Superwoman doesn’t teach here

In Why Do Americans Stink at Math?, Elizabeth Green argues that Japanese teachers are teaching math for understanding, while U.S. teachers haven’t been able to make reform math work.

The trouble always starts when teachers are told to put innovative ideas into practice without much guidance on how to do it. In the hands of unprepared teachers, the reforms turn to nonsense, perplexing students more than helping them.

“This observation, that poor teacher preparation turns everything to garbage, strikes me as the skeleton key that unlocks so much of our failure to make and sustain gains in American education,” writes Robert Pondiscio.

Want to play a drinking game? Every time someone blames sloppy implementation for their pet reform’s poor results, take a drink. You may never be sober again. Drink every time someone says the answer is “more professional development,” and you might die of alcohol poisoning.

This needs to stop. Your preferred pedagogy, curriculum, approach, or technology has to be within the skills of ordinary teachers to implement well and effectively. If it takes a superstar teacher it’s a nonstarter.

Green’s upcoming book, Building a Better Teacher, argues that good teaching can be taught.

Pondiscio has high hopes for the book, because of Green’s “clear-eyed” New York Times Magazine profile of Uncommon Schools’ Doug Lemov. The story launched him as a teaching guru.

Lemov changed the conversation from “teacher quality” to “quality teaching,” Pondiscio wrote in a review of his book, Teach Like a Champion.

“The difference is not who the teacher is, but what the teacher does,” he writes. “And what the teacher does has to be learned, practiced, and mastered by the teachers we have, not the teachers we wished we had.”

We “lionize” teaching super stars, who never will exist in sufficient numbers, Pondiscio concludes. “Teaching has to be a job for millions of well-trained men and women of good will and general sentience.”

“You don’t need to be a genius,” Green told New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. “You have to know how to manage a discussion. You have to know which problems are the ones most likely to get the lessons across. You have to understand how students make mistakes — how they think — so you can respond to that.”

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  1. This is right at the heart of the matter. Almost everyone prefaces their argument about some past method with “If taught by someone who understands…”. Well, yes, but by definition, half the teachers are going to be below average. But then you have your ranges. First you, just plain incompetents and uncaring, then you have your set in their ways, etc.

    But most systems, and Common Core is no exception, fail from the start by being centralized, top-down impositions. Common Core was developed in secret, then they recruited the federal education bureaucrats who bribed the state governors and school bureaucrats. All the educators got were threats and testing. All the kids and parents got were core-aligned homework that makes no sense and lends itself to late night comedy and twitter storms.

    Oh, and the best is yet to come. Some have gloated over how the core-aligned testing will show how ignorant little Johnny is and that’ll show Arne Duncan’s “white suburban moms”. Of course, they don’t seem to realize that that’ll reveal the past and most likely future failure of public education. And those “white suburban moms” are the ones most able to find alternative arrangements for their kids, such as homeschooling. So the most likely outcome is a weakening of “public education”.

    Of course, the basic problem isn’t in education. It is an Ivy tower academic/bureaucrat problem. They always want to rule by edict, while the people adapt for a while then go back to their old ways. Or you get empty train stations,

    I remember reading a book from about a century ago. An eager young woman (lawyer) had been appointed to the NY prison board. She and a friend had themselves sent off to the women’s prison as inmates to see the real conditions. She didn’t last her week. But she instituted changes and things were better, but even she admitted after a year, the matrons had changed things back. (Society’s Misfits by Madeleine Z. Doty)

  2. Common Core would probably become more sensible if they changed the title of it to – “Suggested Guidelines For College Prepatory Education”. It doesn’t make much sense for the 75% of the US population who are not suitable for a college education.