The Greatest Variable in Education: Benjamin Bloom Revisited
The Education Wars Part V
"What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn if provided with appropriate prior and current conditions of learning." -Benjamin Bloom
In this article, we discuss a method of education that elevates an average classroom student to among the top 2% among peers in standard classroom models. Or, more broadly: all students show two standard deviations of improvement in academic skill development. That's not all. The process takes up less time for each student, so sitting still in a chair for hours on end, day after day, no longer stresses children out into oblivion.
Does that pique your interest?
If you have doubts, I hope to erase them by the end of this article. But you may also be a little angry about what you discover.
I understand that I'm making a rather extreme pronouncement about identifying the variable of most extreme impact on education. I'll go ahead and make the proper hedge: the greatest possible variable is existing at all. Life. If you're alive, you experience inputs and guide outputs, by definition. If you're sentient, you direct improvement of your information feedback loops.
I like that hedge. It already makes me feel a little more appreciative of this amazing dance of energy we call the universe. Now, on with the show…
As a side note for those familiar with the literature of educational theory and who are wondering: yes, this is the same Bloom responsible for Bloom's taxonomy.
Benjamin Bloom's Two Sigma Problem
If you haven't heard of "the Benjamin Bloom problem" or the "two-sigma problem [of education]", you're far from alone. It's kind of like not knowing in April 2020 that SARS-CoV-2 is weak sauce with lots of early treatment options. The topic should be among the world's highest priorities until it is understood and agreed upon by essentially everyone. It's that basic and foundational, and the only reason most people aren't aware is that it gets in the way of the obedience model of education, which powerful forces align to keep in place.
That the media has helped suppress this study in yet one more clear example of a conspiracy of silence is how you can recognize that the totalitarianism that we're seeing today didn't begin yesterday. The veil is full of holes through which we see through the porous curtain an emperor wearing no clothes (and masturbating like a stimulated macaque just pardoned from biomedical research duty). We're entering a period of dramatically shifting economic fault lines that shakes the facade until it breaks, but that's a story for another day.
On June 1, 1984, University of Chicago Professor of Education Benjamin Bloom published a study testing three models of learning:
Conventional. Students learn from a teacher in classrooms with 30 or so other students, periodically taking assessment tests.
Mastery Learning. The conventional model plus a feedback loop to bring more students up to foundational mastery.
Tutoring. Students learn the subject matter with a good tutor for one to three students at a time, with testing and a feedback loop for mastery.
Let's jump right to a summary of the results:
Conventional. The conventional classroom model sucks. Students lost 35% of their time (does this ingrain attention deficits?), and only 20% of the students achieved foundational skill mastery.
Mastery Learning. The mastery learning model shifts the distribution of student performance by a full standard deviation over the conventional classroom model. The average student under mastery learning outperformed around 5 out of 6 students in the conventional classroom, and 70% of the students achieved foundational skill mastery.
Tutoring. The tutoring model shifts the distribution of student performance by a bit over two standard deviations. The average student now performs at the 98% percentile relative to the conventional classroom model, and 90% of the students achieve foundational skill mastery.
Behold: learning through ordinary interaction with an adult who has a plan turns the average student into a high performer with a strong foundation, and who is ready for creative thinking and work.
We can see a summary of results with a more specific breakdown of some observed variables.
We could stop right here. You now know one of the great secrets to educational success. If there are only three, this would be one of them. If you choose to use it, your children will be vastly better prepared for the future.
Mechanism: It's Just a Feedback Loop
Ultimately, the Bloom result is simple and intuitive. No, wait, let me rephrase that: the Bloom result is stupid simple and flatly obvious unless you've accepted some form of dissonance that gets in the way of understanding it.
Personal communication entails a feedback loop whereby individuals (each of whom have their own strengths, weaknesses, perceptions, and relative language mastery) have the opportunity to negotiate the communication channel and specifics of the lesson they're learning, as part of a natural feedback loop, in order for each lesson to be communicated and absorbed as needed for the development of new skill mastery.
Having helped build and run three schools, I have my own stories about making use of Bloom's observations (which I hadn't read until after I was into the third school, but understood intuitively having taught classes since I was 13). But I'll save those for another time.
Ultimately, nearly every child can master the fundamentals. The traditional (Prussian) model gets 20% there, and at the cost of mental and emotional agency.
"Is that intentional?"
Yes, that's intentional.
