kitchen table math, the sequel: Education Non-Myths

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Education Non-Myths

I couldn't resist sharing these maxims from a new blog :
whose author I know from a previous book he wrote entitled Power Teaching (it's in the list of books I recommended in a post a few months ago:

What follows is from the "Book of Right", the set of assumptions which will produce learning.

1. Although students come from different backgrounds, and some are much easier to teach than others, what education brings to the student is much more important than what the student brings to education.

2. All subjects are hierarchically arranged by logic and there is a sequence of instruction which must be followed by all but the most exceptional of high-performing students.

3. Reinforcement is a very powerful determinant of student achievement. The main reinforcer in education is the improvement the student sees in his skills. Ill-constructed curricula, the kind found in almost every government school, result in a steady diet of failure for most students.

4. Having a system of education which is not a civil servant bureaucracy is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for effective education. You can’t do it with such a bureaucracy, but just because you don’t have a bureaucracy doesn’t mean you can do it.

5. Higher order thinking skills are explicitly taught, not fondly hoped for.

6. Methods of teaching are determined by scientific research, not consensus based on experience and sincere belief.

7. Teachers use a curriculum and lesson plans which have been demonstrated to work best and are not expected to create their own.

8. Psychological assessments are used rarely, but assessment of student progress, which means assessment of the effectiveness of teaching, occurs at least daily.

9. Teachers are taught how to teach in detail rather than being expected to apply vague philosophical maundering.

10. Special education is rarely needed because students are taught well on the first go round.

11. If a student does not learn, the blame is not placed on neurological impairment, but on faulty teaching methods.

12. Self-esteem is not taught because it does not have to be.

13. Students are not given "projects" until component skills have been mastered and rarely thereafter.

14. No attention is paid to individual "learning styles" because these hypothetical entities have no effect on learning.

15. Academic success can be measured by reliable and valid standardized tests, although many of these tests are too simple.

16. Students are expected to perform correctly in spelling, writing, reading, and mathematics and it does not stifle creativity.

17. The precepts of Whole Language are not used to teach reading because these precepts are wrong.

18. Students are not expected to create their own reality because this leads to frustration and slow learning.

19. Students are not expected to learn when it is developmentally appropriate but when they are taught.

20. The concept of multiple intelligences is ignored because it has no positive effect on learning.

21. The teacher is a teacher and not a facilitator.

22. The spiral curriculum is not used because things are taught properly the first time.

23. The customer is the parent and the customer must have the economic power to move his child to another teaching situation when unsatisfied.

24. In private education, the cost of education is known. In public education, the cost can never be known because there is no motivation to tell the truth and every motivation not to.

25. The curriculum must be tested on children and provision must be made for mastery learning. Passage of time or exposure does not guarantee learning.

26. Students are not tortured by "creative problem solving" because this is just another crude IQ test and has no value aside from categorizing students yet again.

I'm not sure I agree that "special education will rarely be needed," because I have observed that students with certain exceptionalities (autism, some LDs, some language impairments) need the same effective instruction but can't benefit from it in an inclusive setting, at least not initially. However, I agree with the general case, that much "special education" is simply ineffective general education, watered down in in a smaller group. As Lloyd Dunne (I think) observed, "It's not special, and it's not education."

All students deserve better.


Redkudu said...

7. Teachers use a curriculum and lesson plans which have been demonstrated to work best and are not expected to create their own.

That'll be the day. Teacher autonomy is tantamount to all and everything where I work - and we don't have union support like other states [It's Texas, it's Right-to-Work]. No one dares dictate - nor align - what folks in my department do. The result? I want to expand a lesson in epic poetry and Greek myths based on The Odyssey - 60% of my 10th grade students didn't read it in 9th grade. Every other school I've worked at has had The Odyssey as standard 9th grade lit.

9. Teachers are taught how to teach in detail rather than being expected to apply vague philosophical maundering.

Does philosophical maundering include reading and writing workshop?

palisadesk - I did a quick but not thorough search - is this author associated with the Power Teaching Movement? (Of the teacher call-response, student repeat sort that's available on Youtube?)

A said...

I would like to know more about Grant Coulson too. I did find this:

I cannot find the book Power Teaching, though.

Cheryl said...

