Monday, October 3, 2011


Education news about change and testing continues to stream.  While it is relentless, there appears little drift toward unanimity about what precisely needs to change to improve US public K-12.  Following are this last week’s hot topics, but first, some editorializing brought on by last week’s experiences.

Goldilocks be damned.

This is not a politically correct topic, thereby accounting for the ease with which both secondary education and its educators, and simultaneously our gurus of higher education ignore it.   The topic is the major disconnect between both assumptions and learning methods employed in especially 9-12 classrooms, versus our higher education classrooms.

That is aggravated by the continuing failure of our public high schools to equip the college bound to effectively compete and learn in post-secondary pursuits.

Let’s start with a personal recollection, not out of pride, but the opposite.  In 1959 the writer was a newly minted assistant professor.  By that time, however, as a graduate teaching assistant and then teaching associate, I had already been in the front of a classroom for a half-dozen years.  Many of that vintage had similar experiences though perhaps less time in the classroom.  From on high, triggered by a dean-to-dean exchange, the university’s school of education had offered to provide new faculty a course on how to teach, the assumption apparently being that while we might be stuffed with knowledge (a questionable reach), we lacked the education establishment’s methods to teach it.  Our dean, not wishing insurrection, left it to a vote of our faculty venue whether to mandate it.  The school of education proposal scored nary a single yes vote.

In last week’s “SQUINTS” the opposite condition was reported for an area high school; subject matter ignorance in an ill-advised 10-12 marketing course, system dogmatism, and the usual suspects of narrowly conceived K-12 public education reductionist thinking and related methods’ priorities.

An answer is, both venues have it wrong!  K-12 needs to wake up to the reality that 100 years of history is history, that the structure of knowledge has changed, and that neural science is invalidating much of its a priori methods.  Higher education needs to cool the arrogance about its assumed monopoly on knowledge, and start learning how to install that desideratum with its students. 

For a sobering view of the latter challenge:  The research/reporting by Arum and Roksa (Academically Adrift:  Limited Learning on College Campuses.  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press, 2011), and now getting traction in the popular press -- see op-ed, Kathleen Parker, 9/30/11 Washington Post.  

In astrophysics, the “Goldilocks zone” is that planet location in a solar system where the conditions might exist for life to emerge.  Metaphorically, both K-12 and higher education need to find that zone where knowledge and updated learning methods can co-exist to make learning work.

Waiting for Clark Kent?

The movie “Waiting for Superman” created a wave of criticism of our teachers, the teachers’ unions, and hit on everything except some of the real culprits.  So it is refreshing to see a just released documentary film titled “American Teacher.”  The film is based on the book, Teachers Have It Easy:  The Big Sacrifices and Small Salaries of America’s Teachers, by Daniel Moulthrop and Dave Eggers. 

A seasoned educator described it as follows:

“Director Vanessa Roth’s new film, co-produced by Dave Eggers and Nínive Calegari and narrated by Matt Damon, notes that while ‘most people agree that a teacher is the most important in-school factor to school success,’ you’d never guess this from what many teachers experience in our public schools.

Instead of focusing on this problem we’ve gotten lost in misdirected answers and foolish debates about improving public education. The answer is charter schools! The problem is charter schools! Blame the teacher unions! Fire bad teachers! And some movies, like ‘Waiting for Superman’ have fallen into the same traps.

American Teacher takes a different approach. It compellingly shows how we lose many of our best teachers, and suggests how we can change this pattern.  The film follows a handful of teachers, each dedicated and highly effective both pedagogically and interpersonally.”

The full review is available here.  A comprehensive fact sheet published by the producers of this film, if you aren’t close to one of the viewings, is the next best thing – click here.

Gates won’t save the world; they don’t know when to fold them.

The private sector formula for continuing public K-12 misdirection = over $50B + educational naïveté + the arrogance to assume you were asked to save it.  The discussion pretty much speaks for itself; click here.

Duncan’s backyard.

Our nation’s schools are still being targeted with a chaotic array of hopeful silver bullets – that are not:  Standardized testing that promotes non-learning; alternately claiming it is only teachers who make a difference, then fire all the teachers; schools of education that refuse to figure it out; the same retro schools' output of too many teachers who have not received quality education to do education, but have received inflated grades to pretend; and the bypass around NCLB that promises more destruction than relief.

Check out the trajectory of NCLB by clicking here. For a telling look at Mr. Duncan’s own education backyard, click here.  Finally, this AM there was an extended narrative of exchange between two educators and Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan.  The report simply reinforces the stubborn hypocrisy that characterizes lip service given to the deficits from massive simplistic standardized testing, while pressing for even more of the same medicine that isn't functioning but sickening the patient.  Click here.

Lastly, to keep from posting a complete downer, there are some success stories out there -- indeed many, though they are squashed by the weight of stories of poor or distorted thinking.  One positive worth a view is from high-achieving public schools in Montgomery County Maryland.  Click here.

Awake?  Last week was a good week to keep your eyes shut, or at least averted most of the time.

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