Some thoughts on Education Nation

As always, remember that John’s book The Influence of Teachers is for sale at Amazon; you can also check out a Sacramento Bee editorial he co-authored with Esther Wojcicki, the Learning Matters Board Chair.

Although I left before the final event — an appearance by former President Bill Clinton — I was on hand for almost everything else, and I am comfortable declaring Education Nation 2011 a success, a 180-degree turn from last year’s disappointment.

Last year, education wonks will remember that Education Nation was badly tilted in favor of charter schools and against unions and the ‘bad teachers’ they protect. It was as if everyone running the show drank the Kool-Aid poured by “Waiting for ‘Superman’”, Davis Guggenheim’s well-made but fundamentally-flawed movie.

Not this year. Balance was the order of the day. Both union presidents and lots of regular public school teachers got ample stage time. Because NBC’s talent pool is deep, lots of good questions were asked.

For me, the absolute hit of the two days was the 65 minutes on Monday morning devoted to “Brain Power: Why Early Learning Matters.” We were treated to four snappy, insightful and short presentations by professors from the University of Washington, UC Berkeley and Harvard, after which NBC’s chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, presided over a lively discussion about the educational implications of what we had just seen and experienced.

This hit home with many audience members because much of it was new and because the pedagogy modeled what all of us are arguing for in today’s schools.

But there was other good stuff: Brian Williams herding a panel of ten (10!) governors, Tom Brokaw talking with Sal Khan and Arne Duncan, Williams again with an examination of inequality (“What’s in a Zip Code?”), and David Gregory refereeing a debate between Diane Ravitch and Geoffrey Canada.

Secretary Duncan was everywhere, taking questions gracefully and speaking earnestly about education as ‘the civil rights issue of our time.’

At least 271 people labored to make Education Nation run seamlessly, which they did with a smile. Hats off to them.

And Education Nation is also a great opportunity to see and be seen. I had a dozen or more stimulating conversations and left with four or five really good story ideas for PBS NewsHour.

And so, I think it’s fair to say that Education Nation is close to achieving that lofty ‘must attend’ status, no small feat for an enterprise that stumbled so badly out of the gate and is only two years old.

Is Education Nation all talk, or mostly talk, or will good things happen because of these conversations? I don’t know, but in defense of education and Education Nation, I don’t believe that comparable events are being held around health care, energy and transportation, to name just three other issues of great importance.

Now to the tough part — and here I have a choice between being nice and being not-so-nice. For once, I choose the former. And so I am couching my critique in the form of a proposal for next year’s Education Nation, instead of complaining about missed opportunities.

Next year, NBC’s journalists must tackle two of the elephants in the room. One is the obstacles to innovation. The second is the problem inherent in overemphasizing ‘innovation.’

Start with obstacles: In an early morning session on Monday, Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation spoke eloquently about the possibilities of blended learning. Kids, she said, could now explore and advance at their own pace in many subjects. And she’s right. We know that students using the Khan Academy math program (which I watched in action in a school in Mountain View, CA, last week) can move through three, four or five ‘grade levels’ in math without ever being aware of how rapidly they are moving — because there are no “Stop, you have reached the end of 5th grade!” signs.

So far so good, but, unfortunately for those fast-moving kids, current ‘seat time’ and course credit rules mean that a student earns just one year of credit no matter how many levels he or she actually moves up. In fact, that kid’s teacher is probably going to have to tell him to slow down, which is a terrible message to send.

Education Nation

In its second year, Education Nation is close to 'must-attend' status.

But that issue wasn’t addressed, and, until it is, lots of wonderful innovations are going to rust on the sidelines. I mentioned this to Tom Brokaw, and he got it right away, connecting it to the one-room school that his mother had attended. There, he said, the teacher had to let kids move at their own pace because she was responsible for six or seven grades. Perhaps that proves that there is no new thing under the sun. The point is learning can be ‘customized’ in theory, but it won’t happen in practice until the system loosens its rules on ‘seat time.’

A few educators told me that some schools and districts are experimenting with approaches that judge students based on competency, instead of weeks of seat time, and that’s good news. Next year NBC ought to make this a centerpiece and show us how and where it’s being done — and what problems this new approach creates.

My second issue is deeper, and that’s all the enthusiasm for ‘innovation.’ I say, “Enough already.” Please give equal time to ‘imitation.’ We have lots of good schools and good programs and good teachers, stuff that can and should be copied.

Notice that I am not saying ‘replicate’ or ‘go to scale.’ Those fancy terms are part of the problem, frankly, because they scare away folks — or they become an excuse for not doing anything. Educators can rationalize that they don’t have support for ‘innovation’ and don’t have the apparatus for ‘going to scale’ and ‘replication,’ and that’s why they aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary.

