When I started taking education classes, I still had an attitude problem. I questioned the value of much of what was presented. I chafed at the endless buzzwords. I was suspicious of the research. I wondered (sometime out loud) about the competence of education professors who had spent little time in a non-college classroom. Once I actually made it to the classroom, things were better but there were still plenty of bad administrators, questionable standards, mind-numbing staff-development seminars and wasted potential to keep me bitching.
You might think that, given decades of accumulated dissatisfaction, I would be all for reform.
You'd be right.
The trouble is that almost none of the people using the term 'reform' are actually suggesting any reforms. Most of the proposals that have been put forward are simply continuations or extensions of the same failed policies and questionable theories that have been coming out of schools of education for years, if not decades.
Here's a small but telling example. When I was taking education classes back in the late Eighties, the professors spent endless hours discussing the proper way to write a lesson objective. Much was made of the importance of explicitly stating things in terms of student behaviors (objectives where student behavior was implicit were verboten, no matter how obvious that behavior might be). It was taken as an article of faith that subtle changes in wording could determine the outcome of a class.
Now take a look at these paragraphs from a recent reform puff piece from the Wall Street Journal editorial page:
Earlier this year, TFA released "Teaching as Leadership: The Highly Effective Teacher's Guide to Closing the Achievement Gap," which shares the practices of teachers who have made significant gains with students. One chart explains why teachers should choose an objective like "The student will be able to order fractions with different denominators," rather than "The teacher will present a lesson on ordering fractions with different denominations."Imagine you're in a bad pulp novel, captured by a cult that celebrates every full moon by sacrificing a half dozen virgins to a giant cabbage. You escape, free a group of dissidents and lead them to safety, only to find out they want to substitute a rutabaga for the cabbage and go for a full dozen virgins.
Objectives, says the guide, should be "student-achievement based, measurable and rigorous." Seem obvious? Well, as Ms. Kopp says, successful teaching is "nothing magic. It's nothing elusive. It's about talent and leadership and accountability."
For me, following the reform debate has been one long concatenation of rutabaga moments.