Politics on an education blogsite?

Why do I blog about politics here?  It’s because those who work in public schools know that education is directed and controlled by elected officials. As explained in TSVOTEP, however, that does not mean teachers and principals should wait for policy makers to steer public education in a positive direction. Whenever my graduate students say their superiors should read TSVOTEP, I remind them that, if we wait for central office administrators or politicians to define the educated person in six-virtue terms, we will wait forever.

Richard Elmore argues a similar point from a different angle.

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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.

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.

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.

“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.

The Failed Experiments of American Public Education

In a recent Learning for Democracy essay I argued that the following American public education experiments have failed:

(1) providing equal educational opportunity via democratically elected governors at the local and state levels,
(2) improving education via the social science improvement paradigm.

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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?

Are You Appalled, Yet?

The following passage from Kozol’s (1967, p. 2) Death at an early age: The destruction of the hearts and minds of Negro children in the Boston public schools describes an art teacher’s approach to teaching third graders. It is intended to illustrate how inappropriate she was for Stephen — a physically abused foster child who was not good at school; but who, according to Kozol, was “a fine artist:”

The Art Teacher’s most common technique for art instruction was to pass out mimeographed designs and then to have the pupils fill them in according to a dictated or suggested color plan. An alternate approach was to stick up on the wall or on the blackboard some of the drawings on a particular subject that had been done in the previous years by predominantly white classes. These drawings, neat and ordered and very uniform, would be the models for our children. The art lesson, in effect, would be to copy what had been done before, and the neatest and most accurate reproductions of the original drawings would be the ones that would win the highest approval from the teacher.

Appalling isn’t it — that an art class would focus on what is acceptable and unacceptable, instead of what is beautiful and ugly. Ugly classroom experiences are part of school life, but it is ironic when they occur in a third grade art class.

This passage can also be seen as a metaphor for how the education establishment treats the art of teaching. It starts with teacher education programs that focus on educational psychology and research findings about effective instruction in reading, math, science, history, etc. Aspiring teachers are taught how to write lesson plans, and how to teach disinterested students.

Classes that teach these skills get high marks from young teachers who say their best college courses taught them how to control students, how to write lesson plans, and how to teach (as if there is such a thing). They say this because educational administrators and policymakers require them to submit lesson plans that use research-based methods and specify which district and state objectives are being covered.

In other words, teachers are expected to (1) produce “neat and ordered and very uniform” lessons; (2) “copy what had been done before, and the neatest and most accurate reproductions of the original drawings would be the ones that would win the highest approval. . .” These expectations make sense, if teaching is an applied social science.

If teaching is an art, however, these expectations are just as appalling as those of the third grade art teacher. If teaching is an art, you can’t be appalled by her expectations and not be appalled at the education establishment’s treatment of teachers.

Are you appalled, yet?

Kozol, J. (1967). Death at an early age: The destruction of the hearts and minds of Negro children in the Boston public schools. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.

Books for Teachers

Publisher Crap

A publisher once told me, “Teachers don’t buy books.” I interpreted that to mean teachers are too busy, too intellectually lazy, or too cheap to buy books.

Now that I have written a book for teachers, I interpret the claim differently. Whether teachers buy books or not has little to do with teacher busyness, intellect, or economic priorities. Some teachers are professionally busy, a few are not; some are intellectually vigorous, a few are not; some face financial hardship, a few do not.

Cut the Crap

My new hypothesis is that teachers don’t buy books because books supposedly written for them are an insult to teachers and the art of teaching.
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