Sorry, those excuses don’t cut it any longer. Just imitate. It’s easy to do, and it doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, headline-grabbing stuff. Here’s an example: KIPP kindergarten teachers explain to their kids why they are going to walk in a line and why they are expected to be quiet in the halls. Lots of regular teachers just tell the kids to line up and be quiet. The first way is respectful and creates shared responsibility, while the second seems likely to create behavior problems down the road.

Teachers who copy that are not ‘endorsing’ KIPP or sleeping with the enemy. They are just doing something that works.

I strongly believe that education needs a new narrative to replace the current one (‘honor teachers’), which replaced last year’s narrative (‘charter schools are good, unions are bad’).

I suggest a narrative that is tougher on schools but also closer to reality. It’s this: “For as long as anyone can remember, there has been close to a 1:1 correlation between parental income and educational outcomes, whether the parents were rich, poor or somewhere in between. On one level, that seems to mean that schools basically do not matter. Only money talks.

“However, we know that’s not true because we have in front of our eyes hundreds of examples of schools and teachers that do change lives.

“So do not be mad about schooling’s failure to dramatically improve the lives of all 15 million children living in poverty. Instead, imitate the successful places, people and practices. Find out what’s keeping educators from imitating success. Eliminate the obstacles and — here’s where you should get mad — get rid of the educators who refuse to be copy-cats.”

Congratulations, NBC, for sparking a national conversation that will be ongoing. I hope you will invite me back next year.

64 Responses to “Some thoughts on Education Nation”

  1. Barbara Cervone 28. Sep, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Great to hear that you were pleased with this year’s Education Nation. I didn’t watch it all and value your overall assessment. (I have to confess to my considerable discomfort at seeing the University of Phoenix parlay its sponsorship into marketing its wares–the teacher who became a principal through online courses at U of Phoenix gives me pause.) I share your push-back with the words “scale up” and “replication”–they’ve always made me uncomfortable–and I like encouraging “imitation” in their stead.

    Thanks, as always, for your reportorial wisdom.

    • john merrow 28. Sep, 2011 at 2:57 pm #

      Frankly, I just tune out when sponsors get up on the stage, and I will bet that I am in the majority. Let Brokaw, Williams et alia thank sponsors and leave it at that. The place was plastered with logos, so we could not miss that message.

      I am not sure why Phoenix and the others feel their hard sell is necessary or believe that it might be effective. Maybe someone will read your comment and my reaction and rethink their approach. Soft sell is always better with an educated audience.

      I did not hear that teacher/principal’s comment or I might have gagged too. When Brokaw had someone from Citi on his final innovation panel, I gagged; that actually was funny because the guy acted as if he was about to announce the winners prematurely, and Tom had to reel him in.

  2. Paul DiPerna 28. Sep, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    John, thanks, this is a very helpful recap.. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to watch much of Education Nation, but I hope to do so online soon.

    So, a big caveat, I’m typing this with only limited viewing time…

    It is terrific that NBC/Universal is promoting important issues and challenges facing K-12 today. Everyone working on Education Nation should be commended for, what appears to be, a labor of love. And like you say, this is just Year 2, and so growing pains wrt programming and guests are inevitable and understandable.

    My opinion about Education Nation is largely colored by last year’s initial inaugural conference, combined with a little I’ve watched the past few days.

    All this said… it is getting very frustrating that so little air time is given to the following topics:

    * Parents.. their perspectives (at the average, not elite), needs, priorities, and responsibilities

    * Small Town and Rural Education.. huge challenges attracting HQ teachers and principals (and this sector includes at least 25-30% of all K-12 kids in America)

    * Private Schooling (representing roughly 1 out of 10 students; and 1 out of 5 schools)

    * School Choice.. including Vouchers, Tax-Credit Scholarships, Education Savings Accounts (full disclosure, this hits home for my line of work)

    * Tutoring and After-School Supplemental Services

    * School Revenue (where it comes from) and School Spending (how we spend).. Post-Great Recession, we need to have a thoughtful discussion about the “new normal” in education/school finance and the future challenges that lay ahead..

    * Politics in K-12.. Beyond the typical Unions vs. Reformers hyperbole and drama..

    To be honest, I hope you or your readers can tell me “DiPerna, you missed X or Y segments, and you’re off track. Here’s why..” But my hunch tells me these topics were given little to no attention… I still have to watch more this weekend, and I hope I am wrong.

    Keep up the great work, John.

