Thursday, September 13, 2007

Numbers, numbers everywhere, but what do they mean?

Numbers fascinate me. Actually, how researchers and demographers collect information and turn that information into numbers, specifically statistics, really fascinates me. That's because numbers can lie. Not the numbers themselves, but how people collect, compile, and represent the numbers can be misleading. Take for instance the idea of a dropout rate. In most districts, students are considered dropouts if they sign out of school. That means going into the office, signing paperwork, meeting with a counselor, etc. Many students simply don't do that. So, when I look at the statistics presented in The Public Education Primer I'm not surprised at the numbers, but I am skeptical about them.

It doesn't shock me that something like 79% of teachers are women. Nor does it surprise me that 90% of teachers overall are white. After all, research has shown that women have moved into professions that were traditionally considered to be the domains of men. But the reverse has not happened. Men who become kindergarten teachers are often looked at with suspicion. After all, why would they want to work with young children? The same goes for nursing. In the case of minority teachers, it's also an issue of access. Prior to the Civil Rights Movement, many college-educated minorities, particularly African American, were blocked from most careers, except for teaching. In fact, being a teachers was highly esteemed within the community. When schools were integrated, many highly qualified minority teachers were shut out because white teachers were moved into predominantly minority schools, but minority teachers were not moved into white schools.

Whenever I see statistics like these, I wonder what questions were asked, what data was collected (and more importantly, what data was made available), and how they will be used to develop policy (that is, the plan of action or arguments that drive institutional practices). After all, I can look at a statistic and conclude something completely different from someone else. I guess that's the heart of the matter, we need to learn how to critically read statistics and how they are interpreted.

34 comments:

Buc Jr said...

The comment regarding men in teaching is so true. When I was single and coached Football I was looked suspiciously. I eventually quit because of the pressure, the unspoken innuendos. Now that I am MWC, I am looked at as a great parent. A parent is great because he is involved in the community. But a SINGLE man involved is looked at with suspicion. This is a stereotype that is very prevalent in Teaching. This is a possible reason for the 80-20 split in Teaching.

ihatetheinterstate said...

I think another important question that needs to be asked is "what are the goals of the data collector?" Clearly numbers can be manipulated and we've certainly established how dubious statistics can be, so how do we decipher the compilers motivations and how do we use that knowledge to break down the statistics?

liveandletdie said...

I found the comment on males teaching kindergarten classes very interesting. I remember hearing a story in a past educational psychology class about men working at a day care from a fellow classmate that she worked at. These men were not allowed to be left unattended with any children at any given time especially when they were changing diapers. Why is it okay for women to be left alone with a child and not a man? This can also be applied to men teaching kindergarten. Why is it so strange that a man enjoys working with little kids? Both men and women are capable of being pedophiles arent they? This is just very strange for me. I believe that men should have the same freedom as us women to teach children of any age.

lillaniegirl said...

One of the most important issues threatening uneducated minds is the point that numbers don't reveal whole truths. Although helpful when used as a guide, I tend to enjoy finding the obvious flaws in their usage. The flaws answer additional questions that can be used to enhance understanding.
The point that numbers must be interpreted and understood with care is of the highest value.

Buc Jr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Reading what you wrote I feel that most minorities don't choose the teaching profession. I don't want my comments to be negitive or a sterotype, but I would like to see a study on minorities who go into the teaching profession. RL

Anonymous said...

Reading what you wrote I feel that most minorities don't choose the teaching profession. I don't want my comments to be negitive or a sterotype, but I would like to see a study on minorities who go into the teaching profession. RL

Anonymous said...

Reading what you wrote I feel that most minorities don't choose the teaching profession. I don't want my comments to be negitive or a sterotype, but I would like to see a study on minorities who go into the teaching profession. RL

Math Goddess said...

Last semester, I had to conduct a survey for my Minorities class. I chose my hypothesis, and formulated my survey so that the ONLY answers I got would be in my favor. I played the system, and I admit it. I'm sure I'm not the only one, and as you said, numbers lie. Does it end at numbers? No! Numbers lie, the news lies (technically, depending on who is paying them to say what), politicians lie and test subjects lie. Sometimes the quest for finding the truth is harder than the task itself.

Anonymous said...

In response to the post "Numbers...", I would like to add that as our country's education system grows more and more dependent on statics because of No Child Left Behind Act, and it's funding, that we as future educators constantly research who and where the statics are coming from.

future_trophywife said...

