also sold as "Mastering Math Facts") at my old school too. Doesn't take much time, students move up as they develop fluency. There's a companion program called "Word Problems Made Easy" that is grade-specific and also very effective, meant to take a few minutes daily as bell work or a warm-up activity. Both these programs were designed by Don Crawford and others whom Catherine will recognize from the DI list.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi palisadesk!

Thank you!

I'll get this filed away.

btw, I have to track down your email from a few years back re: curriculum mapping...

Do you have any further thoughts?

Do you feel like writing a post on curriculum mapping?

palisadesk said...

Did I write something about curriculum mapping? I'm drawing a blank on that one. It doesn't sound like a topic I would have held forth on, though I certainly have weighed in on curriculum-related matters.

I think it may have been from somebody else, or else an email from me on a related topic.