    – Paul

    • john merrow 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

      I missed some panels because often two were occurring simultaneously, but I don’t believe your issues got much attention. There was a panel on parents (with Dennis Walcott, NY Chancellor, as one of the parents!), but I missed that one.
      Maybe next year they will grab a big theme (Obstacles and Solutions would be my early favorite) and create a bunch of threads that could pull in a few of your issues.
      Money is, unfortunately, a boring subject, but I would bet people would pick up their ears if they knew that the typical school principal controls maybe 5% of her budget. Be interesting to hear from some Canadian principals and charters principals and private school principals on what they can do with their dollars that most principals cannot.

      • Paul DiPerna 29. Sep, 2011 at 1:51 pm #

        Thanks for that update, John.

        I generally agree that money and finance can be boring.. Unfortunately money = power in so many ways, so I think it’s still a vital topic. Maybe it would be re-framed around the topic of “power” (as measured by who has the money, and how much..)

        My opinion only, but I don’t think pundits are talking enough about the who, where, why, and what nature of political power in K-12, and whether we need to re-structure how power is allocated — which for me, inevitably goes back to school choice and parental issues..

        That would be interesting to see how Canada, and other reasonably populous developed countries (disqualifying Finland), allocate power to principals, teachers, parents, unions, and so on..

  3. Paul DiPerna 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Re: “My second issue is deeper, and that’s all the enthusiasm for ‘innovation.’ I say, “Enough already.” Please give equal time to ‘imitation.’ We have lots of good schools and good programs and good teachers, stuff that can and should be copied.”

    Here, here.

    Sometimes I feel like we, in the K-12 Universe, believe we just discovered this thing called “innovation.”

    Let’s learn from within K-12 (and Higher Ed) as well as other sectors and see when, how, and why they innovate, and then (I totally agree with you on this…) let’s see when, how, and why we should imitate/franchise/replicate new ideas, models, practices, methods, etc.

  4. Grant Wiggins 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:10 pm #

    Very helpful summary and some good insights, John. I of course agree with you about ‘imitation’ and would go much further in calling a spade a spade: as it would be in medicine, it is educational malpractice to be ignorant of ‘best practice’. The KIPP example is the tip of the iceberg and goes to the heart of what’s wrong with education: every educator is free to do whatever they feel comfortable doing and are free to ignore what is new or uncomfortable; it’s not professional. I am currently in the middle of a house renovation – I accept your deepest sympathies – but i have quizzed all the people – carpenter, elctricians, plumber, mason – about their school experiences, how they learned their trades, and the need to be up to speed. The electrician said it best: every 3 years he has to be re-certified and be completely aware of the latest in ‘code’ and in the industry. And I have watched both Foreman, our architect, and the building inspector provide a level of accountability that is unheard of in schools but business as usual in house construction. When will we face up to the fact that just letting people do whatever is NOT ‘professional’ at all?

    • john merrow 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

      “as it would be in medicine, it is educational malpractice to be ignorant of ‘best practice’.”

      Three cheers for Grant to once again cutting to the heart of the matter….

    • Dr. Lee 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:37 am #

      Dr. Wiggins,

      I consider myself a professional educator. Professionals in any field have an obligation to provide the best possible service to their clients. Sometimes, this means following a carful set of protocols. Sometimes, it means knowing a particular student and helping the student make choices that are best for him, and maybe him alone. Children are not wires, or PVC pipes, or drywall; one “best practice” alone is not in the best interest of all children. My professional colleagues and I have the experience and skills to evaluate each student as a person and a learner, and choose from among available ideas to help each child do his best. No amount of state-mandated certification work I’ve been required to do to keep my job has provided the growth that made me an accomplished teacher. Voluntary education (obtaining an Ed.D.) and professional development (Earning and then renewing National Board Certification) continue to give me the tools to work with students to help them be their best (Is that a “best” practice?)

      And, for the record, I have also accomplished a home renovation, actually, the restoration of a 4000 square foot Victorian home. I did the contracting and much of the work myself. Suck it up and buy yourself some tools.

      • Grant Wiggins 01. Oct, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

        Pretty defensive reaction. I never suggested kids are pipes. I suggested teachers need to take the same care in blueprinting and building reforms that architects and contractors do.

        • Dr. Lee 03. Oct, 2011 at 3:42 am #

          Pretty overgeneralized statement on your part, and teachers everywhere should have taken offense. Much of what the state requires me to do to remain “certified” is not very useful, and that goes for all 3 states in which I have had to re-certify. Tools needed by teachers to help kids are not always acquired because of some regulation for recertification. Teachers are professionals capable of making their own learning decisions. To suggest otherwise is demeaning, and I will most certainly defend that idea.

        • Richard S Jak 26. May, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

          Hey Grant Wiggins,

          You just got schooled by Dr. Lee. In your face son!

