Letter to teacher (also my student)

Dear Mary,

You mentioned a highly successful program in your school (brain-based ways to teach letter patterns and phonics). I believe you say it was successful because student reading scores went up. Is that right? Continue reading →

What is a teacher’s job?

Dear Teacher:

You believe your job is to apply what research has found to be “effective.” I believe your job is to appreciate your subject matter and students. We believe in different job descriptions for the same reason — your experiences taught you to believe in yours, my experiences taught me to believe in mine.

Professors of education taught both of us that teachers should be professionals who apply what research has found to be “effective.” The difference in our experiences comes before that. You were taught to embrace what is taught in school, I was taught to challenge it.

Even though you can’t describe a time when applying what was “effective” had the desired effect, you will continue to believe that is your job because that is what you were taught. When we believe things we can’t support with experience or reason, we “just believe” them, anyway.

In this case, though, the results are disastrous for the improvement of education. Because 99% of teachers “just believe” what is not true — that teaching is an applied social science — schools have not improved over the last 50 years. If you believe they have improved, describe how they are improved and describe the social science findings that were applied to achieve that improvement.

BTW — when you had classes with education professors, did they describe the research findings they were applying? Did you ever wonder why they didn’t?  Now you know why. I love irony.

Generosity gives in both directions

From Kimberly Leonard, Resource Teacher for Academically Gifted, Louisburg Elementary School, NC

This past Christmas our school and a local business sponsored a coat drive for needy children. Once the coats were in, we wrapped and tagged them for size and gender.

As children arrived in the school lobby, they took seats around the Christmas tree. When they started opening and trying on their gifts, their faces lit with excitement.

One little boy put his hands in the pockets of his new coat.  He discovered gloves and money and screamed, “I found 10 dollars in my pocket!” One of the business sponsors asked him what he was going to spend it on.  He thought a minute and said, “I’ve never had money before to buy my mom a present. What can I buy her for Christmas with 10 dollars?”

This 8-year-old boy’s generous spirit shook the earth below our feet.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  And the generous spirits of the donaters will be remembered forever in these young hearts.  Giving always lets you reap more than you sow.

You don’t need to read it

Concerning ways to help students succeed in school, Benedict Carey, (NY Times, 9/6/2010) wrote:

Advice is cheap and all too familiar: Clear a quiet work space. Stick to a homework schedule. Set goals. Set boundaries. . .

And check out the classroom. Does Junior’s learning style match the new teacher’s approach? Or the school’s philosophy? . . .

Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.

The last sentence applies to all psychological and educational research.  Their findings can’t predict what will happen in any real world situation.

Cut the Crap

Concerning how we learn academic material, Carey put it this way: “The more mental sweat it takes to dig it out, the more securely it will be subsequently anchored.”

It is simple — just model and teach the six virtues, the third of which is strong character — the topic of this article.  Those who know the six virtues of the educated person don’t need to read it.

Better the world with intellect? Or with intellect, character & spirit?

Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick believe schools should teach 16 habits of mind.

In their words:

Continue reading →

Another Catch-22

Teachers are taught that they become better by applying the findings of educational research.  Teachers who believe this don’t have enough imagination to either understand the research or become a better teacher.

Study finds what we already know!

Education Week (online, January 6, 2012):

Popular Frameworks Found to Identify Effective Teachers


For this study, the researchers broadened the list of outcomes slightly to include a measure of student effort and emotional engagement. Students taught by the teachers studied reported, for instance, on whether they pushed themselves to understand lessons in the class, and whether they felt happy in class.

Who doesn’t already know that teachers whose students “pushed themselves to understand lessons,” and “felt happy in class” will get better results than teachers with students who did not push themselves to understand lessons and who were not happy in class?

Continue reading →

Bill Gates again

Bill Gates Crap

Thanks to the WSJ, we hear from Bill Gates again:


Two excerpts:

(1)  The intermediate goal of MET (Measures of Effective Teaching) is to discover what we are able to measure that is predictive of student success. The end goal is to have a better sense of what makes teaching work so that school districts can start to hire, train and promote based on meaningful standards. . .

(2)  Some people think that teachers should be like commissioned salespeople, receiving pay based on end-of-year test scores. We don’t believe that. When we think about the kinds of teachers we hope our children have, we realize that it’s impossible to capture everything in a single metric. We believe you need multiple measures to make evaluations accurate and fair.

There are others who say that teaching is so nuanced that it is simply impossible to measure. We can’t accept that either, because we know that just throwing up our hands is bad for students and for teachers.

Because we have been unable to define effective teaching, we now reward teachers for easy-to-measure proxies like master’s degrees and seniority, even though there is no evidence that these things help students learn. As a result, a tenured teacher with a master’s degree whose students aren’t learning much will always earn more than a recent college graduate whose students are sweeping the academic decathlon. (Emphases added.)

Continue reading →

Teacher Evaluations: Delicate Conversation? or Ironic Ignorance?

The Washington Post headline reads, “Evaluation of DC Teachers is a Delicate Conversation:”


The article is about a teacher who wanted to know why a “master educator” evaluator gave him a low grade on his math lesson:

Master Educator:  This does not measure your effort . . . But I do see your effort . . .

Math Teacher: So — what is this measuring?

Master Educator: It’s measuring the effectiveness of that effort . . .


Continue reading →

A little philosophy saves a lot of $

This headline recently caught my eye: “Using Research to Predict Great Teachers.”  Here is the link:  http://www.hepg.org/hel/article/501

It reminded me of the 1990s, when school districts used the Teacher- and Administrator-Perceiver Instruments to hire teachers and principals.  According to the developers, research found that “effective” teachers and principals used certain words more frequently than “ineffective” ones.

Continue reading →