That's the interesting question. It looks like engineering of a Pareto social class. Take a deep breath…this is going to get a little speculative, but if my proposed theory bothers you, propose your own in the comments.
Once upon a time there were among the educated of Europe, which dominated the world economically at a particular moment in history, men like Charles Darwin and Francis Galton (Darwin's smarter cousin…isn't there always a Mycroft in these stories?) from landed or otherwise wealthy families who decided that their parents' success must pass through them by divine right, which was rebranded as evolution and genetics.
Don't get me wrong, this is not an essay disputing evolution or genetics, for which there are models and applications that are more or less correct, incorrect, and still under discussion. I'm talking here about their misapplication, made for self-justification of familial supremacy. This is another story about the Kunlangeta.
The social Darwinist view was bolstered by Galton, who studied the wealthy of Britain and determined that since their children were more likely to succeed that it must have been the bloodline (genetic stock). On the backs of Darwin and Galton, the eugenics movement sprang forth, and has been working as a poison beneath the surfaces of secret societies such as the Fabians ever since.
If you're thinking that Darwin, Galton, and their ilk should have tested other variables before making their pronouncement, you're on a reasonable path. As best I've looked through their works, they did not find the appropriate control for confounders. And I have to work at it not to hate them bitterly for having me read through hundreds and hundreds of pages of their mumbling ego-shit-tastical eugenics-laden drivel looking for it.
But let's lay it out: what other variables might explain the heritability of metrics of success (remember that starkly non-genetic attributes like zip codes are highly heritable)?
The wealth of parents to hire tutors for their children. We could stop right there, given what we've already discussed. A good education is enough to explain how those who rise to leadership becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy with a false appearance of correlated genetics.
Culture. Some cultures (and I'll include religious culture here as a subset) focus on sacrificing for a generation in order to provide the resources (including tutoring that may come from the parent) to elevate the children.
Access. Put simply, we cannot expect for the children still growing up in rainforest tribes to understand the contents of a standard library.
Health. Of course, this correlates with other variables above to some degree.
Maybe I'm missing a major potential variable? Let me know. The point is that these variables fully explain the so-called excess success of bloodlines observed by Veblen and others. If there is research that suggests otherwise, I would be interested in seeing it.
Darwin believed that merely a few pockets of humans are capable of self-governance—and so the rest need to be governed (read: enslaved, or be-serfed, or something). Such a view requires vast amounts of justification. To justify it requires taking over societies and engineering top-down control—something that the European megacorporations were doing in Asia and the West Indies. Then, from positions on high, it is necessary to engineer the sabotage of anyone who deigns to behave as a sovereign individual. We might even ask if there is really any true belief in eugenics or social Darwinism beneath the surface, or if those at the tops of hierarchies are fully aware that these views simply provide cognitive justification for those climbing their hierarchies in their service.
The best way to take control over societies is to take children from their parents and run a "best slave pageant" in which the "winners" become society's Mandarins (intermediate organizers who obscure the Kunlangeta oligarchs). These Mandarins fall into line with the belief in their superiority, and even aspire to move into the ranks of the elites (slim chances, but not impossible). They are paid to dehumanize and confuse the "losers" and keep them too emotionally weak to demand fair wages, properly educate their children, or organize revolution (whether peaceful or violent).
With specific respect to education, the only way to make the superiority of the tutoring/mentoring model not the presumptive default model of education is to spend decades or centuries crafting a society in which parents have essentially no time remaining for the healthy raising of their children, and are themselves too zombified—miseducated and tired—to understand what is happening or resist. Success of the plan requires that those who do understand to never speak out. In the media, the arts, and education, there is a layer of Mandarins who further gaslight the victims. Good Mandarin Nazis who are patted on the head, and told that they are leaders for succeeding in a set of circumstances that imply obedience in taking instruction more than anything.
Sound like anything else we've been experiencing lately?
Kunlangeta like Frederick the Great were more straight-forward about how they felt it their right to mold humans to be mindless drone servants of the royals and oligarchs. Today we get layers of bullshit ideology providing a smokescreen, but at the root, it's the same story.
It's not easy, but the first step on the path to fighting the insane war against all by the Kunlangeta is to spend enough time with your children to teach them the basics, or to hire somebody who can do that for you. They will learn faster, avoid unnecessary shots to their confidence due to "failure", and have a lot more time to then spend running around outside and participating in that other great educational process that we call "playing". And however this plandemonium turns out, they'll be in the best position to build great lives for themselves, and for the world.