Power Teaching was originated in Yukaipa, CA by 3 teachers named Biffle, Vanderfin, and Rekstad. Chris Rekstad is the one I'm most familiar with. Never heard of Grant Coulson in connection with it. They've changed the name to Whole Brain Teaching, BTW.

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palisadesk said...

Dr. Coulson has no connection with the California teachers who originated Power Teaching. His book by that title preceded their initiative and is now out of print. It was for the general reader or parent and is very clearly written, laced with some acerbic wit and insights as well as data and illustrative examples. The themes are similar to those KTM'ers frequently raise: effective instruction is a science, data should act as an ongoing check of instructional effectiveness, parents need to be very well-informed to monitor their child's schooling (and may need to provide an alternative), and so on.

I believe there is some background info on his blog. I know he has had years of experience in the fields of correctional services and social services. I believe he knew some of the founding gurus of precision teaching (Eric Haughton and Ogden Lindsley) personally, as well as many DI people.

I gather from the blog that he has a new book in progress, which I hope finds a mainstream publisher so I can send all my friends to buy it. It is difficult to find material on effective teaching that an interested newcomer can read, mark learn and inwardly digest -- with pleasure as well as edification. Some books in the list I posted to KTM meet these criteria but it is a small selection. Material that explains the "system" to parents in a bafflegab-free way is also urgently needed. By the time many parents realize what is happening it is too late -- or at best, they have lost critical time.

SteveH said...

"... what education brings to the student is much more important than what the student brings to education."

From the NAEP 4th grade test.

14, 26, 38, ______ , ______

The numbers in the pattern above are increasing by 12. Which of these numbers is part of the pattern?

A. 52
B. 58
C. 60
D. 62

55% got this correct, but 25% would get it right by guessing.

Lower school math is big on patterns, but they even give them the pattern here. Let's make math into something complex so that we have no sense of what is reasonable or not. What if we were talking about tying your shoes, riding a bike, or learning to play baseball?

Instead of seeing a fundamental flaw in the system, many look to improve scores by a percent or two. "Ooooh, we now have 57% of the kids who got the question correct. Send out the press release. Kids improve their critical thinking skills!"

Cheryl said...

Thank you, Palisadesk! I haven't been teaching all that long, so have some "gaps." It's a steep learning curve. :)

Tracy W said...

24. In private education, the cost of education is known.

I disagree with this. In private education, the amount of money that the marginal parent is willing to spend at a particular school is known. This is not necessarily the same as the marginal cost of educating that child.

And also, a private school principal has an incentive to lie. If a school charges $10,000 per student per year, what would happen to a headmaster who came out and said "Well, it actually only costs $7,000 a year, but we've discovered we can extract an extra $3,000 a year per child to spend on really really good biscuits for the teachers' lounge."?

palisadesk said...

Tracy W, I can't speak to the conditions for private schools in NZ, where there may be significant differences in operational protocols, but I do have experience of private schools in the US. It is probably a fair statement to say that the cost of educating a student in most US private schools is knowable, if not precisely "known" (in the sense of publicized). The tuition a parent pays is rarely complete coverage of the costs; in fact, this would be true only in very low-end, on-the-margin private schools: small schools starting up, or serving a particular faith community or local kids with special needs, etc.

Most private schools, after they have become somewhat established, operate from several revenue streams: student tuition, annual donations and fundraising, alumnae and donor endowment, and occasional corporate or large donor bequests. Notably absent is any government or taxpayer money. A board of directors which is separate from the day-to-day school administration operates the financial side of things, and as with a hospital or many private corporations, maintains detailed financial records, and these are available. In every private school I have been associated with, annual financial statements are available to all parents, employees, alumni and friends of the school; more detailed breakdowns are available on request. The kind of padding the budget you refer to is something that is routine in the public system but I have never seen in the private system (though it may occur of course). For one thing, public schools regularly take money allocated for students and spend it on something else. Private schools charge parents, on average, significantly less than the actual cost per student, so the comparison does not work.

