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[Peter Schuck, guest-blogging, May 10, 2007 at 4:12pm] Trackbacks
Avoiding Bad Bets, Removing Bad Apples

My apologies. I posted this a few days ago, but with the comments on my initial posting, so here it is again. I will follow immediately with another one from this morning that I also mis-located.

My next research bearing on bad apples is to look at the NYC system to see what happens to the chronically disruptive student who, under our view, should be more readily removed from the classroom and perhaps from the school unless and until he/she is reformed and no longer harms good apple students. There does not appear to much good information about the nature and quality of the alternative programs to which they are sent, how long they remain, what happens to them there and once they leave those programs, and the like. Any ideas?

Daniel San:
There is a substantial body of research concerning outcomes of different responses to criminal offenders. I suspect that there would be substantial overlap with the 'bad apple' students. In the educational context, privacy concerns may make it difficult to conduct reviewable research.

In the criminal context, it is a serious problem that those of us who practice in the area are (at best) vaguely aware of the social science research. I wonder whether education has the same problem.
5.10.2007 5:38pm
Waldensian (mail):
Has there been research regarding the nature and extent of the actual "harm" done to good apple students by disruptive bad apples? For example, has it been established that academic performance of other students is lowered by disruptive classmates, rather than by bad teaching, class size, cruddy textbooks, whatever?

I wonder because we tend to assume that such harms occur, and it seems intuitively true that they would occur -- but I have never seen them measured or investigated.

I confess, however, that I am no expert in this field, so perhaps demonstrating these harms is old hat.
5.10.2007 6:09pm
Houston Lawyer:
If a teacher must spend any significant part of her time dealing with a bad apple, that is time that the other students are not being taught. In addition, by distracting other students the bad apple also keeps those other students from learning. The fact that you can and will deal harshly with the bad apples helps keep other students in line.
5.10.2007 6:22pm
Daniel San:
Waldensian: Has there been research regarding the nature and extent of the actual "harm" done to good apple students by disruptive bad apples?

Interesting question. The harm would seem to be obvious, but there may be ways to minimize it.

Some elementary schools are experimenting with classes composed of high achievers and low achievers (not necessarily bad apples, but there is some overlap). With a creative teacher, my subjective impression is that this mix works very well. The low achievers need extra personal attention. The high achievers need extra freedom. The high achievers can help tutor the low achievers, which can be beneficial to both.
5.10.2007 6:58pm
Waldensian (mail):

If a teacher must spend any significant part of her time dealing with a bad apple, that is time that the other students are not being taught. In addition, by distracting other students the bad apple also keeps those other students from learning. The fact that you can and will deal harshly with the bad apples helps keep other students in line.

Again, I understand this and don't disagree with it. But has anyone ever actually measured this effect? Or attempted to?

Academic performance of "good apples" presumably suffers when disruptive kids are in the room, and presumably improves when they are removed. We're very capable of measuring academic performance; I was just wondering if we've ever measured the effect of bad apples on other kids' academic performance.

Note that other intuitive theories about what will affect academic performance -- e.g., class size -- are not necessarily borne out by studies.
5.10.2007 7:19pm
Waldensian (mail):

Interesting question. The harm would seem to be obvious, but there may be ways to minimize it.

I should point out that I have a dog in this fight. I have a personal interest in the "mainstreaming" of special ed kids. Much of the opposition to that process consists of complaints about disruption. But these complaints tend to be anecdotal and intuitive only.

Given the rather surprising lack of correlation between class size and academic performance, I think it is worthwhile to determine whether this kind of "disruption" actually is a problem, or whether, like large class size, it just seems like it ought to be a problem.
5.10.2007 7:24pm
TJIC (www):
Waldensian writes


I should point out that I have a dog in this fight. I have a personal interest in the "mainstreaming" of special ed kids. Much of the opposition to that process consists of complaints about disruption.


If you yourself admit that you have no data on whether disruption exists (it may, or it may not), why do you take a stand that mainstreaming should occur?
5.11.2007 10:03am
Waldensian (mail):

If you yourself admit that you have no data on whether disruption exists (it may, or it may not), why do you take a stand that mainstreaming should occur?

First of all, I don't think it should take place in all cases. But since the law favors "mainstreaming" as the default, it has always seemed to me that it would be helpful to have something more than anecdotal evidence when determining when that default shouldn't apply. Do you disagree?
5.11.2007 1:06pm
markm (mail):
The high achievers can help tutor the low achievers, which can be beneficial to both.

Not necessarily. If the low achievers just aren't motivated (rather than being stupid), all you do is frustrate the high achievers. And if they are actually struggling to understand, I know very well from personal experience that being good at math doesn't automatically confer the ability to explain it to those that aren't.
5.11.2007 1:46pm
D Lacey (mail):
Having to try to explain something you learned is a good way to learn it better. Also, getting something explained by a peer often is easier to understand than having it explained by an instructor - perhaps because the peer has a fresher memory of how they learned it.

As for 'just being unmotivated' - kids are almost always motivated to learn. It's an instinct for young humans to be curious and want to know things, to learn to do things for themselves. Helping motivate them also is seeing peers who are interested and enjoying the topic, another reason the mix might work well.

I'm also not sure the 'bad apples' actually cause less learning. I'd like to see that studied too and quantified. If it turns out it's more harmful to the 'bad apples' to remove them from the good examples and better socialized peer group, than it is harmful to the 'good apples' to have the disruption, that changes the preferable course of action.
5.11.2007 5:08pm
Roger Sweeny (mail):
As for 'just being unmotivated' - kids are almost always motivated to learn.

True, but irrelevant. They need to be motivated to learn what the teacher has been told to teach. Often they are fascinated by sports or popular culture but don't give a s**t about DNA or World War I or the Spanish language. I had a group of kids two years ago who could have filled several weeks with learned debates about who was the better running back, Shaun Alexander or LaDamian Tomlinson. Unfortunately, the class name was Physical Science (BTW: the answer is LT, but Shaun had the better year in 2005).

Helping motivate them also is seeing peers who are interested and enjoying the topic, another reason the mix might work well.

Except that most students aren't "interested and enjoying the topic." Even many of the best students are "doing what they have to do": getting grades to graduate and/or get into college, keeping their parents from being mad at them. They have a job and they do it. That may well be worth giving less motivated students a big exposure to. But many of the less motivated will metaphorically say, "I don't want this job; I never asked for it; I'm not going to work very hard in it."
5.12.2007 12:40pm