Saturday, October 09, 2004

Teaching illogic

I agree fully point of broken quanta post on studying what teaching methods work and do not work in education.

I also feel the world looks at teaching a little differently than I do. I firmly believe that teaching is the psychological art of manipulating kids into learning. Basically, teaching is one dirty trick after another, with the splendid result of kids actually learning. Things like incentives, random rewards (which have the effect of creating additive behavior), bad cop-good cop, the well known carrot-stick approach, and the speak-softly-but-carry-a-big-stick theory could generate huge changes in the educational system.

My intent was not to expose my education theory, but to comment on comment left on the post:

Brian says, "How would you like it if your bosses told you that you would henceforth be held personally accountable for a bunch of shit that you don't have anything to do with?"

The basic question I fell Brian is proposing is, "Do teachers have anything to do with children learning?"

Obviously they do. For a person to suggest teachers do not influence a child's learning, or what I like to call "teach", would negate the need for having teachers. If teachers do not teach children, why do you need teachers. Brian, in this short quote, seemed to be taking this position, but wasn't really. Brian was taking the position of "teachers as facilitators".

The facilitator argument rides the line in between holding teachers wholly accountable for teaching and not holding them accountable at all. When looking at teacher accountability, there are only two viable options. On argument states that teachers are wholly accountable. Another one says teachers can only "facilitate" learning and are not in control of the myriad factors affecting their children's ability to learn, achievements, and test scores. Still another one is the one which I have ruled out. These three groups are respectively called "wholly accountables", "facilitators", and "illogics".

While the two viable options seem close, the wholly accountables are actually the enemy of the facilitators.

"AFT (American Federation of Teachers) members in every division are increasingly threatened by privatization and contracting out. "

"The National Education Association is strongly opposed to privatization because of the threat that it poses to the quality of education, the accountability of public schools to the communities they serve, and to the well being of children in school."

I have placed these two groups into the facilitator group by ruling out their placement into the illogics and wholly accountables groups. I do not think these above groups belong into the illogics group because that would be borderline evil. The people who support privatization would like to be considered wholly accountables, but upon closer inspection you find that this group may exist theoretically, but not in realality.

If you where to put your child the hands of a private school and your child did not learn, it would be their fault. You could ask for a refund, if they where true wholly accountables. Good luck trying to get your money back. I bet if you did that, the person who wants to be considered a "wholly accountable" would turn into a "facilitator" right before your eyes. It would then be your fault that the kid did not learn or some other random reason.

The only group remaining is the facilitator group. This only difference in the members of this group is the amount of accountability each member believes teachers should have. I tend to favor more and not less accountability in most things and I do not see how teaching is any different.



Dave Justus said...

My bet is that most people who put their child into a private school and get the result of their child not learning fire that private school and try another.

Obviously this doesn't include anyone who puts their child into a private school for reasons other than the child learning (baby sitting, presige, etc.) but by and large results matter a whole lot to people who choose to purchase private schooling for their children. If they don't think the school is producing an educated child, they quickly go somewhere else.

Obviously a teacher cannot wholly control how well each child does. Children are very differnt and have different motivations and abilities. However, any teacher who consistently produces sub-par results for a number of children over time should be accountable.

I can accept that the methods of evaluating good or bad teachers might need some work. But the idea that they should not be evaluated and held accountable seems very silly.

Brian said...

Bang, you hit it on the head. I'm going to quibble, though, because that's what I do.

When I first started teaching Gen Chem Lab in 2000, we had a professor (Bobby Clark, since retired) who told us "Teaching is a myth. You can never teach anyone anything. Why? Because the activity is not on your side." The best teacher in the world can't get a student to learn if the student just doesn't care about learning. Why? Because the activity --- learning --- has to be done by the student, not the teacher. This is the classic "teachers as facilitators" argument, and it feels right to me. In fact, it felt right to me long before I knew the name for it.

Look, I went to public K-12 school in CA, then went to USMA, ARC, and finally UM. Public schools, all, and I will put my knowledge base up against any private prep-school Harvard grad any day of the week. Why? Not because I'm just that damn smart (I'm not); because all that time in public schools I wanted to learn. Some years I had "good" teachers who all the students loved and got excited about; some years I had "bad" teachers who were a total drag. Through it all, though, I learned stuff. Because regardless of what was going on at school, I got my own set of carrots and sticks from my parents. I know about all kinds of things because I want to know about them; I want to know about them because my parents, not my teachers, fostered that "wanting to know" in me.

Are there good and bad teachers? Yes. Teachers' roles as facilitators mean they are responsible for making information available to the students. That means they need to present information in ways every student can understand. That's a difficult and demanding job, and some teachers are much better at it than others. Teachers do need to be evaluated. Theoretically, though, they already are. Every school district has a system by which the administration evaluates the teachers and decides whether to re-up them each year. Now, are these evals too easy on teachers? Maybe (and there are other reasons for that, mostly having to do with teacher shortages and incompetent administrators.) But does the solution lie in just getting rid of the personal, method based eval and using an exclusively objective criterion, like test scores? I don't think so. Reasons forthcoming...

Brian said...

Imagine you own an NFL team (and no, there isn't anything I can't relate to football). Your team was 2-14 last year. You know you need to make changes, so you bring in a new coaching staff. You also suspect you need to make some player changes. Do you:

A. Look at the team's record, conclude all the players suck, and cut everyone to start fresh?
B. Allow the new coaches to work with the team for awhile, figure out which players are strong, which have potential, and which are incurably weak, then make the changes they see fit?

Firing teachers based solely on test scores is the analogue to option A. If you like that, OK, but most of us don't think it's a great idea.

Option B, which I think most people find more palatable, is analogous to firing the administration of a school and/or district then letting the new administrators have some time to evaluate each teacher. Some teachers would be fired, but they'd be fired because the new administrators made the decision based on what the teachers do in the classroom, not based purely on the aggregate results of the community team.

So, what's the difference between firing teachers for low test scores vs. firing administrators for the same? Why is the latter OK with me, and the former not? Because administrators, like coaches, are finally responsible for the performance of the whole school in a way that individual teachers, like players, are not. They took on this responsibility when they accepted the job. Now they should live up to it.

Cubicle said...

"Every school district has a system by which the administration evaluates the teachers and decides whether to re-up them each year."

I have never been an adminastor, though i do have some expericence with Unions.

Unions make it really had to do actions like that quickly and effeciently.

secondly, i would like to note that none of the tricks i have mentioned really would work on college age students, though i think they would be a success of elementary, middle school, and some high schoolers.