My co-conspirator at the Workflow Institute, Sam Adkins, sent me a delicious link to the Organization for Quality Education, a group of Ontario citizens up in arms over the poor quality of their public schools. Nothing is funnier than the truth.
Let's start with a few definitions of education buzzwords.
Buzzword: Research has shown...
What parents THINK it means: It's proven.
What it REALLY means: Other people say so, too.
What parents THINK it means: Your child is of greatest concern
What it REALLY means: Your child does what he wants to do
Buzzword: No memorization
What parents THINK it means: No boring stuff
What it REALLY means: We don't teach facts
Buzzword: High-order thinking
What parents THINK it means: Thinking
What it REALLY means: Lost in the fog
Buzzword: Brain-based learning
What parents THINK it means: Science teaches a lot about learning
What it REALLY means: I believe in feng-shui, too
Buzzword: Discovery learning
What parents THINK it means: It's fun to learn
What it REALLY means: Kids will spend a week learning what lively, engaged instruction could teach in a day
Buzzword: We don't "teach to the test"
What parents THINK it means: No drills just for the sake of passing some test
What it REALLY means: We don't like being told what to cover in class
Buzzword: Education theorists
What parents THINK it means: Deep thinkers about education issues
What it REALLY means: People who spout opinions without any supporting data
Buzzword: Education researchers
What parents THINK it means: People who analyze data about what actually works
What it REALLY means: People who summarize the view of the theorists
That was just a warm-up. What is a quality education? How can you judge? You look to your customers.
Much of what is wrong with Ontario education today is the result of the system's clinging to an outdated concept of quality. Over the past 30 years, organizations in the private sector - and now increasingly in the public sector - have come to the realization that quality can no longer be patronizingly defined by the providers of goods and services. Today, quality means meeting or exceeding the expectations of customers. In other words, something isn't good quality unless the customer says it is.
So what are the customers of Ontario's schools saying? The employers and post-secondary educators, the school system's most obvious customers, are its most vocal and consistent critics. Meanwhile, parents line up overnight to enroll their children in academy schools where high academic and behavioural standards prevail, in stark contrast to the laissez-faire attitudes in most schools. Much like sixties Detroit automotive engineers who largely ignored the requests from motorists for smaller, fuel-efficient cars, the education system dismisses these criticisms as coming from people unqualified to determine what constitutes quality education.
Modern quality is about outputs, not inputs. Yet status quo educators define quality primarily in terms of inputs to the education system, such as funding levels, class size, and teacher certification. The effects of these inputs on learning outcomes, however, are anything but clear. Studies in some jurisdictions, for example, have found that the more school boards spend, the worse students learn!
Meanings are important. I maintain a glossary at Internet Time, one of about five edutech glossaries on the net that aren't simply copies of someone else's glossary. OQE offers a glossary for debunking edubabble. It's extremely thought-provoking. The definitions come from The Schools We Need & Why We Don’t Have Them by E.D. Hirsch.
multiple intelligences = ...Despite the fact that schools are not competent to classify and rank children on these highly speculative psychological measures, the concept had become highly popular, probably because it fits in with the already popular notions of “individual differences,” “individual learning styles,” “self-paced learning,” and so on, not to mention its appeal to our benign hope for all children that that will be good at doing something and happy doing it. The distinguished psychologist George A. Miller has said that Gardner’s specific classifications are “almost certainly wrong.”
portfolio assessment = A phrase for a version of performance-based assessment. In portfolio assessment, students preserve in a portfolio all of some of their productions during the course of the semester or year. At the end of the time period, students are graded for the totality of their production. It is a device that has long been used for the teaching of writing and painting. But there its utility ceases. It has proven to be virtually useless for large-scale, high-stake testing.
I'm writing this as I explore the site. I was going along with Hirsch for the first few definitions but now I am beginning to suspect that he's an extremist. His message is that students need to master basic skills and learn facts with rigor. Only then will they be able to develop (Hirsch hates this term violently) "critical thinking skills." But Hirsch seems to win his arguments by setting up strawmen and then knocking them down.
Admittedly, my expertise is in adult performance, not childhood education, but I'm too big a fan of learning by doing to throw it out the window just because some teachers don't set it up right or some students don't join in. Hirsch says learning by doing is "a phrase once used to characterize the progressivist movement but little used today, possibly because the formulation has been the object of much criticism and even ridicule." He continues on, saying "The idea behind it resembles the real-life activities for which the particular learning is preparing the student. It is claimed that the best form of learning is that which best allows the student to learn in the natural, apprentice-like way in which humans have always learned."
So far, this sounds pretty good to me, but not to Hirsch, who writes, "By performing 'holistic' activities, the student, it is claimed, will reliably discover the needed learnings. This is an attractive doctrine, but it is also a highly theoretical one that has proved to be false. The value of such a method depends on its actual effectiveness. If by 'effective', one means that all students learn reliably and efficiently by this method, then the theory has been entirely discredited in comparative studies. Both recent history of American education and controlled observations have shown that learning by doing and its adaptations are among the least effective pedagogies available to the teacher."
I disagree. Situated learning -- doing the work rather than learning about the work -- is often the best way to learn. By "effective," I don't mean something works for all students, just that it's a winner for some of them. Of course learning by doing in the real world requires leaving the artificial reality inside the protective walls of schools.
I'd hoped to win one for the Republic of Berkeley, debunking public education, but I end up admitting that schooling is a supremely complicated area and that (Are you ready for this?) I don't have a clue as to how to fix it. It's late. I was looking for black and white; I found shades of gray. This is a provocative site, well worth visiting.
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