Education research deserves an F for failing to tell us what works in the classroom, writes Sharon Begley, Newsweek’s science editor. Policymakers want to judge teachers based on their students’ performance, but what if they’re forced to use a poorly designed curriculum or faddish but foolish teaching methods?
. . . the scientific basis for specific curricular materials, and even for general approaches such as how science should be taught, is so flimsy as to be a national scandal. As pay-for-performance spreads, we will therefore be punishing teachers for, in some cases, using the pedagogic equivalent of foam bats. “There is a dearth of carefully crafted, quantitative studies on what works,” says William Cobern of Western Michigan University. “It’s a crazy situation.”
The What Works Clearinghouse has found few rigorous, reliable studies of specific curricula, she writes. When the studies are good, the curriculum often is not. Hence the nickname, The Nothing Works Clearinghouse.
In some cases, there is research on what works, but it’s ignored because it doesn’t fit the zeitgeist. Research on inquiry learning in science, which Begley cites, is an example. Direct instruction works just as well, but it’s out of fashion.
Teachers have no say on curriculum or teaching methods, adds Robert Pondiscio on Core Knowledge Blog. They can’t control the school environment or the principal’s disciplinary policies.
In sum, the proposition for a classroom teacher too often boils down to this: take your third-rate training, your lack of meaningful feedback, your absence of meaningful professional development, this content-free, feel-good pedagogy, and teach it in the cognitively suspect way we demand. And if you fail, the fault is…yours!
In most districts, all teachers have to use the same curriculum and are supposed to use the same teaching methods. But some principals run safe, orderly schools and provide meaningful feedback and support to teachers. Others don’t.. I think that’s a real problem with performance pay.