  5. Jon Becker 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    What does “best practice” even mean? And, is it singular?

    And, if you think teaching is akin to home repair, that’s a sad statement. These are KIDS we’re talking about; living, breathing, pissing, bleeding, crying, hormonal beings. These are NOT boxes, wires, widgets, etc. Language matters, sirs.

    • Jose Vilson 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

      Jon Becker hit it right on the head. Children aren’t pieces of wood, nor wire, nor pipes, nor metals. At one point, we believed “multiple intelligences” was “best practice.” Dan Willingham disputed that for us. At one point, we thought “differentiation” was best until everyone realized that no one understood it. I would call most of these ideas fads more than “best practice.” Also, glad someone mentioned medicine because there’s a reason they call it a practice. Best example: Grant Hill was very close to retirement when he played only a handful of games in Orlando. The doctors there thought he would never play again. He went to Vancouver and got his ankle fixed. Next thing you know, he’s averaged 73 games played over the last 5 years. It’s not that the first doctor didn’t know what he was doing per se, but he didn’t know what he was doing for Grant.

      Based on the previous comments, you would think they would let go of that doctor. Second opinions matter.

      After you get “re-certified,” you’re still just practicing. Much of what teaching is falls in line with that model, where kids aren’t a conglomerate of movable parts, but humans whose experiences force teachers to become experts through experience and seeing case after case, not just by reading books and taking a test. And, like doctors, teachers feel plenty accountable when kids don’t understand the material they’re taught. The average teacher feels that way (based on the Survey of the American Teacher, MetLife), so why do we persist in this accountability talk?

      These are the sorts of things we haven’t yet understood by its design.

  6. Jon Becker 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:26 pm #

    And one more thing, Grant Wiggins… Educators are required to do professional development. Every year. Not every three years like your electrician. But, we know what that professional development looks like. Mostly, it’s districts paying massive sums of money to “consultants” who know all the answers and who stand and do drive-by lectures to educators. You know anyone who might be doing that? How well is that working out for us?

  7. Ted Kolderie 28. Sep, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Most of what passes for ‘innovation’ is in fact replication, or ‘imitation’. The notion is that all that needs to be known is known. Sometimes the discussion sounds like that head of the U.S. Patent Office who proposed that it be closed because “everything that can be invented has been invented”.

    It is possible that making it possible for schools — and individual teachers — to try things not now defined as ‘best practice’ would lead to the discovery of even better practice.

    John Goodlad wrote some years ago that “The cards are stacked against innovation” and I suspect that is truer today than when he wrote.

    Might we also consider whether the analogy with medicine really is apt? Are young people as alike in their aptitudes, temperament, intelligence, interests and backgrounds as they are in their anatomy and physiology? I suspect it is in-apt. If so, let’s not use it.

    Cheers . . .

    • john merrow 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

      I won’t presume to speak for Grant, but I am absolutely certain of the existence of best practices and equally aware that some teachers do not follow them or perhaps are unaware of them. My example of the KIPP kindergarten teacher is an easy one, and how often do we see teachers just order kids around without making an effort to bring them into the conversation?

      Or take the classroom rules that are posted in probably every elementary school classroom in America. 99.9% of the time those are pre-printed in multiple colors–which is to say that they were imported from somewhere else, certainly from outside the school and perhaps from out of district and state (and probably printed outside the USA). Best practice calls for working with the children to figure out what sort of classroom they want to be in. When teachers do that, by the way, the rules come out just the way you’d expect–but the key difference is the children’s investment.

      So is it ‘educational malpractice’ to ignore these proven approaches to create a positive learning environment? Should we ‘change doctors,’ to borrow from above? Well, for my own children and grandchildren, I would want to make the change because I want their teachers to begin with respect.

      To Ted: of course, children differ–and perhaps it would be ‘malpractice’ to assume they all learn alike. Perhaps it would be ‘malpractice’ to be indifferent to the bitter divorce one kid is living through, or the incarceration of another child’s parent?

      Administrators who are indifferent to these issues, or who prevent teachers from behaving humanely, are more deserving of censure, in my view.

      Finally, Joe Becker, your last comment is over the line, IMHO. It’s such a huge departure from your usual valuable contributions to this conversation that, when I read it, I assumed that someone must have taken over your computer while you were at lunch. Not much gained from name calling

      • D'Arcy Norman 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

        John, I don’t see anything written by Becker that could be construed as crossing a line, and certainly nothing that is even remotely “name calling”. Becker’s describing the state of professional development – fly in an expensive consultant or facilitator, make everyone sit and listen to them for awhile, then put a checkmark next to “professional development: 2011″ on their personnel file.

