In education, the quickest way to get approving head-nods from a crowd is to talk about the perils of rote and repetition. Students can’t learn “how to think,” after all, if they’re forced to memorize facts or repeat skills to automaticity. And teachers are not widgets merely implementing basic skills; they’re artists.
Perhaps no applause line has done more damage to effective teaching than these attacks on repetition. This is something that Doug Lemov knows intimately, thanks in part to the thousands of hours he spent observing outstanding teachers in action. What he learned was that great teaching is born not of spontaneous and unpracticed excellence, but rather of spending more time than seems to make sense mastering seemingly mundane but crucially important knowledge and skills. In his first book, Teach Like a Champion, Lemov described 49 of the fundamental techniques that great teachers incorporated into their daily practice.
Lemov builds upon these insights in his latest book, Practice Perfect (coauthored with Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi). The book is, at its core, a damning critique of the multi-billion dollar teacher professional development industry, which focuses almost no time and attention on actually helping teachers focus on and hone the skills they need to be effective. Teachers, Lemov suggests, are being served up the
Thanks to the Chicago Teachers Union strike, 350,000 of some of our nation’s neediest children have missed school this week. While it sounds like the strike may be close to an end, its impact will likely be far reaching and linger long after the teachers go back to work.
According to the unions, the fact that Chicago children have been denied the education they deserve is unfortunate but necessary to stop what they perceived as an unfair and unjust evaluation system that “would rely heavily on student standardized test scores.” One of key talking points being thrown around by the media is that student performance on standardized tests would account for as much as 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, something that even many reformers can’t stomach.
However, a close read of the final teacher-evaluation proposal from the Chicago Public Schools reveals a very different picture. In fact, the CPS proposal is more thoughtfully crafted and balanced than the rhetoric suggests, using a well-developed and tested teacher evaluation rubric, peer evaluation from master teachers, and student performance on teacher-created and teacher-scored performance assessments.
In fact, according to the final proposal, student achievement on standardized tests will never account for more than 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. And, even then, the district ensures that the often-derided state assessments—which, as critics note, are in desperate need of improvement—will not be used to judge a teacher’s effectiveness.
According to the CPS proposal,
Perhaps the most seductive trap in all of education reform is the idea of replication. A charter school is high achieving? Turn it into a CMO! A curriculum is achieving big results? Bring it to every classroom in its district! An instructional strategy is clicking with teachers? Take it nationwide! In theory, this makes sense. We should, after all, learn from the best, and if something is working, why not replicate it?
Copying success doesn't always lead to success.
Photo by Andre W.
Too often, though, replication falls short of these high expectations. It ends up more like an old-fashioned Xerox, where each new copy is a little worse than the one that came before.
In education, the Xerox effect often stems from a shift in focus. In the high achieving schools and classrooms so many seek to copy, teachers and leaders work together with their eyes firmly focused on the goal of improving student achievement. In replication schools, however, that focus is too often diverted from student outcomes to the faithful implementation of “proven” programs, systems and tools.
What’s more, feedback in replication schools too often becomes unidirectional and is aimed at how well the program is being implemented, rather than on whether—faithful to the program or not—teachers are
Guest blogger Paul Gross is an emeritus professor of life sciences at the University of Virginia and former head of the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole.
Yesterday in Ed Week, an article by Nora Fleming highlighted the results from a recent NAEP assessment of “hands-on” science skills, which demonstrated that “elementary, middle, and high school students failed to demonstrate a deep understanding of science concepts when they performed activity-based science tasks and investigations…” This breathless account hardly merits close attention. The NAEP data will receive it in due course. But the remarks of the NAEP Governing Board’s spokesman, here quoted, are disturbing. They call for a response not much longer than statements quoted in Nora Fleming’s article.
All scientific "situations" are "real life."
Photo by Umberto Salvagnin.
First, the comment attributed to Alan J. Friedman implies that, until now, K-12 science education has consisted of “rote memory and how to follow instructions.” Abandonment of this canard by science teachers (and their teachers) is long overdue. There is no evidence to support it. For half a century, specialists in school science and their professional organizations have stressed, and overstressed, the importance of “hands-on” science learning. That insistence antedates by decades the advent of computers. The suggestion that
About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Kathleen Porter-Magee is a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Senior Director of the High Quality Standards Program at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she leads the Institute’s work on state, national, and international standards evaluation and analysis.
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