Saturday, October 18, 2008

Thoughts on Education Reform
from Maryland

What is “education reform”, anyway?

The following is an excerpt from a powerpoint presentation (49 slides total) from the group in Frederick MD. It is a great list of ideas and a method for evaluating school board candidates. WOW!!! could Seattle use this or maybe not. School Board candidate campaign treasure chests were in the $100,000 to $167,000 range in the election a year ago. Maybe elections are just bought these days rather than won with ideas.

Education reform can be summarized by six BIG IDEAS:

BIG IDEA #1: Education schools often promote well-intended but misleading myths about teaching and learning.

BIG IDEA #2: Teacher certification, which is based on education schools’ well-intended but misleading ideas, contributes little to teachers’ effectiveness, and perpetuates the teacher shortage.

BIG IDEA #3: Administrators are influenced by the prevailing ideas in education schools; as a result, they often promote academic programs that lack important knowledge and skills.

BIG IDEA #4: Parents and other “outsiders” often have different views of what constitutes a sound education, but have little influence on the content and implementation in the public schools.

BIG IDEA #5: School choice empowers parents to select schools that reflect what they want for their children, and provides teachers with more options for their work environment.

BIG IDEA #6: School choice is necessary but not sufficient to improve public education. Education must also transform itself from a belief-based profession into an evidence-based profession.

Myths Education Schools Promote

Learning Styles – Forty years of research have not found evidence that there are visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners or that teachers can achieve better results by trying appeal to “learning styles”.

Multiple Intelligences – Mainstream psychologists have little regard for the idea that there are seven different kinds of intelligence (or what most people would call talents), and even the theory’s originator said educators have taken it too far.

Rote Memorization – This misleading phrase is employed to argue against any sort of factual knowledge, and used to defend curricula that lack important content. Some rote memorization is required to learn rudimentary knowledge, such as the letters of the alphabet.

Entertainment vs. Learning – The idea that subject matter should be presented as “fun and games”. The reality is that most initial learning is not fun, and a well-intended emphasis on “fun” can waste time and reduce students’ long term interest and motivation because the instruction fails to provide knowledge and skills needed to enjoy lifelong learning.

The Eclectic Teacher – The idea that teachers should string together lessons drawn from multiple sources in an effort to customize learning to students. Large scale research suggests that well-designed, scientifically validated curricula that use the same teaching approach for all students with relatively minor modifications can achieve consistently positive results.

The “Good Teacher” – The idea that teachers personal qualities trump curriculum and methods, and that good teachers are born, not made. However, when curricula and methods are ineffective, it doesn’t matter how smart, dynamic, or committed to students a teacher is.

Brain Compatible Learning – The idea that teaching should reflect our understanding of how the brain works physically. Mainstream neuroscientists regard this as something akin to quackery.

Disabilities – The idea that students’ learning disabilities, poverty, or families explain their lack of achievement. However, 95% of learning disabilities are mild. Personal circumstances can be mitigated through high expectations, solid teaching, and student effort.
Certified Doesn’t Mean Qualified

Teacher Effectiveness

“Even if all of the research on certification is considered uncritically, at best the conclusion is that the traditional certification process may only add some marginal value.”

87% of education schools fail to prepare teachers to teach elementary math.

85% of education schools fail to prepare teachers in scientifically-based reading instruction.

High-achieving graduates without formal education training who worked in low-income schools produced “higher test scores than the other teachers in their schools—not just other novice teachers or uncertified teachers, but also veterans and certified teachers”

Teacher Shortage

The time and expense of traditional certification discourages many applicants from considering joining the profession.

Maryland’s alternative certification intended to attract career changers has only produced 1% of our teachers1; in contrast, New Jersey’s alternative certification produces 20-25% of its teachers.

Non-traditional candidates are often more diverse and bring stronger academic backgrounds than traditional candidates.



Anonymous said...

Your readers have to understand that Hirsch and Snider are a facet of the math reform movement or I should say math reform is a facet of the standards movement. Snider (University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire) and E.D.Hirsch (Retired, Univ. of Virginia)

Although Hirsch a liberal, he was attacked as a neo-conservative and advocate for a conservative, lily-white curriculum, a promoter of "drill and kill" pedagogy and a reactionary force. His theories have been criticized for not addressing supposed differences in learning styles and for a lack of information about minorities.

Alfie Kohn is a critic of Hirsch and the Standards Movement -

Kohn is a staunch opponent of rewards and punishments as reinforcers of education and behavior. In his book Punished by Rewards, "

Kohn demonstrates, through examples and research, how rewards can punish those who do not receive them, how rewards can rupture relationships between students and between students and teachers, how rewards ignore the reasons for a desired behavior, and how rewards can discourage risk taking. But the single most devastating conclusion he draws from his research is that rewards can actually discourage desired behaviors." (Johnson 1999)

Instead of a rewards-based system, students should be intrinsically motivated to learn and teachers should foster their desire to learn. Kohn asserts that the use of praise will turn students into 'praise junkies,' will cause students to lose interest, and will reduce student achievment. (Kohn 1997).

For a good smattering of real liberalism then you might enjoy reading this (not to be confused with Crypto-Fundamental neo-liberalism)

Anonymous said...

To conclude that alternative certification produces more qualified teachers is a stretch.

Neo-conservatives helped create the shortage of teachers in the first place by:

1. Lowering the quality of curriculum used in the classrooms.
2. Raising teacher standards.
3. Lowering class size.
4. Changing teacher certification programs and increasing costs of getting certified.
5. Creating charter schools.
6. Supporting laws that reduce union control, especially with regard to new teacher evaluations, reduction of benefits, and rehiring practices.
7. Loss of Title 1 transparency and council guidance, which means less funds are made available for teacher aides and supplementary material.