No evidence

Generic Confusion links to a discussion on the miseducation of teachers, which includes a post about an experiment comparing constructivism with traditional math teaching. “Will Durant” designed the experiment for his master’s thesis using summer school geometry classes.

Two classes (one remedial, one enrichment) would be taught using traditional methods; the other two would be taught using constructivist methods. With my professor, I created the curriculum and learning objectives. I wrote the lesson plans for the traditional classes; my professor designed the constructivist exercises that would be used in the constructivist classes. I enlisted six teachers to assist me by doing the actual teaching (the constructivist classes required TWO teachers — an indication right from the start that something was wrong).

Traditional students from both the remedial and advanced classes did slightly better on the constructivist “final exam” than the constructivist students. The “constructivist students did ridiculously worse on the paper and pencil exam, with many scores very close to zero and almost nobody passing the exam, even among the enrichment group.”

The truth was that constructivism was proven to be a worthless pathetic failure. Of course, nobody ever gets a thesis accepted and published by bucking established theory, so I watered down my conclusion to a much weaker (but still true) statement: “No evidence was found that the constructivist methods are better than the traditional method.” Professor read my first draft and turned it down outright. He told me to reanalzye my data so that I could state the constructivism was better or I would never graduate. So I walked out of his office, got an incomplete on my thesis (which eventually became an F) and never graduated.

The other ed school posts on the thread are incredible too.

Update: Will Durant has created a blog for discussion of this topic.

About Joanne


  1. I would have appealed loudly up the ladder, and outside of the education school, if necessary. Any psychology professor could have provided outside support on the soundness of the experimental design and statistical analyses. These kinds of abuses only remain because students don’t fight back.

    Sure, students won’t win every fight, and often don’t deserve to! After all, for every student like this, we could probably find one who thinks his below average effort is highly deserving, so any criticism must reflect the bias of the professor. (After all, isn’t everything relative, thus all criticism is really bias 🙂

    If nothing else, the student should appeal as a public service to future graduate students. Word will get out, which will serve as a fair warning to these future students who may not be sure who they want to work with on their thesis.

    As for me, I’m glad I’m done and on the other side of the desk now! (Even more glad I’m not in a school of education.)

  2. Mike in Texas says:

    Well, if its posted in a forum then it has to be true. Especially one that says public school teachers are all idiots.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    You know, Mike, your relexive defenses of everything the educational establishment does really damage your credibility. I’ve worked closely with very good public-school teachers in my academic days, and to a person they complained about what a complete joke ed. school was. If you think ed. school bashing is equivalent to teacher-bashing, there are a whole lot of your colleagues who will beg to differ.

  4. Apparently, I’ve been banned from the forum – and I didn’t even have a chance to start trolling yet! Obviously, my reputation precedes me.

  5. mike from oregon says:

    This sign in system isn’t quite working right – took me three tries before it finally accepted me.

    However, what I wanted to say was that this reminds me of the first time I ever saw an experiment that was being done for a thesis. It was for a fellow in psycology, his doctorate I believe. Regardless, his project involved something with pigeons; I’m not sure that I ever knew what he was trying to show. What I do remember and will never forget is that I watch him crumble up and throw away several hours worth of data. I knew this fellow as the acquaintence of a friend, so I asked why he was doing that with his data. I’ll never forget his reply, “It doesn’t show what I want it to show, so I just keep running it until I get the results that I’m looking for.” That one has stayed with me ever since and I’ve become VERY skeptical of so called ‘studies’ ever since.

  6. Mike Wrote:

    “Especially one that says public school teachers are all idiots.”

    … Read the posts again. No one said this. I agree with the other Steve about your defensiveness. The post was not about teacher bashing.

    This post may be an extreme example of what happens in Ed schools, but it is symptomatic of a fundamental ideological bias. Ed schools apparently teach only constructivism. I have read a number of incredible justifications of constructivism that bash traditional teaching methods. There appears to be no balance in Ed schools. Ideology first, research second.

