They Gotta Score If They Wanna Put Points on the Board, Phil


As exercises in question-begging go, the sporting press is beat by the education beat, which ranks right beside conspiracy literature in treating the assumed validity of its own conclusions as a priori evidence of their truth. So you find Louis Menand in the middle of a prototypical Oh-Those-Crazy-French piece on President Hollande’s plan to do away with homework, making an approving citation:

According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school.

Many things “correlate positively” with many other things, and without seeing the study, it’s impossible to know what this is supposed to mean, although you’d suspect that it means that there was some non-negligible adjusted r-squared value in the regression, ahem, the sort of thing that I don’t imagine New Yorker generalists spend a great deal of time . . . understanding.

Generally, though, saying that homework correlates with success in school is not very different from saying that success in school correlates with success in school; the existence of a necessary component of a condition when the condition obtains says nothing about condition itself. Here’s a question: what is success in school, and why should we want it?

One thought on “They Gotta Score If They Wanna Put Points on the Board, Phil

  1. the interests of the student are so at odds with the interests of the institution of schooling, that i don’t think “success” can be *meaningfully* defined. that said…

    if schooling is in service to an economic system that “wants pliability,” (as crispy observes,) then merely instilling the willingness to do homework — the willingness to obey the commands of an authority figure, even while away from one’s place of employment — is success.

    i haven’t figured out why we should want that, though.

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