I think our class discussion today might have hit upon one of the reasons for this disconnect: a culture of anti-intellectualism coupled with a widespread belief that anybody can teach and/or solve the problems of teaching. But honestly, I hope the reason is more sophisticated than that, because those reasons, as true as I think they are, are absolutely nonsensical.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Disconnecting Policies from Best Practices
As part of my work as a graduate assistant in Curriculum and Teaching, I had the opportunity to read David Cohen's book, Learning Policy. What struck me the most in Cohen's work was his ability to study the implementation of the California math reforms in the 1990s and synthesize from that data some concrete findings about the way professional development should be structured in order to achieve optimal results. Cohen notes two main concepts about successful professional development: 1) it is lengthy and 2) it focuses on curriculum areas, not general or "gimmicky" topics like differentiated instruction, collaborative learning, etc. At the same time that I was reading Cohen's work, I happened to be enrolled in a Curriculum course taught by an adjunct professor who is a middle school vice principal. Dishearteningly, this professor's expressed views on professional development seemed almost completely antithetical to Cohen's research. The vice principal/professor talked highly of how his school offers exactly the type of professional development programs that Cohen argues do not provide much in the way of real results. I would love to say that this astonished me, but sadly, it did not. Having two family members who are both public school teachers, I have heard a lot about what a waste of time the vast majority of professional development opportunities are precisely because they mimic what the vice principal said and went against what Cohen argues. What I do find surprising here is that clearly, we have research that outlines best practices, but we don't follow it. I can't think of another field (except maybe politics) where inefficiency is the norm. If medical research strongly advocated against using Drug A to treat illness B, you wouldn't find an adjunct professor in a med school, who is a doctor, advising you to use Drug A to treat illness B. Yet, this seems to be the very thing that we find in education, if not from all of our professors, then definitely from administrators and BOE members.
Posted by Ryan McGuirk at 11:09 AM