    Why does this ideology (child-centered, mixed-ability, constructivism) dominate Ed schools? Is it because they are so removed from learning content knowledge and skills that they have to find something else to do? Have they never had a well prepared teacher who taught them directly and involved all kids in class discussions? Do they really think that child-centered group constructivism is an effective use of class time? Why is it OK to use direct instruction for much of high school and college (and in Ed schools), but not in grades K-8? (Do Ed school students “discover” themselves that constructivism is the best approach?) Is direct instruction fundamentally flawed, or is it just about ideology? Why do Ed schools so vehemently oppose methods like E.D. Hirsch, Jr’s “Core Knowledge” approach? It is not simply based on which content was chosen. I told a school board member once that they should hand out the Core Knowledge series of books and tell parents that this is NOT the education that their child will receive.

    Is there any research that shows that a good implementation of constructivism is better than a good implementation of direct instruction? Is there any reason to believe that this nothing more than ideology?

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Any methodology that does not yield level results across ability or motivational lines will be rejected, usually as racist.

  8. Please enlighten me, what is constructivism in geometry education? I was kid when they put in new math, which should have taught folks not to mess with math education, but I haven’t heard of this.

  9. Mike in Texas says:

    Steve LaBonne wrote:

    You know, Mike, your relexive defenses of everything the educational establishment does really damage your credibility.

    Steve, this is merely the latest rounds being fired on the attack on public schools and public school teachers. IMHO the screams for teacher accountability are falling on deaf ears so the reform movement crowd has switched their attacks to teacher training, having discovered most people believe teachers are conscientious, hard working and competent.

    I attended a teacher training program that was outstanding. I literally spent over a thousand hours training directly under teachers who were recognized as being the best around. I would never seek to demean the training programs in other professions but apparently since most teachers teach in “public” schools it is considered OK to attack them and their training.

    I’m a bit disappointed in Joanne for even posting this. This little tidbit is nothing but someone spouting off in a public forum. From what I read there were no facts presented by this person at all. For all we know there could be a whole lot more to this story than what this person is saying.

  10. Steve LaBonne says:

    Mike, I have heard literally dozens of teachers complain bitterly about their Mickey Mouse ed. school curricula, and have seen specific examples myself, such as curricula and assignments from horrifyingly bogus “educuational research” courses delivered both by and to people who have not the slightest grasp of statistics. I’m afraid your kneejerk response has no credibility whatsoever. If you had the mindset of a true professional you would be more eager than anyone to reform a teacher-training system whose severe shortcomings have been widely and exhaustively documented.

  11. shelbyg wrote:

    Please enlighten me, what is constructivism in geometry education?

    Here’s one explanation which, I assume, is as good as any.

    Has the hallmarks of most educational fads.

    There’s the implication that practitioners are elevated above non-practitioners and non-believers.

    There’s the usual disconnect between method, to the extent that there is any method, and results. Good things just happen because, well, that’s the only thing that can happen when the practitioners of (insert fad du jour) perform the educational laying on of hands.

    There’s the Kung fu-like aphorisms:

    – Learning is a search for meaning.
    – Meaning requires understanding wholes as well as parts.
    – The purpose of learning is for an individual to construct his or her own meaning, not just memorize the “right” answers and regurgitate someone else’s meaning.

    These are meant to be delivered in either a condescending manner to non-believers or potential converts or as a means of identifying fellow travelers. They also provide the comforting delusion of deep knowledge without much in the way of effort.

    I wonder if there’s any way to determine where on the curve this particular fad is located? Books selling briskly or not? Seminars packed or not? State legislatures mandating it or repealing mandates?

  12. MiT: Though I concur w/much of what you say in these forums, I gotta go with Steve here. Education classes are sad JOKE. There’s no two bits about it. I know my statement is anecdotal, but like Steve, I’ve yet to encounter anyone who took more than one worthy ed. course. While working on my masters, the best ed. course (thank God I was able to take courses outside of ed. in my major fields of Spanish and social studies) I took was on how to construct good test questions. I actually can say I learned quite a bit in that course.

    Unfortunately, it is the ONLY ed. course I can say that about, w/the possible exception of my undergrad curriculum planning course.

  13. I don’t get it. I have 2 Masters in Engineering and an MBA. You cna porbably tell my my por spelling and grammar. I can not comprehend how one can solve a geometric problem without undertsanidng the basics. I actually one site that gave some problems for children to solve. They seemed to be concerned with minimizing the perimiter for a given area. But they want to do it without teaching the concept of area first. And they want to put in all sorts of other things that really belong elsewhere.