        But that’s not what education is. (or, rather, what it should not – must not – be.) Education is a practice that has to be much more active and personalized – and it takes place outside of the institutional constraints we work so hard to impose.

      • Gary Stager, Ph.D. 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

        Dear Mr. Merrow:

        I find it troubling that you take offense that Dr. Becker challenges the handful of magic beans Mr. Wiggins sells schools all over the world without giving serious consideration to the lack of accountability required of people in the educational industrial complex.

        You also insult Dr. JON Becker in defense of civility.

        Can you cite any other demands for accountability for “Understanding by Design,” spelling tests, homework, grades, honors courses or the countless other schemes taken for granted by politicians and education journalists?

        By the way, why do education journalists allow people to declare themselves reformers? Shouldn’t there be standards and accountability? Perhaps a credentialing process?

      • Andrew 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

        We’re talking about best practices in Kindergarten? Heck, I thought Kindergarten was mostly about socialization — but my elementary-teacher wife says I’m in the stone ages on this one.

        I simply don’t believe that we know the “best practices” for education. We do know some bad practices, but best practices? The bottom line is that kids learn mostly on their own provided the appropriate exposure. It makes us feel good to think that we can have this huge influence, but it isn’t as true as we’d like to think. If we’re talking about doctors, perhaps the most important thing to take away is “do no harm.”

  8. Jon Becker 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:24 pm #

    My contributions are so valuable that my name is now Joe?

    And, what name calling exactly did I do? What is the relationship between Grant Wiggins’ work and student achievement? What’s the “value-add” from his work? How is HE accountable to the schools he works with? Where’s the evidence that what HE is doing is “best practice” in professional development?

    Frankly, I think equating kids to wood, wires and other inanimate objects is over the line…

    • john merrow 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

      My bad, Jon. I confused you with Joe Beckman. And your sarcasm was not over the line, so I apologize a second time.

      • Gary Stager, Ph.D. 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:20 pm #

        I’m amazed that quiet line walking is the strongest example you could conjure. It’s akin to the emphasis “Understanding by Design” places on kids making a menu to learn nutrition facts.

        There may be a 3rd way that you failed to consider. It is possible to create schools where kids want to be; in which a culture of mutual respect and trust exists so that kids can go from the library to the classroom and back again without being herded like cattle.

        However, that doesn’t fit into a KIPP model that assumes children are broken and need to be whipped into shape by attending an obedience school that policy makers and the billionaire KIPP cheerleaders would never dream of tolerating for their own children.

  9. Mel Riddile 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    What we have here is a failure to implement.
    I think that you are on the right track when you call for less innovation and more imitation. The problem is that schools are innovating and imitating too much!

    The fact is that very few school improvement initiatives actually work, not because they are not viable, but because they are never implemented. Year after year, schools rush for one latest and greatest innovation to the next. Even before the last initiative is properly or fully implemented schools switch gears and move on to the next fad.

    In this chaos, half of all new teachers get frustrated and leave within three to five years, while the veteran teachers and school leaders “left behind” learn to survive. Ironically, the obsession with change and cosmetic innovation results in everything staying pretty much the same.

    Some of this “change obsession” is due to the extremely high turnover of superintendents and school principals. New leaders are hired because they promise new and better.

    Another reason for the “change obsession” is the belief that “we aren’t working hard unless we are doing something new and innovative every year.” I run into this all the time. In fact, even in high-level policy discussions I hear, “but we have to do something different.”

    Advocates for responsible change who seek to change the culture of a school over a period of three to six years, are accused of favoring the status quo. In reality, there is no status quo, unless of course you refer to the constantly shifting sands as the status quo.

    You are correct when you say that we need more imitation. We need to do what successful, high-performing schools have always done. These schools collaboratively develop a school improvement plan supported by research but customized to the unique DNA of their school and community. High-performing schools determine what their students need in order to succeed and they do it over and over again, day in and day out, year in and year out in every classroom. In other words, successful schools are good at implementation with fidelity!

  10. Nancy Flanagan 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    ” KIPP kindergarten teachers explain to their kids why they are going to walk in a line and why they are expected to be quiet in the halls. Lots of regular teachers just tell the kids to line up and be quiet. The first way is respectful and creates shared responsibility, while the second seems likely to create behavior problems down the road.”

    As as “regular” teacher, I can assure you that KIPP doesn’t have a corner on effective management of student behaviors in the classroom. Teachers–regular teachers– have been explaining to kids why they need to behave respectfully for centuries. It’s what we do. In fact, you could say that KIPP (the franchise) stole their package of ideas from observing the practices of highly effective teachers, not the other way around.

