kitchen table math, the sequel: It bears repeating

Monday, May 25, 2009

It bears repeating

Thanks to Vlorbik, I've revisted one of my favorite Rafe Esquith quotes. I just don't get tired of reading it. I hope you won't either.

"Many people in the public schools want certain things done for economic or political reasons. Frequently, teachers attending staff development meetings are taught not by master teachers but by publishing-company employees. Why do fifth-grade teachers need hours of instruction before they can use a fifth-grade math book? Book publishers don't go to bed at night worrying that Johnny can't read; they worry about sales and profits. If our teachers can't teach, they're unlikely to be reformed by textbook publishers.

My school currently has two literacy coaches-- former teachers-- who constantly beg me to use their materials with my children. When these coaches try to convince me about their approaches, they rarely rely on arguments about improving reading. At the end of the last school year, my fifth-graders scored in the ninety-first percentile in national tests while the rest of the school scored in the forties. The coaches know this, so why do they want me to change my methods? They want to satisfy their boss, who wants to please his boss, who wants to impress her boss-- administrators all. It's insulting (and boring) to listen to them drone on about how to use their books.

The same song-and-dance routine accompanies the promotion of the latest new-and-improved math textbook. Seriously, how many ways can you teach a child his multiplication tables? Arithmetic hasn't changed. If a math text is so complicated that the average fifth-grade teacher can't understand it without hours of instruction, then there's something wrong with the book, the teacher, or both. These companies interfere with creative and effective teachers. If we want Johnny to calculate better, we need to hire better teachers, not buy newer textbooks."

--Rafe Esquith, An actual classroom teacher
excerpted from There Are No Shortcuts

Vlorbik also suggested that I watch the movie: The Hobart Shakespeareans. It's now at the top of the queue.


vlorbik said...

thanks for the nod.

i haven't admired another teacher
so much since i had teachers of my own
that i got to work with up close.
this guy appears to be a real american hero.

just on the basis of the movie mostly.
i bought _no_shortcuts_ yesterday
and am duly awed but haven't read
more than maybe 20% of it so far.

Catherine Johnson said...

Most 'outsiders' notice that public schools seem to choose an awful lot of curricula and teaching practices that don't work.

What 'outsiders' don't realize is that public schools aren't about 'what works.'

Public schools are so not about 'what works' that it's SOP to replace successful programs and teaching practices with unsuccessful programs and teaching practices that are promoted by ed schools & the N.E.A.

This is yet another reason why parents and taxpayers need 'a vote and a veto.' You can't argue with a closed belief system. No appeal to reason or science is going to induce public educators to teach reading the way Rafe Esquith teaches reading.