Why schools don’t change

October 4, 2012

You must go check out Ira Socol’s most recent post in which he links the slow progression of medicinal practice to educational change. I found myself thinking about Thomas Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” & paradigm shift. In science, a paradigm continues to reign as long as those locked into the paradigm persist or enough anomalies are collected to re-evaluate the paradigm despite the beliefs of those in power. I wonder when we will accept that too many anomalies already exist in education (i.e.: too many kids are not learning).

Assess the teacher, not the students

January 9, 2011

*Disclaimer: 1) I know this is a touchy subject, I’m only trying to add to the dialogue. 2) I proofread with my son in the room, so was distracted, but wanted to get this “out there”. :)

There has obviously been a lot of discussion in both traditional media and the edublogosphere about assessing teacher quality.  Most of the assessment schemes have come from outside education and most educators seem to have spent their time criticizing these schemes.  Instead of criticizing, I want to invest in a dialogue (not give an absolute answer) about how teacher quality might be usefully assessed.  While I would support paying “better” teachers more, the point of this post is only to brainstorm a way to assess teacher quality, not how, or if, teachers should be paid more based on these assessments (even if “better” teachers did get paid more, the amount would probably be insulting).

First, I believe we have to face what I believe to be an honest truth.  Some teachers are better than others and some teachers do work harder than others.  Right now, there are very few avenues for more talented or more hard-working teachers to be rewarded.  Yes, teaching itself is a reward and, as educators, we all know intrinsic motivation is far superior to extrinsic motivation, yet we all have an ego.  We all appreciate being recognized for our talents and efforts.  Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough awards, edublog or otherwise :), to go around.

So how do we know if a teacher is of “high quality”?  I don’t think we need to compare teachers to each other, but I think there may be value in identifying what makes a “good” teacher.  While we might claim good teaching is like pornography (we know it when we see it), being able to articulate what constitutes good teaching is important.  Once we can accurately describe “good teaching” we can begin to help those teachers who are not there yet to improve.  Once we can articulate “good teaching” we can reward those teachers who have the talent and/or have put in the hard work of becoming “good”.

Importantly, looking at student test scores is not the way to assess teacher quality.  Different classes have different students, different tests produce different results, students will test differently on different days, etc.  Instead we should be looking at what teachers do.  When a medical doctor/surgeon is assessed they are not assessed based solely on patient survival rates.  If so, very few doctors would likely enter specialties with high mortality rates.  The doctor is not solely judged against whether a patient gets better, but if the doctor took the appropriate steps in treatment.  So, we should be looking at teachers in the act of teaching. That is, to what extent is the teacher taking appropriate steps to promote student learning.  Teachers cannot force students to learn, but they can promote/encourage student learning.

So, if teachers might be more accurately assessed by what they DO in a classroom, what things would we expect to see high quality teachers doing?  What things would we see them not doing?

I’ll share my ideas in a separate post, but the teacher in me wants to know what you think first. :)

Technology as poor models for schools

September 20, 2010

This is a quick “aha” post.

About a hundred years ago the new technology known as the assembly line revolutionized industry – increasing profits, making production more efficient, increasing productivity, etc.  This technological revolution then found its way into schools which is why we now have a “factory” model for education.  We all pretty much agree this model is bad.  Efficiency in learning is not necessarily an ideal we desire.

Fast forward >>>>>

Today the plethora of information at our fingertips is revolutionizing our economy.  People have access to people and resources they didn’t have access to before.  Information is our currency and communication our path to more profit, efficiency, and increased productivity.

Now, hit the effing pause button!

Just as the assembly line model had horrible consequences for education because of its focus on increased productivity and efficiency, might there be negative consequences for superimposing the “new information economy” onto education?  Don’t get me wrong, education needs to change, but how it changes is as important as if. The information economy focuses on increased access to more and more information.  What is happening to our curriculum as a result?  Our bloated curriculums are packed with ideas, but students aren’t learning much about the ideas.  Just like we gloss over ideas we come across on the net, we gloss over ideas we “cover” in the classroom. Access to so much information is not a good thing if students are not encouraged to wrestle with ideas so that the ideas become intelligible.

Information access is a great goal for our society, I don’t think it is such a great goal for our schools. Our students are not widgets, nor are they search engines. Treating them as either is problematic.  Our students are thinkers, we should treat them as such.


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