When we talk about "factchecks" and "factcheckers" these days we often talk about the activities of highly partisan political hacks. Facebook fact checkers in particular simply shouldn't be trusted when it comes to any topic that can be shaded politically. But "fake facts" are not just a political problem. How we think about a problem depends on the information we think we know.
If we are operating with faulty facts we are developing "narratives" based on "received wisdom" rather than reality. When we accidentally wander away from reality when we are attempting to assess problems we are robbing ourselves of an opportunity to solve our problems. The results can be nothing short of disastrous.
How many of the "facts" you think you "know" are actually correct? When it comes to education, and schools in particular, we often think we "know" things that, if you dig deep into the data, simply aren't correct. Loads of people, sadly, convince themselves their kids' schools are great when in reality the data suggests the schools have mediocre reading scores and the students are testing below average in math. The "received wisdom" when it comes to education is that schools would be better if class sizes were smaller. In fact many people will tell you that in the "old days" when "class sizes" were smaller students did better. It sounds great. It sounds like an easy fix. Hire more teachers, make class sizes smaller and the students will miraculously be as competent as they were back in 1962!
In general most people think smaller classes are better for students. But the data doesn't necessarily link better performance to smaller classes. In fact, in the "good old days" average class sizes in the United States were larger than they are today. (If you want to check out the official data yourself click here.) And yet, if you listen to almost anyone talk about how to fix the public education system they will almost all say we need to make class sizes smaller. Sometimes a self described "expert" will tell you we need to make classes small like they "used to be."
But... were class sizes really smaller when schools did a better job educating students? According to the official government data the answer is a resounding no. Pupil to teacher ratios in 1955 --as schools were just beginning to experience the full onslaught of the Baby Boomers-- were significantly higher than they are today. Now "averages" don't tell the whole story. There are doubtless individual schools today that simply don't have enough teachers, and there were probably a few schools in the 1950s that didn't have a horde of Baby Boom generation students stampeding through the halls. Check out the attached table... think of this as a factcheck on a topic we all think we know all about.
In the conservative world a lot of us spend a lot of time grousing about fact checkers. In California a lot of us spend a lot of time obsessing over schools. Hey... Governor Gavin Newsom sent his kids to private schools in person last year while kowtowing to teachers' unions who wanted to keep the public schools closed. Between CRT, closed schools and mandates we feel trapped in an Orwellian nightmare. And that may be truer than we think... Because a lot of the "facts" we think we know are really just "narrative."
One of the old tropes people repeat over and over again is "class sizes used to be smaller." I've heard that repeated so many times I assumed it was true. Well... the data suggests this "fact" is actually just a piece of fake "received wisdom" that everyone just thinks is true. What else do we think we all know? What other "sacred cow" is really just a "beyond meat" product? How can we make the effort to unlearn the bad narratives we all believe and really KNOW our facts? How can we break the habit of believing things that simply are incorrect?
Received wisdom isn't always correct. Instead of accepting what we think we know, maybe we should check the data first?