    I wonder what was so wrong with the old way of teaching concepts and then showing us how they applied to a simple real world problem? How much water do I have to use to fill a pool of a given size? How long will it take if I can pump so many gallons or cubic feet of water a minute? Liters or cubic meters if you prefer. These are simple things that kids can comprehend and build on in elementary school. For high school things will obviously be much more difficult.

    I actually have used high school geometry and algebra in my work andit is much easier to apply basic rules the looking for similar objects and applting rules. After all some tanks are spheres and some sre cilinders depending on contents.

  14. The problem with constructivism is the huge cognitive overload. Instead of teaching simple skills and algorithms, constructivists demand that children develop their own methods and mental structures.

    Quoting: “The idea is that children gain a strong understanding of numbers and are able to problem solve based on their own thought processes. We don’t teach the traditional algorithms, instead, we teach the underlying concepts so that children fully understand the relationships and don’t have to rely on algorithms. They can always figure out the problems or create their own algorithms.”

    The upshot is that faced with several demands at once, and no method to solve them, most students respond by pulling away. They are unable to develop a plan, let alone an algorithm, with which to approach the problem.

  15. Mike in Texas says:

    I’m afraid your kneejerk response has no credibility whatsoever.

    My “kneejerk” response as you call it was to point out this “article” was nothing more than someone ranting about something on an internet forum. That’s all it is and nothing more, but yet its posted along with real articles, although I tend to disagree with most of them.

    I actually agree with many of the posts above when it comes to teaching methods. Unfortunately, thanks to high stakes testing pushed by so many of the education reformers there no longer is any time to develop the basics. Even 2nd and 3rd graders are supposed to have “higher level thinking skills” and are tested on it. When you spend your time doing what the administration and the politicians want (driving up the test scores) the basics are lost.

  16. Let’s see, the teacher (um, facilitator), gets up and introduces the constructivist problem of the day (briefly) and divides the class into several mixed-ability groups. The groups have to brainstorm to come up with solution techniques even though they have no real background knowledge and skills. (That’s the point.) Perhaps they use the “Think Method” or the Ty Webb approach. OK, Danny, just be the ball. Maybe they get up and dance – kinesthetic learners.

    The students know that they need to come up with several different ways to solve the problem (there is more than one way to solve a problem), most preferably having nothing to do with the traditional, most efficient method of solution. That would mean that they have seen this kind of problem before and there goes the advantage of constructivism. I will call this the “aha!” effect. Like “kids spelling”, you get extra credit for pulling something half-way decent out of thin air. Of course, if one student has this out of thin air, aha! type of experience, he/she proceeds to explain it to the other members of the group. Is this supposed to be better than having a well-trained teacher do the job? Is it constructivism if one student directly teaches another in a group setting, but not constructivism if the teacher does it in front of the class? Is the aha! student the only beneficiary of constructivism? What happens if the aha! is wrong, or only works for some special cases? What if some group members don’t have a clue about what the aha! student is talking about, but don’t want to look stupid. Well, never mind, it has to be better than direct instruction.

    OK, it’s time to wrap up. Make a list of all your solution techniques and be prepared to present them to the rest of the class. The students present their various solution techniques, discuss whether they really work or not, and the facilitator makes them all feel good about their efforts. Maybe they get to vote on the best technique. Oops! Out of time – class dismissed.

    Does the teacher now spend time to correct all of the bad logic (before it gets set into their brains – my favorite is cross multiplying) and to introduce the the underlying principles and most general methods of solution? Doubtful. The teacher has to be the guide on the side, rather than the sage on the stage. Does the teacher now assign copious homework so the students can get lots of practice using this most general solution? Don’t make me laugh. That would be drill and kill.

    My son is in third grade and I want a teacher like Arthur’s Mr. Ratburn. If you have seen the program, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Go to Ratburn’s page at and put the cursor on his image and it pops up the question: “Quick, what is seven times eight?”

  17. Mike in Texas wrote:

    My “kneejerk” response as you call it was to point out this “article” was nothing more than someone ranting about something on an internet forum.

    Since every educational fad is based on nothing more then “someone ranting” I can only suppose that your dismissal is more about the subject of the rant then the ranting.