    Truly exemplary teaching is much more than a set of replicable habits and practices, however–although those are the things most highlighted in a shallow, media-driven extravaganza like Education Nation. Teaching is complex intellectual work, involving highly developed interpersonal skills around analysis, diagnosis and reflection.

    You’re correct when you say that true “education nation” programming should explore authentic learning and even take a stab at figuring out why we educate kids: What’s our purpose? What are our national goals? What do we want the real outcomes for all kids to be? We never ask those questions any more. We’re stuck at a very low level–comparing test scores and using shiny “college and career ready” rhetoric.

    • john merrow 28. Sep, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

      Let’s grant you are right and I am wrong (see above apology), I would still like an explanation of the ubiquitous pre-printed classroom rules. Are they posted in your classroom? Do you engage your students in a dialogue to determine how they want to be treated, treat each other, et cetera?

      • Gail V Ritchie 29. Sep, 2011 at 1:10 am #

        I don’t know any teachers who use pre-printed rules. We generate them WITH our students at the beginning of each school year. That’s an example of a best practice in action–co-creating a safe and positive environment by communicating through words and deeds that students are valued members of the classroom community.

        While I am usually very in sync with Jose’s thinking, I definitely see things differently on two of his points: multiple intelligences and differentiation. Maybe it’s our different contexts (I am in an elementary school in a large suburban district). I have taught learners of all ages (K-college) through a multiple intelligences lens since 1993, and my students and I are living proof that people do learn and process information in very different ways. And that’s what differentiation is–respecting those different ways and intentionally planning lessons and experiences that invite ALL learners into the learning community. Again, that’s best practices in action.

        I was so disgusted by last year’s Education Nation that I didn’t even tune in this year. Thank you, John, for providing an overview of what sounds like a much-improved event. I hope the powers-that-be at NBC get wind of your ideas for next year. I’d love to see an event that was focused on “what works” in schools and how those practices would look in the many different school contexts we have across this country.

        Thanks for a positive posting–I’ve been getting very depressed reading about how big money is co-opting education policy. While I’m still worried about the education “de-formers” ruining our public school system, I now have some hope that real teachers in real schools and their media advocates can prevent the deformers from achieving their goals.

  11. Linda Johnson 28. Sep, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

    Yes, “what is best practice?” Now that gets to the heart of the matter.

    Many years ago I studied developmental reading at a major university. After a couple of years teaching in “inner-city” Cleveland, I knew that it was very important for me to know how to teach reading. When I went to a new state I was asked to take the GRE for reading specialists. In order to prepare for this exam I studied a book about “best practices” in reading instruction. On the examination I scored at the 99th percentile and was granted a credential that certified me as a “reading specialist” in my state. After that I taught reading for many years and wrote a book for new teachers on how to teach reading. The book went through ten printings.

    Despite all that, I was forced to go from reading fad to reading fad in my state. No one ever asked for my opinion before directing me to use a reading text that had a philosophy completely different from the philosophy espoused by the last series. My personal philosophy did not count. The last texts that I was forced to use made it especially difficult to teach my second languager learners. Like many other teachers, I had to purchase my own books and materials in order to have the type of lessons I knew would get the best results.

    We DO know a great deal about how to teach children but oftentimes people who don’t have this knowledge are the ones who are making the decisions. If we could just insist on allowing our experienced and successful educators to make critical decisions about curriculum and instruction, we might see the improvement that we all seem to want.

    • Gail V Ritchie 29. Sep, 2011 at 1:14 am #

      Thank you, Linda, for a beautiful example of what’s wrong with education policy in this country. It’s being set by people who know little to nothing about what really works with real students in real classrooms. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment: “If we could just insist on allowing our experienced and successful educators to make critical decisions about curriculum and instruction, we might see the improvement that we all seem to want.”

  12. Linda Johnson 28. Sep, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

    Mr. Merrow,

    I really admire your open mind and your desire to discover proven methods of increasing achievement for all students.

    You might not realize that K-12 teachers are rarely treated as full professionals who are entrusted to make the best possible decisions for their students. Unlike her counterparts in higher education, the K-12 teacher often cannot decide on curriculum, materials, entry into the profession or promotion of colleagues. She usually is not involved in major decisions at her school or district.

    One huge improvement for students would be to raise the standards for the teaching profession and then to grant these people the type of autonomy enjoyed by their higher education colleagues. Specifically what I’d like to see are more rigorous standards for entering the profession, rigorous training and periods of internship, higher salaries, career ladders and the opportunity to run their schools in the same way that doctors run clinics and lawyers run firms.

