Example: Adults screwing up education

One of the things that really bugs me is when a few parents don’t realize that what is best for the whole is not necessarily best for their kids, and use that as a way of gumming up the system. Take a recent case in Seattle:

One of the biggest pushes in math/science education recently has been a move to inquiry based education. It is not without controversy because students end up learning less content, but are forced to examine how they learn and how one solves larger scale problems. This is more difficult for students because simple tricks of memorization don’t readily work. Parents who are good at memorization find themselves in a quandry because they cannot so easily help their students with work. Since most tutoring revolves around giving kids techniques for remembering, tutors are often at a loss. I am a big supporter of inquiry based education, and employ the modeling method of teaching in my physics classes.

Oh yeah … the other trick is that this method does not exactly lend itself very well to being tested by standardized tests, which are the cornerstones of NCLB.

Back to Seattle: The Seattle Public Schools recently (May, 2009) adopted a new math textbook which is one of the very few that compliments inquiry based learning (I should have mentioned, most textbooks do not meld well with this method of learning). This is a great step, few large school districts are moving quickly in this direction.

Then the lawsuit came … and not one that can be so easily thrown away because it is a civil rights case. The lawsuit claims that the SPS broke state laws “by adopting a math textbook series and implementation plan that has failed to address the achievement gap between economically disadvantaged students and non-economically disadvantaged students, between non-Caucasian students and Caucasian students, and that has proven to be ineffective in teaching basic or advanced math skills to a large percentage of the student population served by Seattle Public Schools at the High School level.” The claim is that inquiry based learning is discriminatory, and direct instruction (where students are told exactly what to do and given all of the answers) should be the only pedagogical mode of instruction.

The data being presented is somewhat selective (read: cherry picked) in regards to presenting their case, however in the education system, the merit of the case is largely irrelevant. Once school districts become aware that they can be the target of civil rights lawsuits, they will likely start dropping inquiry based instruction. To say the least, a lot of people are watching this Seattle case very carefully. Some school districts might still be able to go with inquiry based instruction, but if there are any diverse districts with disgruntled parents, they could soon be armed with means of molding education into something that works well for them, but not for their kids.

This past week, a judge ruled against the school board. While courts have routinely issued ruling on content (like not teaching intelligent design in biology classes), this is the first I’ve personally heard of a court handing down a decision on a methodology. The bad news is this sets a legal precedent that arms parents who just want things to be the same as it was when they were kids, and allows them to keep any new ideas out of a classroom. Instead of helping kids to understand not only how they think, and to introduce them to solving higher level problems, we are back to 1950s education.

I liked the one comment that a woman made on the blog below, essentially back in my day, math was hard. She’s never been to my class: the kids beg for me to take it easy on them with things like “lecture”.

Another bad day for education.

More info:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/dannywestneat/2010898660_danny27.html

http://seattlemathgroup.blogspot.com/

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2 Responses to Example: Adults screwing up education

  1. Josh Kilroy says:

    You don’t detail exactly what you’re problem is with DI but the proof is now overwhelming: it works. It works for reading, spelling, writing, and math; it works for poor students and wealthy students; for African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Caucasians.

    DI is different from Whole Language, guided learning, student-centered, inquiry-based and host of other pedagogies because it works and they do not. Unfortunately, what makes it successful is that it is scripted out, that it is tightly sequenced, and that it uses talking in unison, which offend the delicate sensibilities of people trained in education graduate programs. They believe – mistakenly – that this inhibits creativity.

    However, it turns out that actually knowing how to read, spell, and do arithmetic enhances creativity and self-esteem. The great tragedy of our time – in terms of education – is the rejection of DI by the education mandarins.

    • teganx7 says:

      As an educator, I was wondering if you could point me to any legit research that demonstrates the effectiveness of Direct Instruction over other methods. I consider myself a reflective practitioner, and I am always looking to find better ways to reach students.

      In the interim, I will respond. My number one problem with Direct Instruction, based on 16 years classroom experience with student of varying races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and working with special education and non-special education students is that Direct Instruction has limited uses. There are times it is an effective way of communicating a lot of material. However, if the main goal of the lesson is to have students learn to critically evaluate a situation (like an experiment or experimental data) or to develop skills that force them to confront their own mistakes and to learn from them: this is something that direct instruction can never accomplish … and this does work.

      I do not affiliate with schools of education. As a matter of fact, all of the courses that I ever received from my university’s college of education were direct instruction lecture methods. Needless to say, I was ill prepared t ostart my teaching career and had to learn a lot from others. What first drew me in to inquiry based learning is that it is being investigated by scientists with an interest in education, who are applying more rigorous standards of research to it than one finds in the social “sciences” (and their affiliates at colleges of education). I took my own time and money to travel to Tempe, Arizona to learn about a particular method of teaching that is based on inquiry education, and I have seen remarkable increases (backed up by data that I have collected from internationally used assessment tools) from year to year in terms of my students’ ability to understand physics, and apply it. Of course, even that data is somewhat open to question … students change over time, I change over time, and that data shows an improvement, but what is it attributed to. While I cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that inquiry education caused these changes, I can absolutely assure that direct instruction played no role.

      As I noted, the use of direct instruction has a (minor) role in my teaching. Inquiry based instruction unquestionably helps students develop critical thinking skills. Direct instruction is almost certainly better when it comes to teaching basic facts. I think with some students, especially those who are a little behind, and earlier in their instruction, more direct instruction may be needed to learn basic material. However the goal in education should be to move as quickly as possible away from direct instruction to help students develop those higher level thinking skills that become so important in later life. I will take a moment to revisit this with more later.

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