Sunday, December 29, 2019

Where Might Ed Reform Turn Now?

Forbes has an interesting piece on ed reform, where we've been and where we might be going:
Have the past ten years been a “lost decade” for education reform? Or is the focus finally shifting to something that might actually work?

Ten years ago, reformers were confident they were on the brink of fixing the U.S. education system—especially for the most disadvantaged students. As a neophyte in the movement, I often heard some version of “We know what works.” The agenda included:

· Replacing bad teachers with “rock stars;”

· Creating schools—outside the traditional system, if need be—where there was order instead of chaos;

· Focusing relentlessly on reading and math skills;

· Relying on data from frequently administered tests in those subjects to guide instruction; and

· Using end-of-the-year test scores to determine which schools were providing a high-quality education.

All this plus the Common Core standards, released in 2010, was to usher in an era where all teachers and students would be held to high expectations, backed up by rigorous tests. A child’s zip code, as the saying went, would no longer determine her destiny.

None of this worked...

Now that the decade is coming to a close, there’s a small flurry of retrospection. One conservative commentator, calling the 2010s “ed reform’s lost decade,” advises those aiming to reduce poverty to focus instead on initiatives like “incentivizing work.” A progressive responds that he sees “a lot of good things happening” in ed reform, but they’re modest compared to the hopes of a decade ago (for example: U.S. test scores at least remained stagnant while some other countries’ declined). They and others argue we need more school choice. Still others, including Democrats competing for the presidential nomination, blame too much choice for our lack of progress—along with low teacher salaries, poverty, and racism.

At the same time, there’s a development in the education world that has gotten relatively little attention and seems to belong to another universe. It’s not about school choice or teacher quality or any of the other things that have dominated the public conversation. Instead, it’s about what gets taught in classrooms and how—a subject in which reformers have shown surprisingly little interest.

The huge and largely unreported story is that American educators are trained to believe in ideas and methods that have little or no evidence behind them—and often conflict with what scientists have discovered about the learning process. Classroom materials rest on similarly flawed assumptions. The disjunction between evidence and practice makes it unnecessarily difficult for teachers to do their jobs and for all but the ablest and most advantaged students to learn. The glimmer of hope is that a growing number of teachers—along with some administrators, policymakers, philanthropists, and parents—are beginning to push for change.

The leading edge of this movement has focused on reading, and primarily on the aspect of reading commonly known as phonics. That’s understandable. The debate over phonics has been around for a long time, and it may be easier for people to wrap their minds around it—although it’s also easy for them to dismiss it. Many teachers believe they’re already teaching phonics when in fact, because of deficiencies in their training, they’re not...

Teacher-training programs promote the idea that education is ideally a natural process in which students discover or “construct” knowledge for themselves. “Teacher talk,” therefore, should be kept to a minimum, and group work or inquiry-based learning should be maximized. Under this theory, if teachers provide comprehension “skills,” they don’t need to build knowledge; kids can eventually use their “skills” to do that through their own reading. But cognitive scientists have found that when learners don’t know much about a topic, it’s far more effective for an expert to explain it and guide discussion than for them to try to figure it out on their own. Similarly, if you know nothing about chemistry or biology, you’re going to have a hard time acquiring knowledge from reading an article on DNA, no matter how many times you’ve practiced “finding the main idea.”

The sad truth is that in their well-intentioned zeal for “data,” reformers have only made this problem worse.
Go read the whole thing. Seriously.  And then think, what is the problem in math?


Ann in L.A. said...

Math suffers from pretty much the same thing. No explanation by teachers of algorithms, no math-facts drills, too few problems assigned so skills never get locked in, too much distraction through project-based learning.

The worst example of PBL I saw from our kids was this for 6th grade math:

* Select an object.
* Measure the dimensions of the object
* Calculate the surface area and volume.
* If you were to place this object into a cylindrical mailing tube, what should be the dimensions of the tube?
* What about a triangular prism?
* Rectangular prism?
* What are the surface areas and volumes of these boxes?
* Determine which of these boxes fits your object best.
* Explain why.

Time required: 90 minutes, minimum.
Educational value (0-10): 2.
Opportunity cost (cost of time wasted which could have been spent doing something useful, instead of cutting and taping cardboard) (0-10): 9.
Teacher's perception of the "fun" value of project (0-10): 9.
Students' perception of the "fun" value of project (0-10): 0.
Potential student frustration level when the cardboard doesn't cut and the tape doesn't stick (0-10): 8.
Requisite parent participation level when frustrated kid wastes an hour and a half on a dumb-&^% and pointless assignment building a box, and parent gets exasperated by the time wasted and takes over (0-10): 6.

All of this was bad enough, but then it got worse. The next day, in MATH class, they had to make up a story about where they were sending the box!

Darren said...


Anonymous said...

Since the 2000's, grades are doubled! 50% in raw score is 100%. It's really easy to pass with inflated grades. Minimum high school graduation rate mandate is also keeping the trend going.

The false percentage of literacy is keeping up. Americans don't want real literacy statistics.

David said...

My worst Math project was making a restaurant menu, having 10 customers and figuring out their total, and then presenting it. I remember I was graded down because I used whole numbers instead of having .99 at the end and the menu was not creatively designed enough. I got a B- on the project which gave me my only B on the final report card of any Math class. I still hate that teacher to this day.

Darren said...

Also painful.