Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English
Does it? Does it really?
Via a number of colleagues, I was directed to a post on LinkedIn - and from that was bounced to a link on the Quartz news website who were reporting on a recent EEF report on teaching philosophy to children. Under the banner headline "Teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English", it seems fair to reach the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between teaching philosophy and a child's "intelligence" in math and English.
The article goes on: "Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching" and "Children from disadvantaged backgrounds saw an even bigger leap in performance: reading skills increased by four months, math by three months, and writing by two months" - all sounds promising, and if I was a school leader the door has potentially opened to a "intervention" I can put in place to boost attainment in my school.
The article then quotes Kevan Collins, chief executive of the EEF who hopes "the latest evidence will convince heads of schools"..."to make room for philosophy in their budgets" - the programme apparently costs £16 per student.
If we look at the published report from the EEF, we find:
Which shows us the effect size of this intervention on eFSM pupils. All are below Hattie's well publicised "hinge-point" of 0.4. KS1 to KS2 reading with an effect size of 0.29 places this intervention broadly in line with the impact of additional homework and ability group setting (for the highest achieving learners) as widely publicised by Hattie.
Does this matter?
What's important here is not a dry argument over the teaching of philosophy and a debate over it's impact - but rather what school leaders choose to do with these findings - and that raises the question of how school leaders in general react to educational research.
I am aware of a number of primary schools that have adopted or are planning to adopt teaching philosophy to KS1 and KS2 students based on reports similar to this - after all it "feels right" and "can't do any harm" - I wonder if the same schools have considered increasing the homework load and setting their learners? Or does this feel somewhat retro and less right?
Research like this matters as it shines a light on what might (or might not) be happening in classrooms across the land. But it doesn't say with certainty that this is going to be the case for your school or individual students. The response for you may be greater or less than the research -and that's assuming that you follow the same protocols and controls as the original research.
What research like this should do is to provide a signpost to areas that might be fruitful for you to research in your school / across a cluster. Now how you go about that and minimise the impact of cognitive bias is a whole other post.