  18. Constructivism is a theory of learning, not an instructional technique.

    No wonder this guy couldn’t get his thesis submitted.

  19. Mike in Texas says:

    Go to Ratburn’s page at and put the cursor on his image and it pops up the question: “Quick, what is seven times eight?”

    Your son can’t have a teacher like that anymore thanks to the education reformers and high stakes testing.

  20. Mike wrote:
    “Your son can’t have a teacher like that anymore thanks to the education reformers and high stakes testing.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by reformers, but to me, that would be those who favor child-centered, mixed ability, constructivist methods and a top-down, thematic approach to teaching rather than a bottom-up, direct instruction approach that emphasizes basic content and skills. The original post (however anecdotal) tried to show the bias in Ed schools against direct instruction, content and skills. It seemed to show that these “reform” methods are not based on valid research. In that sense, I agree that “reformers”, based on ideology, prevent my son from having that type of teacher. However, I don’t understand your complaint with the original post, unless it was simply its anecdotal nature.

    As for testing, reformers (and their methods and curricula) don’t exist because of testing (high stakes or otherwise). They were around well before NCLB. NCLB does not specify the type of test. All tests are created by the educational establishments of each state, most of whom are reformers. If it is like our state, these reformers take a pro-active stance, embrace “Standards-Based Education”, and specify a fuzzy test (NSRE). This state test may be used as a club to force non-reforming schools to align with their constructivist philosophy, but I don’t think that is really necessary. These reform philosophies have been coming from the Ed schools for a long time now. There are few teachers left who were taught anything else. I also find it ironic that our state still can’t do well in testing in spite of having all of their cherished teaching methodologies and their own fuzzy test.

    So generally, I don’t follow you. You seem to argue for basics and rigor in teaching, but you don’t like testing. I’m not a big fan of high stakes testing, but the tests I have seen are trivial. Perhaps you can show some sample test problems that force teachers to waste time on unimportant topics.

  21. I do think creative experience is important to the development of abstract thought. Baking does make a child curious about chemistry and computers are better at criticizing the errors in repetitive tasks than people. It is unfair not to consider those aspects of education, even when they don’t produce a specific score. However it is only what a child actually, performs that results in skill and skill is essential to ever being a capable contributer. If a child does not perform, they have not benefited.

    High stakes testing is a poor measure of a child. It is a poor measure of a teacher and doubtful of a school. Feedback is good, correction is good, but isn’t that intuitive? People need so little reward to perform, when the test becomes the reward it fails to be a social measure. At some point the test has to become high-stake for a subject. But it should not be high-stake for the person.

    I feel schools have shifted the responsibility of exercise to parents. I would perfer to see young children spend less time in school myself. But I would like the time they do spend to be very structure around the behaviors and skills society does expect from them. I would also like to see the remediation of a child be less stigmatizing. Children are very sporatic in their growth patterns and it has never worked well for schools

  22. Chris,
    Constructivism IS a theory of learning, but it is used as the basis for most of the “reform” math programs, IE Montana SIMMS, Connected Mathematics Program, Interactive Math program, etc. Just about every study not funded by the NSF (National Science Foundation, which has funded the development of almost every one of these programs) or NCTM finds that these programs do nothing but bring everyone to the same LOW level of achievement. Not to mention providing NO foundation for the study of mathematics on the collegiate level.

  23. In the last few days that post from over a year ago seems to have made the rounds of several blogs. I have created a blog at in an attempt to generate some discussion around this topic that has always been so important to me even though I am no longer a teacher. I have recompiled everything I posted on the site and would love to get some discussion going on this topic.


  1. Math Education

    Read it and weep. And if you don’t believe it, you really need to find some alternative news sources. Joanne is a good start….

  2. Its Just Borken, And Not Fixable

    I have very little respect for education degrees from most universities–even graduate education degrees. I’ve met too many folk I thought should not have been granted a BA/BS, let alone more advanced degrees. “Will Durant” has pages of actual observat…

  3. Hube's Cube says:

    Sunday Musings

    My first teacher inservice day is this Thursday. Like most teachers I know, inservice days tend to be a colossal waste of time. Almost as bad as college education courses! … Don’t ask for “black coffee” anymore. The Daily Record…