In talking about gender of teachers, something that I didn't often think about was the issue of male teachers. Coming from a public school where I had a few male teachers, you see that many students had something to say about our male teachers. What would they talk about you ask, well let's just say I am sitting taking a test and ask my teacher to come over and help, if he ever leaned over me many people would say that he "liked/flirted" with me. Also on a college level you find that since some of the teachers are closer in age with the students that the line between boundaries is blurred. Many people might also think that preferential treatment from a male teacher to female teacher, or vice versa, could be meant for something more than just being kind.


In quick response to the data and how it is collected, it seems like many people are not taking close tabs on where exactly this data is coming from, along with who is taking it and in what context. People who are not critically thinking about this data may be taking it in the wrong way than it is meant to be taken

My tEACHER bLOGS said...

This blog raises many interesting points to me. As I already stated in class, whatever someone wants to get across in a survey, questionaire, etc., they are going to. They are going to go to areas where they want to get the answers that they want to.
In response to the male teachers comment, I agree with it 100%. From a personal experience, I used to work in the child care at New York Sports Club. One day, another employee, who was a male, twenty years old, white, and gay had to cover for someone in the child care. A father who was bringing his child into the room immediately turned around and walked out of the room. He then proceeded to go and speak to the manager, and questioned why there was a male in the room. I think that in the teaching field, the only safe position for a male is in the older grades.
As my high school psychology told us, "There is only one race, the human race". I agree with this statement. Every person, no matter their color, ethnicity, and beliefs, should have the same equal rights. As far as we have come in society, and as far as we are going to go, unfortunately, I don't think that people are going to stop being so narrow minded.

Mae said...

After reading your blog and the discussion we had in class what sticks out in my mind is actually a conversation that happened in the class I was in previous to this one. In Race and Ethnic Relations we discussed that within school districts today when there are multiple schools per district does the government have a right to move students around to keep the schools balanced between white and minorities? On one side, it allows for the students to be integrated and open to others culture. On the other side, in a democracy is it not a parents right to be able to say I want my child to go to the school of my choice and not be moved around to fill a quota? This reminds me of the statistics in the Public Education Primer because one has to wonder how much of these statistics are a result of the placement of students within certain schools?

FutureTeacher said...

I found this blog very interesting. I had thought about the same thing numerous times when reading statistics: how accurate are they really? I know when I have filled out surveys, I wasn't very honest with it. I wrote what I thought they wanted to hear. I never really thought about what my response would stand for. Apparently, I am contributing to the inaccuracy of these numbers.
Also, the point about men being viewed as suspicious when wanting to work with younger children was interesting. It is something I always felt uncomfortable talking about, but I remember taking my Educational Psychology course where we had to do our hours of observation. There was an older man in my class, around 50 years old, who could not find a location to work. He wanted to teach kindergarten; he said he loved kids. Personally, I do not see anything wrong with it, but I can see how he would be viewed as suspicious in our society. We hear crazy stories about male pedophiles all the time, yet the female teachers who rape younger boys do not ruin the overall reputation of women becoming teachers. Why not? The sickness of these people do not reflect the genuine feelings of others. Someone brought this point up in class and I thought it was a great point. There is no reason why men should be at a disadvantage just because of their age or marital status.

Teacher said...

I liked how you talked men being looked different if they want to teach kindergarten. I think that men should be able to teach any grade that they want without being looked at differently. I have had men teachers and I found it fine. It didn't bother me whether I had a man or a woman teacher. I found it interesting that white teachers would teach in mixed classrooms, but black teachers could not. I don't think that is fair because black people should be able to teach both races of children. I mostly have had white teachers and maybe three black teachers throughout my life in school. I have to say that I learned a lot in the classes that I had black teachers. They actually made learning a ton of fun than some other teachers would. I think that I learned more in their classes than in any other class. I also learned a lot in my other classes with white teachers.

Soon to be History Teacher said...

Since my two paragraphs were just deleted I will summarize what I had to say.

History has shown that a female teacher in the family brings about a good name for the family she is from and helps her to make money before she gets married.

It is unfair to suspect all male teachers of being pedophiles if they have a desire to teach younger children but get pushed away from it so that they will not have to go through the suspicion. From my own experience it has made me not even consider going into teaching younger children and only wanting to teach at the high school level.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comment about how we very rarely see men as kindergarten teachers and if there is one, they are looked at with suspicion. I remember how I had to adjust during the beginning of seventh grade when I had my first male teachers! It was kind of awkward at first because up until that time in my educational experiences I had always had women as teachers. This idea kind of reminds me of the movie Kindergarten Cop. It is very true how when Arnold first started teaching, he was judged and looked at. However, by the end of the year he proved himself and was accepted. It's important for us to break down barriers and as long as you are confident in what you are doing, hopefully, others will follow and understand.

