Thursday, June 27, 2013

Striving For Mediocrity

The National Council on Teacher Quality recently issued a report detailing how well Colleges of Education are preparing new teachers for their chosen profession. Even if these schools were striving for mediocrity they fail at even that. Almost two hundred programs were labeled toxic waste, the Love Canals of educators and those who train them. Not that this is news as novice teachers have been reporting how ill prepared they are for decades.

The AJC in an attempt to be kind put the horse before the cart in saying that teachers were unprepared for classroom management and lacked subject matter knowledge. If you don't know the content it doesn't really matter that your class looks like a casting call for Lord of the Flies.

Content knowledge is the real problem here and for once it isn't simply that the newbie teachers are products of a lifelong process fostering ignorance. This is much more foundational.

For the past fifty years the education industry has moved away from hard skills towards soft skills. Grammar is all but gone--does anyone under the age of forty know how to diagram a sentence? Does it really matter when half your eighth grade english class cannot properly conjugate a common verb? Picking on history and geography is shooting fish in a barrel, but even math has decayed, first by replacing "right answers" with "estimation skills" and then by injecting "manipulatives". After all when your colleagues in the earlier grades failed to teach adequate reading skills (which is a now deprecated "hard" skill) how the hell can you ask a student to read the textbook? It has come to the point that even college students cannot fathom "math concepts" without a box of toothpicks or a pizza. Odd fractions? Forget about it. How DO you cut a pizza into five pieces?

Despite educracy's best effort to stop or slow it, the pendulum is swinging back towards knowledge based curricula and the National Council on Teacher Quality is helping it swing. If you look at their advisory board two educational outlaws, renegade dignitaries leap out:

  • E. D. Hirsh, author and founder of "The Core Knowledge Foundation" well respected in some quarters but derided within the established education bureaucracy in the US; and
  • Sir Michael Barber, formerly Chief Advisor to the UK Secretary of State for Education and Head of the Prime Minister's Delivery Unit where he promoted core knowledge curricula in the UK.

This is not to take away from the others who are equally fed up with the watered down educational mush plated up by the out of control chef's de cuisine in our "public education" soup kitchens.

And make no mistake this will be a battle royale. The incumbents are entrenched and well-armed--hunkered in their bunkers and ready to take on all comers. They have the money, they have the power. What they don't have is the results. Increasingly they don't have the confidence of the public, who ultimately funds their charade.

And now we, the taxpayers, have a small team of dedicated professionals who are willing to step up, step out and take educracy's best shot. These educational patriots are not favored to win, but will put up a good fight. Perhaps with our help they stand a fighting chance.

Then we all win.