Poll: “Parents back standardized tests”

When pollsters question people who know very little about the topic of the poll, we say they are polling an “uninformed population.” This poll is an example.  Although parents don’t know the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced tests, and they don’t know why we give the first and not the second, they “back standardized tests.”

From hearing policy makers talk about test scores, I already know uninformed people back standardized tests. I love irony.


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?

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We need studies to tell us this?

Education Research Crap (or Duh!)

“Workplace Conditions That Matter to Teachers” is the theme of the January, 2011, Principal’s Research Review newsletter (from the National Association of Secondary School Principals). The following research findings appear on page 1:

Teacher working conditions are student learning conditions.

(Hirsch & Church, 209, p. 1)

Research indicates that . . . effective teaching can be enabled or constrained by the school workplace and the supports it offers (or fails to offer).

(Johnson, 2006b, p. 1)

Teachers’ perceptions of their schools are their reality; therefore, teachers’ behavior and efficacy are a direct result of those views.

(Hirsch, Sioberg, & Germuth, 2010, p. 1)

Conditions that are created by the leadership of the principal matter.

(Leithwood, 2006, p. 47)

Cut the Crap (or Translation)

Evidently, now we know that:

1. Teachers and students work and study together in classrooms.
2. School and classroom environments affect student learning.
3. Teachers’ beliefs affect their behavior.
4. Teachers sometimes allow principals to influence their work.

As mentioned in an earlier blog (“Research-based” does more harm than good), education research should be valued for confirming what we already know. Four examples are listed above.

Translation: I did not need a single study to tell me any of this.

Investors seek education profits

Policymakers and researchers believe teachers should apply research findings in schools. Investors now want to profit from this idea. An Education Week article by Sarah Sparks says investors want researchers to create highly effective methods/programs that can be scaled up for profit.

Applying research in schools crap:

Massive federal education competitions like the $650 million Investing in Innovation fund have heightened interest in practical education research, but even the most promising findings aimed at improving student learning face a long, uncertain path to become something more concrete and usable for the classroom.

Dear Ms.Sparks:
Evidently you think some education research is “practical,” which means you also think some is impractical. You deserve credit for getting the impractical part right.

Here is the link:

Cut the crap:

I know what it looks like to model and teach the six virtues of the educated person, but I don’t know what it looks like to apply research findings. When I read about it, or hear it described at in-service sessions, it sounds insulting to me because:

1. Saying teachers should know their content and use a range of instructional methods is not a new idea.
2. Asking teachers to be imaginative assumes they are not.

Philosophical teachers don’t leave in-services saying, “That’s great! I’ll do that in my classroom.” Only unimaginative, aphilosophical ones do.

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“Research-based” does more harm than good

Natural science produces knowledge about cause and effect. Biologists, chemists, and physicists use the scientific method to discover laws that can be used to shape the environment to human desires.

A good example is the invention of air conditioning. Compressed air is cooler than non-compressed air, so air conditioners compress air and blow this cooler air into the room. So now we have air conditioning and more comfort on hot days.

Social science produces knowledge about correlations. Social scientists statistically control multiple factors to discover a single factor’s causation probability. They create theoretical situations in which, “when all other things are equal,” a correlation can be described as one factor having a certain probability of causing another.

In TSVOTEP I explained that taking social science findings out of the situation in which “all other things are equal,” strips them of what makes them true, which is being in a situation in which “all other things are equal” (chapter 8). In the real world, all other things are never equal, so educators can’t know if a specific social science correlation holds true in their situation. So far, no harm done. Educators can ignore social science findings, realizing that all other things are never equal in the real world.

For years teachers and principals have ignored educational research, but now that they are supposed to use “research-based” methods, they need to challenge this idea with a stronger argument for why they should pay no heed. As this blog explains, one reason is that social science findings sometimes do more harm than good.

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Looking through the education peephole

Security peepholes are lenses that work in two directions. From the inside they magnify what can be seen outside. And from the outside they minimize details so little on the inside can be seen.