Private schools are upfront about the perks they provide to staff and others; providing attractive working conditions is not considered a frill. It is generally a consensus that they want to attract and retain the most suitable teachers they can find, and create a harmonious, stimulating community that both nurtures and challenges the students; stimulates, supports and reinforces the staff, and provides a "return on investment" to parents that has both quantitative and qualitative aspects. There is much more transparency to almost every aspect of school governance and operation than there is in the public sector. The "elite" private schools indeed provide an excellent salary and benefits package to teaching staff (well above what public schools pay), subsidize teachers' professional development with paid sabbaticals, give teachers a lot of freedom (within defined boundaries) to innovate, set curriculum, and so forth but all this within an already cohesive, shared-vision community of scholars.

In the public sector, however, the financial skeins are so tangled it would be impossible, even if it were attempted, to calculate the actual per-annum "cost" for a student's education. All we have to go by are public figures like per-student funding, bulk amounts for corporate donations or fundraising, etc. The mechanisms are not in place to track the actual amounts spent per student in various educational settings.

Tracy W said...

Palisadesk, some set of nice working conditions may well be necessary to attract staff, I know I have marked preferences about that as a worker myself.
But it's not clear when nicer working conditions tip over from "good for staff productivity" to simply perks.

And then, there's ample other ways for money to be used to produce nice working conditions, how beautifully should the gardens be kept up? How frequently should the Latin textbooks be replaced, for an education? How valuable is an extra school trip, for an education?

I am quite happy to believe that private school principals are good at extracting money from alummnae and big corporate donors as well as parents.

Just in NZ, I don't have any complelling reason to believe that private schools provide a better education in terms of learning after you have taken into account their student characteristics, and I have some ancedotal evidence implying not. My mother's business partner pulled her daughter out of the local public school when the school told her that the daughter had a reading problem, and sent her to an expensive private school. Two years after this the private school called her up and told her her daughter had a reading problem, so the private school took 2 years to get to the point the public school had. A friend of mine as a teenager pulled out of a private school and insisted on going to a public school, to his father's fury, what he said about the public school was that if you dropped your books in the corridor the other boys would help you pick them up, instead of kicking you when you were trying to pick them up. One of my friends at my public high school had been transferred out of a private school by her parents because of limited classes at the private school and they felt she wasn't getting the academic push she needed.

palisadesk said...

Tracy W, your observations are fair enough, and your comment about the quality of private schools vis a vis public schools is supported by research. But the issue here is not one of academic quality but of accountability for funding and transparency of spending. In the public system (here at least) you get little to none of either. I understand that NZ has a different model of public school organization and governance than here, so the discrepancies may be less obvious there.

Private schools exist in a relatively free market; parents are not compelled to send their children there, or to pay the fees. If they do not like the school’s priorities, or how it spends the tuition fees paid, they are free to withdraw their child. Some do, most don’t. When parents select a private school, they are generally aware they are purchasing a “package” – the school has a particular vision, clientele, emphasis in program and extracurriculars, and so on.

If a private school wishes to fritter away money on things you and I consider secondary or peripheral (gardens, the staff lounge) it is a matter between them and their customer base. Their clients may consider gardens, biscuits or some other add-on to be important. Expenditure decisions are rarely made by the principal alone; a board of governors which includes parents, alumni and friends of the school is involved in all major financial decisions.

Catherine’s experience clearly demonstrates, however, that good private schools can vastly exceed available public schools (even in a “good” district). I saw an article recently that I sent to Catherine about the fact that Jesuit schools consistently showed good academic outcomes compared to private schools in general (and certainly to public schools). Homeschoolers or private school parents are free to seek out whatever educational opportunities for their children they can afford, find available, or which meet their unique needs. That’s why school choice is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is too often limited to those who can pay for it.

Tracy W said...

I think school choice is valuable. I also think that some minimal quality of facilities is needed for effective education. But I also suspect schools can spend a lot on facilities that look good but don't actually contribute towards education.
i don't oppose school choice, while I had public education right the way through my brothers went to a private school for high school (run by parents) and the high school I went to was not the local one I was zoned for, but it was a far better choice for me. And I agree that there is some evidence supporting the hypothesis that the Jesuits run good schools (in the learning sense), and I don't know of any counter-evidence.
But, well, school fees at the elite schools seem to have more to do with what the market will bear than with what it costs to provide an education - likely because what the elite private schools are really selling is a school with lots of children of the rich and the resulting social contacts. But it suits everyone's egos to dress it up in talk about the value of education.