Educational policy analysis archives

Educational policy analysis archives

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Educational policy analysis archives
Arizona State University
University of South Florida
Place of Publication:
Tempe, Ariz
Tampa, Fla
Arizona State University
University of South Florida.
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Subjects / Keywords:
Education -- Research -- Periodicals ( lcsh )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
serial ( sobekcm )

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University of South Florida Library
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University of South Florida
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
E11-00015 ( USFLDC DOI )
e11.15 ( USFLDC Handle )

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Educational policy analysis archives.
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Reply to Mr. Hodas / David H. Monk.
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1 of 4 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 1 Number 15December 23, 1993ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Editor: Gene V Glass, Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Edu cation, Arizona State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1993, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any a rticle provided that EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold.A Reply to Mr. Hodas David H. Monk Cornell University Abstract: David Monk offers arguments in rebuttal of the arti cle by Steven Hodas (Problems with the Production Function Model in Education) wh ich was published in this journal as Issue 12 of Volume 1. I feel compelled to respond to Steven Hodas's intem perate outburst about the education production function because it spreads misinformati on and distorts my view of what the production function formulation offers students as well as practitioners of education policy (see Hodas, 1993 reacting to Monk, 1992). Mr. Hodas rais es three issues; I respond to each in turn. First, there is the suggestion that a production fu nction formulation is inherently imbued with authoritarian effects on education decision ma king. This is nonsense. A production function is quite simply a summary of whatever regularities can be associated with a production process. It is nothing more and nothing less. Production functions do not prescribe regularities; rather, they describe them. The fundamental empirical question that most production function analyses attempt to answer is focused around the nature and extent of the regular ities that can be discerned. The answer to this question might point in decidedly nonauthoritarian directions for policy. For example, in an education context, we might find that what succeeds dependably for a wide range of students under a wide range of circumstances is a highly dec entralized decision making structure where considerable emphasis is placed on collegial consen sus building. Indeed, some recent productivity research in education is pointing in p recisely this direction (e.g., Bryk and Driscoll, 1988). Second, Mr. Hodas seems to think of the education p roduction function as an immutable set of relationships that is handed down from a gre at external power. Again, this is nonsense. Production functions themselves are the outcomes of production processes. How we go about


2 of 4transforming resources into educational outcomes is not fixed. Students can be taught how to learn in different ways. Moreover, our knowledge of technology evolves. If there are morally acceptable means of learning t hat are more efficient than others, are there not compelling reasons for moving in the dire ction of greater efficiency? The answer has to be, "yes." It is, after all, better to be moral and efficient than moral and inefficient. Are these reasons, however compelling, in and of themselves d ecisive? The answer is, "No." A production function inspired research program does not hold up efficiency as the sole criterion by which to judge a social policy. Much more is at stake, and o nly a utilitarian zealot would suggest otherwise. If efficiency is a relevant social concern, and if production function research attempts to offer insight into what contributes to efficient op eration, perhaps Mr. Hodas's fear about production function analysts abetting growth in unw arranted authoritarianism has merit. But for this argument to work we must blur the distinction between the tool and the use to which the tool is put. Can the production function tool be put to nefarious use? Of course. Indeed, one of the more serious public policy problems in education to day involves educators claiming to know more about the properties of the education producti on function than the actual research base warrants. Here is where authoritarianism can flouri sh under false pretense with potentially disastrous results. However, unlike Mr. Hodas, I do not single out administrators as the sole culprits here. It is sad to say that there are some teachers as well as some administrators who make unwarranted use of production function researc h to justify questionable and even regrettable practice. But does it follow from this that those who do prod uction function research are responsible for the misuses to which the tool might be put? Or, does it follow that the approach ought to be abandoned, if not outlawed, for the same reason? Fo r these conclusions to follow, I would need to be convinced that the misuses are unavoidable an d that the magnitude of the resulting harms in some real sense overshadow the potential benefits t he approach offers. Mr. Hodas slides over these points and leaves me unconvinced. Third, Mr. Hodas seems to believe that it is evil t o attempt to discern regularities in educational phenomena. He assures us that, "Learnin g is . a messy, tumultuous human process with all the shocks that flesh is heir to." He goes on to note that "(learning) is fantastically complex, multivariate, and in a real sense irreduci ble." Certainly, learning is complex, fantastic or not. Certainly, it can be messy and tumultuous. But how does it follow that we dare not attempt to identify regularities? There is nothing evil about searching for whatever regularities can be found within educational phenomena; indeed, there are real benef its to be had. Modern production function studies in education are built upon past efforts. T he production function studies being conducted today are very different and much improved compared with their predecessors. The quality of data on both the process and outcome side has impro ved dramatically. There have also been important theoretical developments that offer bette r guidance about what to look at and when. And, there have been impressive advances in the use of alternative investigative strategies, including experimental designs. I discuss all of th is in considerable detail in my original article. I also devote the latter portion of that article to m y vision of what enlightened production function research offers for the future. Mr. Hodas prefers t o focus on the kind of research that was conducted 30 years ago. I think this is misleading and I hope readers will balance his assessment with where this research is today and where it is h eading in the future.ReferencesBryk, A.S. and Driscoll, M.E. (1988). The School As Community: Theoretical Foundations, Contextual Influences, and Consequences for Student s and Teachers. Madison, WI.: National


3 of 4 Center on Effective Secondary Schools.Hodas, Steven (1993). "Is Water an Input to a Fish? Problems with the Production-Function Model in Education," Education Policy Analysis Archives 1,12. Monk, David H. (1992). "Education Productivity Rese arch: An Update and Assessment of its Role in Education Finance Reform," Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 14,4: 307332.About the AuthorDavid H. MonkProfessor and ChairDepartment of EducationCornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, U.S.A.Phone: (607) 255-2207 Fax: (607) 255-7905Email: Home Page: /education/Monk.html Copyright 1993 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesEPAA can be accessed either by visiting one of its seve ral archived forms or by subscribing to the LISTSERV known as EPAA at (To sub scribe, send an email letter to whose sole contents are SUB EPAA y our-name.) As articles are published by the Archives they are sent immediately to the EPAA subscribers and simultaneously archived in three forms. Articles are archived on EPAA as individual files under the name of the author a nd the Volume and article number. For example, the article by Stephen Kemmis in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Archives can be retrieved by sending an e-mail letter to LISTSERV@a and making the single line in the letter rea d GET KEMMIS V1N1 F=MAIL. For a table of contents of the entire ARCHIVES, send the following e-mail message to INDEX EPAA F=MAIL, tha t is, send an e-mail letter and make its single line read INDEX EPAA F=MAIL.The World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is Education Policy Analysis Archives are "gophered" at To receive a publication guide for submitting artic les, see the EPAA World Wide Web site or send an e-mail letter to and include the single l ine GET EPAA PUBGUIDE F=MAIL. It will be sent to you by return e-mail. General questions about ap propriateness of topics or particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, Glass@asu.ed u or reach him at College of Education, Arizona Sta te University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-2692)Editorial Board John CovaleskieSyracuse UniversityAndrew Coulson


4 of 4Alan Davis University of Colorado--DenverMark E. Thomas F. GreenSyracuse Alison I. Arlen Gullickson Ernest R. Aimee Craig B. Howley u56e3@wvnvm.bitnet William Richard M. Jaeger Benjamin Thomas Dewayne Mary P. Les Susan Bobbitt Anne L. Hugh G. Richard C. Anthony G. Rud Dennis Jay Robert Robert T.


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