If we want to hold teachers accountable for student achievement, education research must we must do a better job of providing rigorous, high-quality research on what works, writes Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley. Using a baseball analogy, Begley writes that as pay-for-performance spreads, “we will be punishing teachers for, in some cases, using the pedagogic equivalent of foam bats.”
“It goes without saying that effective teaching has many components, from dedication to handling a classroom and understanding how individual students learn. But a major ingredient is the curriculum the school requires them to use. Yet in one of those you’ve-got-to-be-kidding situations, 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.”
“There is a dearth of carefully crafted, quantitative studies on what works,” William Cobern of Western Michigan University tells Newsweek. “It’s a crazy situation.”
Begley’s argument only scratches the surface. Teacher training programs in schools of education are, to put it charitably, of uneven quality. Teachers have no say on curriculum (and more often than not no curriculum at all) and little control over the pedagogical methods they employ. School environment and disciplinary policies are above their pay grade. 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!
Yeah, that’ll work. It has to, in fact, because we’re all about accountability.