Who Blames Teachers?

by Robert Pondiscio
August 5th, 2010

Guest posting at Eduwonk, Tim Daly of the New Teacher Project purports to “unmask the blame-the-teacher crowd.”  

“Strangely, nobody can credibly identify any members of this nefarious crowd. We know who’s not in the group. Not Barack Obama, who has made clear that he is “110 percent behind our teachers,” and made good on it by supporting tens of billions of dollars to save teacher jobs. Not Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who recently paid tribute to teachers and said that his “job is to fight for them, empower them and support them.” Not even Bill Gates, who earned multiple standing ovations during his speech to the AFT convention. In fact, the only people talking about blaming teachers are the ones supposedly defending them from this threat.

Fair enough.  Point taken.  No one “blames the teacher.”  To the contrary, we “support our teachers” just like we “support our troops” regardless of our feelings about the wars they wage.  The question to be asked is whether “we support teachers” is a meaningful statement or an empty platitude.

The typical teacher in a low-performing school was poorly trained, has no say over curriculum (and as often as not, no curriculum whatsoever), little leverage on disciplinary issues, and often has to prepare and deliver lessons in a manner explicitly prescribed by administrators, consultants or others. Professional development typically adds nothing of value, and administrative feedback when given too often tends toward management by checklist, principally concerned with ostensible “visible evidence of learning,” such as kids working in cooperative groups, up-to-date student work on classroom bulletin boards, and lesson aims and standards written on the board in child-friendly language.

When teachers succeed under these conditions, we support them. When they fail, we may not “blame” them, but neither do we ask why they fail. And there’s the rub. Remaining incurious about why well-intentioned, hard-working people fail despite their best efforts and doing what they’ve been asked how they’ve been directed may not be “blaming them,” per se.

But it’s close.

Yet Another Study to Ignore

by Robert Pondiscio
August 5th, 2010

Another blow for metacognitive reading strategies. 

A study by a team from the University of York in the U.K. sought to learn which of three interventions led to lasting improvement among 8- and 9-year olds with reading comprehension difficulties.   One intervention relied heavily on reading strategies; a second emphasized vocabulary and relied exclusively on spoken language; the third blended the two approaches.  Science Daily reports the children were assessed before the program began, and nearly a year after it ended.

“The results showed that while all three of the training programs helped to improve reading comprehension, the largest long-term gains occurred for children who were in the oral language training group.  According to the authors, ‘The [oral language] and [combined] groups also showed improvements in knowledge of the meanings of words that they had been taught and these improvements, in turn, helped to account for these children’s improved reading comprehension skills.”

Among those least surprised by the findings:  the developers of the Core Knowledge Language Arts program, which has been piloted in New York City and elsewhere with promising results.  The program relies heavily on building vocabulary and content knowledge via a “listening and learning” component.  Interestingly, children in the oral language group showed greater lasting gains than the blended group, which suggests “the total amount of time devoted to oral-language training may be crucial for overcoming reading-comprehension difficulties.”

“Deficits in oral vocabulary may be one important underlying cause of children’s reading-comprehension problems,” the study concludes.

Just so.  In fact, there’s so much evidence for this, I predict this is exactly the kind of thing DOE will throw millions at when the i3 grants are announced…Er…what?  Last night?   Who??  You’re kidding.  Seriously?!?

I keep forgetting that DOE already knows what works for kids.  It has nothing to do with curriculum. Right. 

OK, folks, show’s over.  Nothing more to see here.  Everybody go on back to your homes.