Future Educator said...

Women fight to be equal with men, but now the question that we may want to ask is whether or not men are equal with women. There are many women in today's day that work in fields that at one time were predominantly male professions. How many women can be seen on Wall Street now? But how many men can be seen in a kindergarten class or as a nurse? Even in the media we see men who take on these "professions for females" get made fun of. The first thing that came to mind when reading this was the movie Meet the Fockers. Ben Stiller's character, Gaylord Focker, is a male nurse. Throughout this movie, his future father in law makes sarcastic jokes and remarks to him regarding his choice of profession. Clearly, there is a double standard here between men, women, and their professions.

root1324 said...

The one thing that I notice while reading this blog passage was the comment about how males teachers are not common in elementary schools. Even though the number of males teachers is rising in elementary school it is still a comment that is very true because most males that teach at this school level are seen as "creepy" and suspicious.
Just this comment alone can turn a male teacher like myself away from teaching a level other than high school and college. I sit here and try and think of ways that a male teacher can shake off this stereotype and teach freely at which ever level they desire. But nothing is coming to mind...Any ideas???

History Buff said...

In response to the comments about numbers lying, I completely agree. It is true that statistics are often skewed and the whole truth is never collected to portray what is really going on with our education system.
The number of high school drop outs is the number one example of this flaw in educational statistics.

The fact that 79% of teachers are women may be true and I think it is crucial to keep in mind that men are often pushed away from education unless it is on a college level. Until recently, when kids decide what they want to do, because they don't CARE what their parents say, men really decided what they wanted to do to please their peers, parents, and society as a whole.

I have nothing against men teaching and honestly wouldn't hesitate to put my child into a classroom with a male teacher. Unless there was other evidence suggesting he was inappropriate toward children, I wouldn't consider against it. Quite honestly, I admire men who decide to become teacher or nurses or any other predominantly 'female' profession, just because they are following their hearts and doing what thy truly love.

Buc Jr said...

Historiography, the study of how History is written and compiled. This teaches that historians should dissect the means that the facts were gathered as much as the information itself. The same should be with facts such as these, that in some cases may dictate policies or decisions on educational programs.

liptakr2@mail.montclair.edu said...

I enjoyed the reading very much. I feel that she covered a lot of points of the reading and gives a lot of facts to back it up. Growing up I had a female teacher for all of my classes till I got to high school. Females do dominate the teaching field. I know that 90% of teachers are white but when I was in school most of the teachers were either African American or Latin.
As for the blog I enjoyed it very much. It was very informative. I feel that as years go by we are going to have a big shift of how the numbers are now. I feel that more males will enter this field and more races will become teacher. Thanks for the post I highly enjoyed it.

Dee said...

I think everyone found the comment regarding the male kindergarten teacher interesting. It's so true. It's all about what is socially accepted in our society. I found the statistics to be helpful. It's always important to have an open mind when referring and interpreting data. You have to be skeptical aboout certain ideas. It's always a good idea to rely on more than one source for information.

Anonymous said...

My initial question that I ask to the comments about statistics that lie and are skeptical is that, how far off can the numbers actually be from the statistics that are given? In other words, I believe that even if the stats are a little off, you can get a good idea of what percentage it is that you are trying to figure out. Now, because I work in a research firm, I understand the fact that surveys can be biased, but the majority of the people that take the time to do them, I believe, (call me naive if you will) are going to give their honest and personal opinions. There was also a comment about what data was collected and what data was made available. Again, with the experience that I have with my job, found that the Project Directors (ones who make up the questionnaire, collect the data, and put it to use) get paid a lot of money to make minimal mistakes and be free of biasing and skewed stats. Therefore, I conclude that statistics and numbers may not be exact, but at least you are getting an idea of what the numbers are.

FutureMathTeacher said...

I totally agree with you, and I have a major problem with all of the statistics that deal with children of "color." Who gets to choose the races and ethnicities that are the options when we fill out a survey? This country has been around for a while and races have been mixing for some time now. Certain ethnicities can be of any race. I'll use myself as an example. My family, on both sides, originates in Spain (that would be white, European, etc.),then migrated to Cuba, and eventually ended up here. Now I'm in the Latino category? I remember being in elementary school and being told that I HAD to check off Hispanic because I was Cuban. I find it ironic that people that were born here go around saying they're this, that, and the other, but then they go to another country and they're "American." My question is how can these statistics be accurate if many public school students are more than one race?

