Joe Makley shared a thoughtful comment last night to my post from December 2005 on “Educational Banner Evangelism.” Joe is questioning advocacy for constructivism and empowering teachers without accountability and at least minimum expectations based on identified standards. He wrote:
The point being, we still have standards, and they are more important than ever. It isnâ€™t supposed to be easy for kids or us, and I donâ€™t think technology will really play that powerful role unless we have some accountability for its use. If we just become constructivist ideologues and â€œguides on the sideâ€ and no one is minding the store; that isnâ€™t going to work. Itâ€™s OK for us to tell teachers what to do now and then. And hold them accountable, and show them why and how to do it…I just get very nervous when people talk about empowering teachers, as if theyâ€™re all Godâ€™s gift to integration and they just need to be unleashed. In most cases, thatâ€™s not been my experience.
I agree that some teachers may NOT be ready and want to be “empowered” in the ways I described in this post. What I was (and am still) advocating is really a response to what I view as a very scripted, almost zero-instructional autonomy approach to instruction which has continued to gain momentum in recent years via NCLB and other efforts, including the standards movement. I acknowledge that no solution is going to meet the needs of every context– but generally I think we need MORE autonomy rather than less so that teachers and instruction itself can be truly differentiated to meet the needs of each learner. I do not want to be perceived as advocating an educational environment devoid of leadership or vision. To the contrary, our need for visionary leadership is as great as ever.
We still seem to be captives of our school-as-factory paradigms, and the fact that few people (if any) seem to have a firm grasp of how technology can be blended into face-to-face learning as well as online learning spaces poses a real challenge to us all. I do hear Joe’s point that some teachers (and even administrators) still refuse to even use email– and as a result miss important bulletins and other informational items. Late adopters / laggards when it comes to digital technology use are and will continue to be an issue with our teacher cadre… but I don’t think these people (who have a variety of reasons for not adopting technology use) should cause us all to remain focused on a standards-based, scripted curriculum in which everyone is expected to fall in line and walk lock-stepped through the instructional timeline of the year.
I continue to be captivated by what David Warlick discussed in his K-12 Online pre-conference keynote regarding “side trips” for learning. Often the “side trips” are the most engaging and worthwhile parts of the school experience for learners, and the times when learning opportunities can become most differentiated. Our present K-12 educational climate of “mandated standards for all learners” assumes that a single mold is going to work for everyone. It hasn’t, it doesn’t, and it won’t. Again this does not mean we have lower expectations for student and teacher achievement: it should in fact mean we have HIGHER expectations. I don’t think we should or must have UNIFORM expectations for everyone, however.
I also think we need to frame discussions about education and a vision for educational reform in terms of BLENDED learning. We should be wary of proposals to make all learning digital. Similarly, we should be wary of absolutist neo-luddites who categorically oppose all digitization of learning environments. Education needs to be RO (read-only) at times but also RW (read-write.) I agree we don’t need to become mindless “constructivist ideologues,” but we certainly need to become more vocal advocates for constructivism in education that we currently see in many quarters. Accountability and the standards movement have effectively crushed support for constructivist teaching and learning methods in many schools, and I think this trend is lamentable.
Is it “wrong” for a teacher to not use email? The neo-Luddite in me is about to emerge. I don’t think it’s wrong if that teacher is a good teacher. My oldest two children’s kindergarden teacher did use email, but that had really nothing to do with her status (in our minds as parents and educators ourselves) as a “master teacher.” Her use of developmental centers, the ways in which she was able to differentiate learning for the students in her care– her ability to challenge students and also have fun learning with them– all of these skills had nothing to do with technology.
So, do we need standards? We need to have curricular and learning goals and objectives. “Standards” have come to reflect the idea that EVERY student in EVERY context needs the same things. This perception on my part probably best explains my opposition to the standards and accountability movements as they have been imposed on me as a learner, parent, and teacher-leader. I am an advocate for differentiated education, authentic assessment and messy learning. I oppose scripted education which holds as its ideal vision every student sitting quietly in his/her desk, open to the same page of the textbook at the same moment in time, filling out the same worksheet that will lead to uniformly “acceptable” or even “exemplary” performance on a subsequent summative assessment measured with a bubble sheet.
I stand by my original position, but do appreciate Joe’s perspective and challenging thoughts. We need to empower teachers and administrators. If a teacher is doing a poor job, we should help him/her improve– but if they won’t change, we need to get rid of them. Yes, we need to fire them. And principals should have greater power to do just that. The problem today, of course, is that many administrators have a myopic focus on standards and student achievement as measured by summative standard tests– and in such an environment, it is likely to be precisely the out-of-the-box, creative and innovative teacher who is challenging students by teaching in differentiated ways that might be singled out by the principal as being WRONG.
The schoolhouse should not be a factory. We’ve all grown up with factory-style schools, so it is an extremely challenging task to ask each other to envision a school that follows a different model. Yet that is precisely the work to which I think we should all commit ourselves more in the months and years to come. To the extent that “standards” and “accountability” serve to primarily reinforce the vision and outcomes of a factory-style school system, I oppose them.
We need teachers who are able to engage students in educational work that matters, not just meet standards through digital worksheets that permit greater levels of technocratic efficiency. We need a school system that empowers teachers to be creative and passionate, and helps them stretch the learners in their care beyond all expectations. If the standards movement and big-stick accountability was going to “save us” in the education space, I think we’d be seeing much better results than we are currently. My perception is that much of the accountability movement as it has been promulgated most recently has everything with continuing to discredit schools and teachers so the coffers of public education dollars can be opened for private, commercial interests– instead of honestly trying to help students learn and making learning environments more effective. We do need educational deregulation— and our need for visionary leaders as well as teachers with high expectations for learners is as great as ever.
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On this day..
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- Podcast 419: An Interview with Shelly Fryer About Student Voice & iPad Projects - 2014
- Academic Journal Paywalls are Educationally Counter-Productive and WRONG - 2012
- Pocketbook Tablets and Commoditization of Touch Technologies - 2010
- Join us on Classroom 2.0 Live Talking K12Online09 Saturday - 2009
- 4 More K12Online09 Teasers! - 2009
- Reflections about old jails, land appraisal, and high speed infrastructure in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas - 2008
- Thoughts about educational change inspired by videos and blog conversations - 2007
- A workshop first - 2006
- Preferred communication - 2006