To the Editor:
Regarding “ ‘No Effects’ Studies Raising Eyebrows” (April 1, 2009):
For years I have debated whether the issues with which we educators grapple so intensely grow out of stupidity, ignorance, political correctness, or simply a desperate need to appear professionally efficacious. A combination of all four seems most likely.
The principal reason that good studies show “no effects” is that teaching methods and materials are inconsequential variables compared to student ability and effort, which are made up of variables too numerous, complex, and interrelated to be controlled or even identified. It is no secret that bright, hardworking students achieve with any reasonable methods and materials, whereas those lacking ability and effort do poorly regardless.
We celebrate when our experimental variable is said to have an effect that is probably not due to chance. The small size of that effect and the cost in money, time, effort, and organizational upheaval to produce it do not seem to curb our cries of “Eureka!” or our claims of professionalism.
Teachers’ personalities and commitments, which are unrelated to professional training and experience, are our major positive or negative influences on student effort and, therefore, achievement. To some extent, ability improves or declines with achievement. Otherwise, ability and effort are beyond our control.
A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2009 edition of Education Week as Students’ Ability and Effort Are True Source of Effects