In search of education’s ‘sweet spot’

Are education professionals engaged in soul-searching or navel-gazing? National Journal Online’s Education Experts looks for a “sweet spot” of “common knowledge that facilitates consensus but also allows for honest differences of opinion.”

1) Washington insiders consistently underestimate current spending on K-12 education and overestimate average class size, according to a National Journal education poll conducted in association with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

2) A Fordham Institute survey found mixed responses from professors of education, with 83 percent saying it is “absolutely essential” for public school teachers to teach 21st-century skills but only 36 percent saying the same about teaching math facts.

If only 36 percent of education professors think it’s essential to teach math facts, then there’s no sweet spot, writes Bob Schaffer, a former congressman who chairs the Colorado Board of Education.

In five years, today’s 21st-century skills – whatever that really means – will already be obsolete. Math facts won’t.

Students used to be taught part of America’s greatness was its phenomenal ability to accommodate varied approaches to such fundamental and profound questions as, for example, what children should be taught. That was back in the embryonic dark ages of public education before Washington insiders knew best how to teach young citizens.

In those days, the only laboratories of democracy were referred to as “These United States.” Today, these pesky states – conceived by the 18th-century minds of men like Jefferson, Madison and Franklin – are treated as mere impediments to the kind of advanced learning necessary to sustain a great Republic.

Watch out for either/or questions, writes Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense. “And” is often the right answer.

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Comments

  1. Asking whether teaching something is “absolutely essential” as the Fordham survey does is misleading. It’s a matter of interpretation. Ed professors obviously think much of the items are important but are too critical to paint themselves into absolute corners. The term “absolute” is known to be a word used by conservatives so by loading their survey they got the results they sought.

  2. Mark Roulo says:

    Ed professors obviously think much of the items are important but are too critical to paint themselves into absolute corners. The term “absolute” is known to be a word used by conservatives so by loading their survey they got the results they sought.

    Well, except for the 83% that said “yes” when asked about 21st century skills. It might be the case that they felt comfortable answering yes to a question about something with no clear definition, but still …

    Having said this, I think “math facts” is too ambiguous. The survey could have been better done.

    -Mark Roulo

  3. Does 21st century skills include utilizing social media as an educational tool in the classroom? I hope so. Kids often are rebuked by using this type of technology that comes naturally to them. Finding ways to integrate it into the learning process is ideal.

  4. “Teach math facts such as memorization of the multiplication tables in the early grades”

    I’m very much of the opinion that a person who would even hesitate to say yes has no business being in education. The joke about colleges being sanctuaries to keep those with no practical skills out of the productive sectors of the economy is getting pretty old.

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