Last week when Challen Stevens of the Huntsville Times reported that Huntsville City Schools had cut special education too deeply, Dr. Wardynski responded with a typically anti-government (and completely unfounded) response. This response led to a logical fallacy:
“This is why the United States is going bankrupt,” said Wardynski, speaking of the requirement to maintain spending levels. “There is no room for being efficient and effective.”
Dr. Craig Pouncey, the deputy state superintendent, echoed his remarks by saying:
Where else other than Washington would not reward good stewardship and efficiency?
This theme of blaming Washington and their “illogical” laws was picked up on Thursday in a Times editorial by Anthony Cook which claims:
In the years preceding 2011, the system was bloated, employing hundreds more support personnel than necessary.
AYP AYP AYP
And that’s the totality of the evidence that they cite in support of the system having broken the law in the summer of 2011. We made AYP with 41% fewer special education aides than we had in 2010-2011, so clearly we did not need those aides at all.
That one claim was all it took for the Superintendent, the Huntsville City Schools Board of Education, the deputy State Superintendent, and the Huntsville Times community news director to claim that breaking the law is completely justifiable. While I’ve already pointed out the ridiculousness of this claim in an earlier post (“efficiency” is a weak justification for breaking the law), it seems that for some “efficiency” is still all that’s required to deem a law illogical.
Obscure Truth With A Logical Fallacy
That being the case, perhaps it’s time to remind our city and state officials about logical fallacies. A logical fallacy is a mistake in logic that allows something that is in fact illogical to appear logical. If we wish to know and understand the truth, we must learn to identify logical fallacies when they occur, otherwise we might be tricked into believing that something that is false is actually true.
Fallacies come in many forms: from Slippery Slope (if we do this particular action, the worst possible outcome will result), to Begging the Question (you must accept that X is true because X claims to be true), to one of my favorites (just because it allows me to show off my Latin): post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “after this therefore because of this.”
post hoc ergo propter hoc
Just because one event came after another event does not mean that the first event caused the second.
And this is the central problem with Dr. Wardynski’s proof for efficiency.
He claims, and a ton of people in powerful positions seem to believe him, that since the district made AYP with 41% fewer Special Education aides, then those Special Education aides are clearly unnecessary.
We didn’t make AYP in 2010-2011 with 41% more aides, but we did make AYP in 2011-2012 with 41% fewer.
Numbers clearly don’t lie.
Except, of course when they do.
Here’s the problem: Just because these two events happened does not demonstrate any direct connection between the two events.
Oranges Make Me A Better Employee
For example, this morning when I got up, I ate an orange. Sometimes I eat an apple, but today I ate an orange. Later today, during an evaluation at work, I received an excellent evaluation. Therefore, clearly and irrefutably, I received a good evaluation at work because I ate an orange.
This is fundamentally the same argument that the superintendent is making concerning the “efficiency” of placing 41% of the personnel cuts on 12% of the student population.
We had 41% too many aides and didn’t make AYP. We have 41% fewer aides and made AYP. Since A comes before Z; therefore, A causes Z. Case closed.
Except, of course, that the facts don’t support this claim.
If they did, then why did the district manage to make AYP in 2009-2010? You see in 2009-2010, the district had even more aides in the system than it did in 2010-2011 when it laid off 99 of them in the RIF. If fewer aides leads directly to higher test scores, as the superintendent claims, then it would follow that in a year when there were even more aides working in the district, that the district would have failed to make AYP for the year.
If firing aides led to higher test scores, then how is it possible that in a year when there were even a greater number of aides working in the district, the district managed to make AYP?
Maybe more of our special education students were eating oranges on test day in 2009-2010 than in 2010-2011?
Remember When Tests Were Used To Evaluate Students?
The simple truth here is that not everything in education can be effectively evaluated by a standardized test. Students know this. Teachers know this. Principals know this. Parents know this. It seems the only people who don’t know it are Dr. Wardynski, Dr. Pouncey, and Mr. Cook. Tests are flawed tools for evaluating a student’s performance/knowledge at a single moment in time.
They are not an effective evaluation of teacher performance nor of the necessity of instructional assistants. And when they are used that way, which is exactly how the superintendent is using them, they will lead to fallacious arguments that bury the truth under intentionally misleading “data.”
If Wardynski had been listening during philosophy rather than dreaming of ways of ruining school systems, maybe we wouldn’t be having to send $2.6 million dollars back to the federal government for breaking the law.
That, Mr. Cook, is the logical thing to have done.