Mae said...

Most people have made comments about males teaching younger children and how it is customary for some one to go for a job where they know they have a chance of being hired. Society puts people in certain roles and categories and more often then not it is hard to break peoples prejudices about certain things. I am a female. When I apply for a job and receive that job do I ever ask myself if i got the job because I was female. What if I was a male? What if I was a minority? Would I still have been hired? I would like to believe that if I do possess all of the qualifications that it wouldn't matter, however that is not always the case.

Soon to be History Teacher said...

I am glad I brought up that point about how one sentence can be passed up yet can be extremely powerful.

Renn said...

Do numbers really matter? We all know that it is more likely that white women will be teachers. Teaching is seen as a feminine profession. Males are suppose to be the ones out working hard with hands on to make the money. It is funny how times changed. Men are getting more into being teacher but have a hard time getting accepted. As we read males would be "looked" down upon if they wanted to be a elementary school teacher. They would not understand why he would want to be one. Growing up I found Male teachers were my favorite teachers.

ihatetheinterstate said...

Maybe the problem is obvious to everyone, but I see it clearly as an issue of gender double standards. Men aren't expected to have the same instinct towards rearing children, we don't even use the phrase "parental instinct" in the common vernacular, we split the idea into maternal and paternal instincts, the former being much more widely recognized. It's just one more example of this country's broken institution of socialization that makes our need for new approaches to both education and parenting utterly urgent.

Anonymous said...

All over the world we can find situation when teachers are segregated by some categories. Why? It is hard to tell. As a community we shut out qualified teacher only because they do not fit in categories that we prefer. It is realy time to change that situation. For me, as a parent, it is very important what not who(females or males) teach my children.

FutureTeacher said...

I think everyone pretty much sees eye-to-eye with the whole "male teaching younger children" issue. I think it is essential to keep an open mind and not point fingers. Not all women are effective teachers, and not all men who have a desire to teach young children are pedophiles. It is important to not pass judgment on others. It seems that our society takes one situation and exaggerates the whole thing. I mean, we see priests raping young boys. Does that mean we shouldn't go to church? Things happen, and discriminating against a certain sex, age, or gender will not prevent it.

Capozzi said...

An example of a 43 year old white man being perceived as a pedifile in East Side. An old high school friend of my fathers started working as a Math teacher in East Side for 9th graders. He was not married and had no kids. The students took advantage of him and did pretty much whatever they wanted. They never listed to him never did any of their work and the board of education said he wasn't teaching the student properly and if he cant get them to start cooperating he would be fired. He did everything in his power to try and get their attention. He would bring them candy if they did something right and would stop giving homework everyday. Let them out of class early etc. They started listening more and more and three of the girl students started showing interest in him. The biggest mistake he ever did was give out his personal number to them because they said they needed it for questions about homework. mindless to say it wasn't just for homework. So days went on and they became more and more friendly with him. One of the other teachers saw what was going on and brought it to the board of education and he was fired on the spot. He was perceived as a pedifile when all he wanted to do was get their attention but it took it too far.

E. Quaranti said...

One thing that stood out to me while reading this blog was the comment about male elementary school teachers. I feel that it is ridiculous that some people look at male teachers as pedophiles. Even though there have been incidents with male teachers and young children, it is terrible to pass judgment because some men have a passion for teaching, especially in the lower grade levels. I have a friend who is going to be an elementary school teacher and the other day at work a forty five year man I work with started talking about my friend saying he's probably a pedophile. Even though I know this guy was joking with me and being sarcastic, it is terrible to think that so many people out there feel this way about male elementary school teachers or even have that image in their heads.
The next point I want to hit is the response tat was made about African Americans after the civil rights movement. I think that it is absurd and ridiculous that African American teachers got pushed out of their jobs by white teachers when schools integrated. These African American women worked really hard to get an education and I'm sure it took countless hours to develop good teaching techniques in the classroom and then their pride and their jobs were taken away from them. This makes me mad inside.

Mini-Spero said...

There's a relevant article in this week's edition of Newsweek, if you happen to pick it up. It speaks of the lack of male teachers in America, especially of those at the elementary level. Possible reasons for said lack included men not being seen as the 'nurturing' type and the suspicions of many parents towards single men.
A friend of mine worked at a day camp with toddlers this summer and was careful to avoid ever being alone with any one of them. It's too bad, really; the profession could use some male figures in the early years, so that young impressionable students don't develop the mindset that teaching is for women.