Tuesday, December 29, 2015

When What We Know Ain't So

"Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so."  Ronald Reagan

"It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble, it's what we know that ain't so."  Will Rogers

Blogger and teacher Michael Mazenko send me his latest op-ed today, in which he offered a timeline which included the failed educational "contributions" of people who have  more dollars than sense:
It's been 32 years since a U.S. Department of Education report declared America "A Nation at Risk." It's been 15 years since Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates began his education philanthropy, naively believing his wealth and business acumen could solve the country's supposed "education crisis."

It's been 14 years since No Child Left Behind promised all students would achieve at grade level by 2014. It's been seven years since the launch of the Common Core initiative to standardize education. It's been five years since Facebook billionaire Mark Zuckerberg gave $100 million to "fix schools" in Newark, N.J., and turn that poverty-plagued system into a national model of education.

In all that time, academic achievement has remained roughly the same, with national tests like NAEP and ACT indicating a relatively stable, or stagnant, state of education.

I've said it forever, our problem is not as much in education as it is in culture. Sure, we do some educationally-stupid things, but the bigger problem is a culture that doesn't seem to value education as much as it once did.

Despite claims by reformers like Gates and College Board president David Coleman, the establishment of common standards and yearly standardized tests have not improved education. The root causes of education failure often reside outside the school environment, and these are too often ignored by reformers. Non-school factors are the primary drivers of low achievement, and there is little doubt where these needs are greatest.

There is no crisis in public education, but there are many crises in individual communities. Thus, declaring a crisis in "education" and instituting state and national programs is not helpful because it aims at too big of a target. There is no reason to declare a crisis in the thousands of successful schools. Education is not "in crisis," but 30 percent of schools and neighborhoods are. We already know which schools and students struggle. Thus, reformers and educators and media and legislators must focus directly on them.

It's almost cliche to point out all the so-called reforms and counter-reforms that educators ourselves have put out or latched onto over the years, reforms and counter-reforms backed up by "the research" that is usually found lacking after the reforms and counter-reforms have failed and students have paid the price.  Educational fads are insidious, and the so-called learning styles myth is among the worst:

One such myth is that individuals learn best when they are taught in the way they prefer to learn. A verbal learner, for example, supposedly learns best through oral instructions, whereas a visual learner absorbs information most effectively through graphics and other diagrams.

There are two truths at the core of this myth: many people have a preference for how they receive information, and evidence suggests that teachers achieve the best educational outcomes when they present information in multiple sensory modes. Couple that with people's desire to learn and be considered unique, and conditions are ripe for myth-making.

“Learning styles has got it all going for it: a seed of fact, emotional biases and wishful thinking,” says Howard-Jones. Yet just like sugar, pornography and television, “what you prefer is not always good for you or right for you,” says Paul Kirschner, an educational psychologist at the Open University of the Netherlands.
Learning occurs best when the material is taught in the modality most appropriate for the content.  One would think that would be obvious, but clearly it's not.

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