30 January 2013

Education. Fixed. No wait. Now it's fixed. Now. Seriously this time.

Teachers are frustrated. Reformers are disgruntled. Parents are at their wits end. No one can find the elusive magic bullet that will solve all of our education problems. In our quest for that solution, society seems to be grasping at a number of different solutions. While I take issue with many of the proposed solutions, I think that the process of proposing, seriously, many dichotomous solutions is part of that problem.

Often in education, teachers will tell you that the left hand doesn't even know that the right hand exists, let alone what the right hand is doing. I could provide literally dozens of examples of this from my experience. 

Some of them are hilarious (a school firing it's literacy coaches before the meeting in which it declares its intention to participate in a "year of literacy"), some of them are sad (schools blocking websites that let kids learn by playing educational games simply because they are "games") and some of them make you shake your head (schools blocking programs they paid to buy).

I would attempt to blame the schools themselves, but that isn't fair. You see, they are simply reflecting the larger educational climate in America. That climate is, to put it kindly, scattered and divided. 

Most people in education agree that No Child Left Behind was a terrible law. Naturally, most states and the feds are still designing tests that are in line with the basic philosophy of NCLB. The vast majority of teachers will tell you that a larger class is harder to teach and that kids in larger classes tend to learn less. Nevertheless, class sizes continue to rise. 

Today, we revisit a topic near and dear to the BlazeBlog - teacher training. This topic is generally ignored by educational commentators, but recently there were two stories which both illustrated the basic differences in philosophy between educators and outsiders and were diametrically opposed to each other, which nicely illustrates how divided the nation is on questions of education.

In the last two days (editor's note: this was up to date in December of 2012, but we take a laizze faire kind of approach to deadlines here at the BlazeBlog, so the stories are more like "in the last two months" now), two different stories have come across my desk. They are both about what you have to do to become a teacher in this country. You almost certainly saw the first story.

In that story, the American Federation of Teachers calls for a more stringent national test for prospective teachers to take to determine their fitness for service as teachers.  They refer to it (in order to get more headlines) as a "bar exam" for teachers. This is hardly new. This very blog has called for an even more stringent system of teacher training (I thought about a link here, but I linked to it two paragraphs ago, so I'm not really interested in linking to it again).
If you're too lazy to read that post, the basic gist of it is that I don't think that teacher education is very good, and I want it to become not more like lawyering, but more like doctoring. While a stringent exam is a good idea, most states already have those. They go by names like the PRAXIS, PRAXIS II, and CBEST. The problem with those tests isn't that they aren't very good tests (they aren't), but rather that a multiple choice test is a pretty poor indicator of how a teacher will work in a classroom full of young people. In short, there is no " option C " to choose in front of a room of maniacal 12 year olds. That's why I have advocated, and will advocate again, a system much more like the internships of teaching hospitals, where student teachers will be given semi-autonomy but be under closer supervision than standard first-year teachers. 

So, that's hand number 1: make it harder to become a teacher

Hand number 2, naturally, calls for the exact opposite.

The day after that article was published, a story popped up in my facepagespace news feed about my home state of Indiana. Indiana, facing unemployment of recent college grads and a wave of teacher retirements, is looking to make it easier to become a teacher. Don't believe me? Fine, read it for yourself. I'm going to let you read that. Now, let's ask a compare and contrast question (studies show that C&C questions lead to a 22% increase in retention over straight rote memorization): What is different between the two articles?

Obviously Indiana has a problem, and they've proposed an innovative insulting solution. The basic outline makes the outrageous claim that a person who has a bachelor's degree and spends three years (probably getting observed 2 times a year) in a school with decent reviews can become a professionally licensed teacher. That's like telling me I can go practice law as long as I have 6 good evaluations from a lawyer who watches less than 1% of my time in trial. I'll just watch enough Law and Order and I'll be good to go. 

This basic idea is hardly new. Hell, it's the basis of Teach For America, a program I'm hardly in love with. (This is a subject for another day, so here's my argument in brief: TFA basically says that all of the pedagogy and content I spent 4 years learning can be mastered in a summer retreat. It also places teachers in intentionally temporary placements, which leads to higher teacher turn-over. If learning is all about relationships, which I think it is, then this undermines those relationships, especially at the high school level, where kids are savvy enough  to see that the young person they idolized (we hope) is now leaving for a higher paying gig. That sends a message to those students who we most need to reach that they aren't important enough to stick around for. Again, there is a full-length rant on TFA in my brain, I just haven't spewed it onto paper the Interwebs yet)

So you're going to take someone off the (college educated) street and put them in a classroom with minimal training. This proposal must have been made by someone who hasn't actually worked in a classroom. Obviously these people will have the content (actually, based on the writing of some college grads I know, I'm not even sure about that) knowledge to teach middle and high school. The problem with this is that only about 10% of a teacher's job involves content. The vast majority of this job is about managing kids. Convincing them that this material is important. Helping them grow. Fostering their maturation. 

These are not skills that are inherent. Ask anybody who works with kids. They'll tell you that it takes concerted effort to really work with kids. I suspect that these BA to 1st hour teachers will struggle and leave the profession quickly. High teacher turn-over doesn't solve any problems. 

So, to summarize: AFT thinks we need to make it much harder to become a teacher. States like Indiana want to make it much easier. Obviously they're both right. Or wrong. No, right. Wrong. Whatever they are, they send a confusing message. Do teachers need more training or less? 

I suppose we could look at these two stories as being isolated ideas on the fringes. However, both of them are serious proposals from people in education today. It really is the perfect picture of why we're struggling as a system. We can't agree on the most basic things, like how to put the best people in front of a class; let alone the complicated things, like how to teach that class effectively. 

In the end, I suppose it doesn't matter, because at the end of the day, no one is ever happy with the solution, so we shouldn't even attempt to make anybody happy.   

1 comment:

  1. NICE BLOG!!! Education in its general sense is a form of learning in which knowledge, skills, and habits of a group of people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training, research etc. Thanks for sharing a great information.
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