Rick Hess’s guest blogger, Roxanna Elden, describes teacher experiences with policymakers who are unable to see how to improve education because they are outside, looking the wrong way through the peephole:


I think she had fun writing this:

. . . edu-decision makers and teachers have trouble communicating. Maybe it’s because sometimes we really do speak different languages.

Teachers and policymakers speak different languages because they are on different sides of the door. From the inside teachers with an inspiring, useful definition of what it means to be educated see a magnified image of how to improve education — model and teach that definition.  Teachers know it’s difficult but not complicated.

Policymakers, on the other hand, are looking from outside, unable to see how to improve education. Therefore, they search for research-based “effectiveness.”  Read an education research report, someday and you will see what it looks like to make education both difficult and complicated.

Elden describes teachers being told to use “research-based” methods and to shift paradigms. Our best teachers don’t use research to improve education because it would be illogical and unethical to use the ideas of those who have never been in their classrooms, and who complicate the already difficult work of teaching children.

Dear Bill Gates:

Gates Foundation Crap

Last week’s big news came from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is investing $335 million to overhaul the personnel departments of several big school systems. A large portion of the Gates’s investment will finance research by dozens of social scientists and thousands of teachers to develop a better system for evaluating classroom instruction.

Educators and researchers will analyze thousands of hours of videotaped lessons to identify attributes of good teaching and possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement, as measured by value-added scores, the New York Times reports. The effort aims not just to evaluate teachers on multiple measures of effectiveness (the NYT article lists value-added measures as a starting point), but also to help teachers improve by learning from talented colleagues.

Cut the Crap

Dear Bill,

I don’t need a single dollar, a single hour of videotape, or a single study of good teaching “to identify attributes of good teaching and possible correlations between certain teaching practices and high student achievement.”

All good teachers model and teach understanding, imagination, strong character, courage, humility and generosity. They always have and they always will. You don’t know this by now?

It’s a shame your Foundation has all this money and so little imagination about how to spend it. Your imagination was the key to making money, but it seems absent from your attempts to improve education. I love irony.

If you want to know what makes a good teacher, ask your wife. And then listen to her descriptions of how her best teachers modeled and taught imagination, courage, and humility, in addition to the understanding, strong character and generosity that others modeled and taught. Better yet, ask your children to describe their best teachers. Then maybe you won’t waste your money.

Americans believe philosophy is not useful, so it is difficult for you to see that a deep, useful definition of what it means to be educated holds the answer to all your questions about improving education. I  love irony.

Casey Hurley, Educational Philosopher


Stanford scholars are to blame

The headline reads “Adults Blame Parents for Education Problems.”


Education Study Crap

Here is a quote from the article:

An Associated Press-Stanford University Poll on education found that 68 percent of adults believe parents deserve heavy blame for what’s wrong with the U.S. education system — more than teachers, administrators, the government or teachers unions.

Cut the Crap

I don’t care about the findings of this study, but I love the irony of a university asking who is to blame for the poor state of American education. Who is to blame? Anybody who does not know the six virtues of the educated person is to blame. The irony is that Americans can’t learn and develop the virtues, if education scholars don’t model and teach them. Apparently they don’t at Stanford, which is supposed to be one of our premier universities.

If Stanford scholars knew the six virtues of the educated person, they wouldn’t conduct a study that demonstrates their (1) intellectual incompetence, (2) fear of truth, and (3) pride. The study illustrates that they (1) lack the imagination needed to question the social science improvement paradigm, (2) fear the truth they would find, and (3) are so proud that they can’t see the answer to their own question:

Especially education scholars are to blame for the poor state of American education.” I love irony?

“An Actual Classroom Teacher”

The headline for this blog is also Rafe Esquith’s identifier on the cover of Teach Like Your Hair is on Fire (TLYHIOF). He is “an actual classroom teacher,” which affords credibility with a teacher audience. Throughout the book he uses second person, suggesting “you” (teachers) can try his activities in “your” classrooms.

