Friday, July 18, 2008

(18) Discussion Lacking Support, Evidence

Virtually all writing benefits from support, evidence, examples, and concrete proof. The meat of most writing is the care a writer takes to reinforce the central points through evidence. [ADD]

Academic and scholarly writing requires the writer to offer solid and clear points that give the writing focus. Further, the writer must elaborate on those points by providing the reader with ample and convincing evidence, support, and examples. Ultimately, writers in academic and scholarly settings should see all writing as argument; the most effective aspect of an argument is the weight of evidence.


Of course, we do not. That brings us to a larger issue about poverty than how we address it in our schools. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (UK) has recently released “Experiences of Poverty and Educational Disadvantage” (2007, September). This series of studies on the effects of poverty in the UK should suggest to everyone in education a much larger shift that must take place in our approaches to poverty and education. The research reveals several key points, some of which reinforce existing understandings about poverty—a strong correlation exists between poverty and low achievement, low school achievement is followed by low achievement beyond school for those in poverty, for example.

More significantly, the study raises some unique results that we simply do not acknowledge in schools. Six of the key points drawn from their eight projects so far are significant for considering what we expect schools to accomplish with children from poverty (quoted below from the on-line report):
  • Just 14 per cent of variation in individuals' performance is accounted for by school quality. Most variation is explained by other factors, underlining the need to look at the range of children's experiences, inside and outside school, when seeking to raise achievement.
  • Children from different backgrounds have contrasting experiences at school. Less advantaged children are more likely to feel a lack of control over their learning, and to become reluctant recipients of the taught curriculum. This influences the development of different attitudes to education at primary school that help shape their future.
  • Children from all backgrounds see the advantages of school, but deprived children are more likely to feel anxious and unconfident about school.
  • Out-of-school activities can help build self-confidence. Children from advantaged backgrounds experience more structured and supervised out-of-school activities.
  • Many children and young people who become disaffected with school develop strong resentments about mistreatment (such as perceived racial discrimination). Work with disaffected young people is most effective where it makes them feel more involved in their own futures. Equality of educational opportunity must address multiple aspects of disadvantaged children's lives.
  • These factors are at the heart of the social divide in educational outcomes, but have not been central in solutions so far. Measures to improve the extent to which disadvantaged children engage in education are elusive, but cannot be neglected. (Experiences of poverty and educational disadvantage, 2007)
For decades, our approach to addressing children living in poverty and our attempts to raise achievement in schools by those students have involved focusing on increasing accountability, raising standards, and accelerating along with increasing the testing of students; those practices, which are at the heart of NCLB, have never worked. The research from The Joseph Rowntree Foundation suggests that those practices will never work. The low achievement of students in poverty is a reflection of greater social ills that we must address directly.

When offering support, the writer must be careful: The evidence must be compelling, but the writer must be ethical in the use of that evidence. Avoid corrupting your use of support with logic fallacies; see this on-line resource concerning logic fallacies:

When conducting research or using research to support your writing, you must avoid common errors in using and interpreting research; avoid the following:

Cherry picking: Some select only that research that supports their perspective, ignoring contradictory research. Cherry picking is misleading and unethical.

Causation v. correlation: Research findings should clearly state whether they are offering a causational relationship (one factor causes another) or a correlational relationship (one factor is connected to another factor, but one does not cause the other). Writers using research should never imply causation when only correlation has been shown.

Overstating one study: Similar to cherry picking is the tendency to overstate the “proof” found in one study. Writers should take care to use single studies judiciously, being skeptical themselves that one study can justify broad generalizations.

Overstating exceptions: The flip side to the above is the tendency to find an exception to a generalization, thus suggesting the exception disproves the generalization.