    Once this recession is over and the baby boomers are retired, we aren’t doing to find too many well-educated men and women who will accept K-12 teaching positions under the present conditions. Intelligent people want to be decision-makers and they want to be recognized and rewarded for their efforts.

  13. John Bennett 28. Sep, 2011 at 10:05 pm #

    Anyone who might have read one of my comment postings will undoubtedly recall my thesis that every situation will be best served if treated as a problem to be solved. In that regard, it should always begin by making sure the participants understand (sometimes are reminded) what the objective is. Knowing that, I strongly suggest when mentoring that all anticipated facets of the situation and possible contributors to the outcome be identified. Once brainstormed plan options are developed, the addressing of facets / contributors definitely has to be done (what’s been learned, what were the circumstances associated with them, what’s the value once understood, etc.) – NOT ONLY to not “reinvent the wheel” BUT ALSO to not “put a square peg in a round hole” AND to not try to address a situation using a fantom or inappropriate “contributor.”

    So, yes, one needs to be aware of previous efforts; BUT, may I suggest that the likelihood of being able to IMATATE what as been done previously is remote – just as the likelihood of any PRESCRIBED (by government official or foundation expert) solution is remote. MY THESIS: IF THE INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED ARE NOT ENGAGED IN THE PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION OF SOLUTIONS, KNOWING REALLY WHAT IS NEEDED, THE SITUATION WILLNOT BE OPTIMALLY ADDRESSED!

    I have had two sections of the same course with comparable students in the same semester. If and imitation of previous approaches should work, this is one of them. But as others have experienced as well, they rarely go the same! For sure, plans should include understanding of best practices; blindly imitating then is a prescription for disaster.

  14. Larry Tietz 29. Sep, 2011 at 7:34 am #

    John, you hit the nail on the head with a hammer. We know what works and you have to ask why don’t we do it. As a school board member, I challenged our superintendent to select and implement proven programs. The 14 page response indicated we already were! When I researched best practices, I found our school district was heavily cited in the NCTE publications!

    The various responses in this blog demonstrate that many natural teachers don’t even understand that not everyone does what they do, naturarlly. It is human nature to believe that others act as we do. It is the only model they.

    Now that charter schools have demonstrated that SES is not a barrier to student achievement it is imperative that the nation examine the barriers and work to lower them. As a former school board member, I know all too well that the mantra of local control and no unfunded mandates definitely needs to be replaced with why aren’t all our children achieveing minimum competencies. It takes a sea change to believe that. After all there is that bell curve and there are those children at the bottom who just can’t learn :) NOT !!!!

  15. Ken Bernstein 29. Sep, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    I sit at home reading this thread on a day when our schools are closed for the Jewish Holiday, when I am preparing a presentation for a national political conferenceon the impact the financial crises around the country are having upon our schools and when I am preparing to drive 400 miles to volunteer this weekend addressing the medical crisis that still plagues parts of our nation, in this case in the mountains of SW Virginia.

    There is not just one way of establishing appropriate order in a classroom or school setting. I balked at bit at reading John ‘s praise of the KIPP kindergarten teachers, because I am not sure insisting on walking single file is always necessary. I applaud the idea of explaining rules and procedures, but I also think there is value even at an early age rather than merely imposing them to have the kids take ownership. Present them with the problem – how it is necessary to move large groups of people through a narrow hall in a relatively short period of time, or how when one group is moving through the halls they will be going by rooms where instruction is going on. Ask the kids what they think should be done. I would not be surprised to find out that they will come up with very similar solutions, to which they will commit not because they were told they must but because they own the solution.

    One big issue in American schools is that in theory we are preparing our students to be participants in a democratic republic, but the structure of our schools give students very little practice in exercising democratic responsibility. Further, as Sandra Day O’Connor has been trying to tell us since her retirement from the Supreme Court, we have largely abandoned the teaching of civic knowledge and responsibility.

    I agree that seat time is a poor measure of learning. But that should not only be true for those who can move more quickly and may be being held back, but for those who need more time yet are somehow marked as failures if they “fail” to make “one year’s progress” in a single school year in one or more domains. The entire idea of grade-level knowledge is antithetical to dealing with the students as the individuals they are, some of whom can move far more quickly, others who need more time, some of whom have both issues depending upon the domain.

    Our schools are now, and have for more than a century, largely been structured for the convenience of the adults involved with them than for the real benefit and learning of the students whom somehow we seem to want to treat as interchangeable parts. I think schools would be far better off if we removed almost all the impact of the ideas of Frederick Taylor, the mindset that we should be applying lesson from industry to our schools, which are neither factories nor large offices nor retail establishments.

    It might help were we to properly fund public education, which we have NEVER done on an equitable basis across the entire country. That’s a separate issue.

