Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blogging the countervailing currents

I'm going to blog two social science articles from a high-profile journal.  I should state up-front that such articles often contain results that are hard to replicate, so take them with a grain of salt.  However, these two articles deviate from the current zeitgeist, and hence might have faced slightly more scrutiny in peer review than other articles.  That doesn't guarantee that the results will stand up to replication efforts, but it does make them worth examining.

First, this is a nice study showing that placebo effects can be substantial in "cognitive training" activities.  It's not my area of expertise, but they clearly put a lot of effort into constructing good control and placebo groups, more care than I see in a lot of educational studies.

Second, here's a large-scale study from Denmark, in which the number of instructional hours devoted to reading was increased in thousands of elementary school classrooms, but in half of the classrooms the teachers were told to do whatever they wanted while in the other half they were given a very strict reading curriculum to adhere to in those extra hours.  The teachers with flexibility had statistically significant improvements in their classrooms.  The teachers with the prescribed curriculum had gains that were larger than zero but not as large as those of the teachers given flexibility.  The interpretation is slightly tricky because the error bars on the second gain overlap both zero and the teachers with flexibility.  Still, what we can say confidently is that there's no evidence that giving teachers some amount of flexibility is bad in this context.  The authors interpret it as evidence that teachers respond with instruction tailored to the needs of their particular class.  Not a shining moment for technocracy.

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