This is an inspiring, valuable book for teachers. I am delighted with the description of a classroom that models and teaches all six virtues, instead of three virtues and three vices. Thanks Mr. Esquith. You have created a beautiful classroom for your students.

But this blog discusses what is not beautiful about the book.  It explains why hundreds of thousands of public educators claim teaching is an applied social science, even though memorable ones practice it as an art.  In other words, Mr. Esquith is a memorable, artistic teacher, but his book suggests that teaching is an applied social science.

I understand why TLYHIOF is a litany of creative classroom activities. Teachers praise books that are “practical,” meaning they describe activities teachers can take directly into the classroom. And I envision the publisher pushing Esquith to provide detailed descriptions. Teachers are the audience, and a publisher’s job is to give an audience what it wants.

But even a creative teacher like Esquith can’t have it both ways. He has to decide if his paradigm for teaching is aesthetic or social scientific. It cannot be both because paradigms are incommensurable. If teaching is an art, teachers look inside themselves to improve their art.  If teaching is an applied social science, teachers look outside themselves to improve their application of methods and materials. TLYHIOF contradicts itself as the author describes how he does the first and suggests teachers should do the second.

Esquith promotes the social science paradigm wherever he suggests teachers should try his ideas, methods, or materials. Although this paradigm is most often invoked by policymakers pointing to “research-based” methods and materials, it is also invoked in an author’s suggestion that teachers should adopt his approach (should look outside themselves). The effect is always the same.  The art of teaching is diminished.

If Esquith regarded teaching as an art, he would insist that teachers look inside themselves. He would recognize that his classroom is a powerful experience for young people because he is inspired to create something beautiful for them. And his book would explain that others worthy of being “an actual classroom teacher” look inside themselves to create beautiful classrooms for their students, too.

Still, some may ask, “What is the problem with a book that describes creative classroom activities?”

The problem is that, if artistic teachers don’t define teaching as an art, nobody will. And if teaching is not defined as an art, we’ll have fewer teachers like Rafe Esquith. That is the problem.

Esquith’s classroom activities are creative, beautiful, educational, and inspiring. But his book fails to explain that all memorable, artistic teachers inspire their students, not so much with specific lessons, but with their commitment to their students and the art of teaching. Creative lessons and teaching naturally follow from the art of teaching, not from doing what one creative teacher does, or even from doing what hundreds of creative teachers do.  Why teachers teach is more important than either the what they teach or the how they teach.  (Those who disagree should comment and explain their disagreement.)

Painters who draw replicas of great works are not in the same category as those who paint the originals. If we understood teaching as an art, we would have a lesser category for those who copy instructional approaches, too. But we don’t because the social science paradigm encourages copying. This book is an example. The irony is stunning.

My argument is not extreme. I am not saying teachers should never look outside themselves. All artists look outside themselves. But worthwhile art emerges from an artist’s internal struggles. This concept was missing from TLYHIOF.

If Esquith wants to comment, he can explain why he believes inspired, memorable teaching is essentially an art or essentially an applied social science. I will give him the last word, but the answer cannot be, “It is both.”  The essence of something can only be one thing. That is why we call it the “essence.”

Effectiveness and Appreciation #2

Effectiveness and Appreciation, Part 2

The main job of teachers is to start the cycle of appreciation.  They begin by communicating appreciation for their subject matter, the art of teaching and their students.  They will know this has been adequately communicated, when students reciprocate with appreciation for their teachers and lessons.

This is not a new idea. Elliot Eisner has written about educational connoisseurship for a long time.

This idea is incomprehensible, though, to those who believe teaching is an applied social science. They can’t put “appreciation” first, until research provides evidence that it belongs there. That is how paradigms work — they make some ideas comprehensible and others incomprehensible.

Have social science paradigm promoters (researchers and professors) ever been teachers, themselves? If they were, did they apply theory to their practice?  What did that look like? Or did they create learning environments and activities that emerged from their unique teaching styles?  Did they imagine new ways to connect with students? If so, why do they ask teachers to pay attention to the ideas of researchers who have never been in their classrooms? Why do they have so little appreciation for the art of teaching?

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