    This year I am lucky – I only have 175 students in my 6 classes, the largest of which has 33. At times I have had classes with 39 students, and teaching loads approaching 200. IT is hard to do anything except run a teacher-focused class with that many students in a room. It is not only difficult to “differentiate” instruction, hell, it is very difficult to get to know that many students. I spend much of my free time in the first few weeks of school calling all my parents to make connections, to find out things I should know about the students, things that might not be in school records, or if in those records which might not get to me in a timely fashion. This year I was lucky – I was informed of all 504 plans and IEPs by the middle of the 3rd week of instruction, by which time our school had been disrupted both by earthquake and by hurricane, leading to scrambling to readjust plans in an attempt to maintain educational continuity.

    I did not watch Education Nation this year. Last year I was disgusted, not merely with the lopsided nature of the teacher town hall, but with the entire approach, which John has rightly criticized, although my criticisms were far more pointed, perhaps because I am not quite as gentle as soul as Mr. Merrow – I get very riled up when I hear or see things that will be detrimental to the best interests of the young people I teach. Last year Diane Ravitch tried to persuade the organizers to get some of articulate teacher leaders around the nation involved, to no avail. At least this year the balance was a bit better from what I have read here and elsewhere, but still has a very long way to go.

    As for Secretary Duncan, he is often out and visible, yet his department still remains almost willfully oblivious to the damage the policies he is advocating and in effect imposing are doing to public education in this country. There is a track record of saying some nice things on one hand but then advocating policies that are counter to those nice words. And there remain the examples of when his words are themselves very destructive – here I refer specifically both to his applauding of the firing of all the teachers at Central Falls High School, and his very unfortunate comment that Katrina “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans” – I might note of the latter that the original plan for last year’s Education Nation had a panel, the 12th, whose original title was “Does Education Need a Katrina?” until the pushback and outrage led to renaming the panel, although not changing its thrust.

    If NBC really wants to make a difference on education, might I suggest a few topics the network seems to ignore that have a huge impact upon what happens in our schools?

    1. The federal government, with the sole exception of the years when stimulus money was being used for that purpose, has utterly failed to meet its promise of 40% of the average additional costs imposed by special education, either under its original title of Educating All Handicapped Children Act or the renamed Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

    2. The President has now made a proposal in the American Jobs Act of $25 billion to address issues of school physical infrastructure. This is barely a drop in the bucket of the real need. Merely to bring all current school buildings up to code would cost well in excess of 4 times that amount. Total school infrastructure needs exceeded a quarter trillion dollars in 2008, and it is worse now. Decaying schools deliver a message to the students who attend in them that we as a society do not truly value their learning.

    As John knows, I am at times very outspoken. While I am glad NBC is focusing attention on education, and acknowledge that apparently this year was much better than last year, the network still has a long way to go.

    Let me put it more bluntly. If you want real participation by teachers, why is the event held DURING the school year, which means teachers and principals who participate have to take time away from their primary responsibility of serving their students?


    • Andrew 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      This is a wonderful statement. I’m so with you on the first five paragraphs. Thank you.

  16. john thompson 29. Sep, 2011 at 12:54 pm #


    I don’t want to rebeat a dead horse, but I didn’t see sarcasm in Jon’s comment. I just saw a reality that neither you, Wiggins, or anyone else should deny. So, my question is, why the overreaction?

    Clearly, there is tension between consultants and others who claim we know what the best practices are. There is a reality gap here. The first problem is disagreeing about the meaning of the phrase, “we know what works.” If you are talking about scaling up to transform neighborhood schools, that statement is clearly and demonstrably false. It doesn’t help when you repeat the statement that “hundreds” of schools have broken the code. Maybe there have been a couple of hundred, or maybe not, but don’t use language so loosely when you know it will offend teachers. And again, we has no reason to believe that best practices that work at No Excuses schools can be copied systemically.

    BUT, there are individual best practices even if there is no system of best practices. Your example of the KIPP kindergarten teacher IS an easy one, and one of the most important. Let’s see if we can move beyond teachers just ordering kids around without making an effort to bring them into the conversation. To do that, we will need to educate teachers but we will also have to educate the consultants. To get teachers to listen, listen to us about the structural changes that are necessary before we get enough neighborhood teachers who engage in those conversations with kids.

    By the way, in my experience teachers welcome PLCs but we invariably demand that the administration do their part, and that always creates arguments, and soon, the raising of issues of discipline, attendance etc. are banned from PLC meetings. From what I hear, my former colleagues, in Transformation schools, are being threatened with being “exited” if they bring up their concerns in the PLC meetings or don’t follow an endless list of picky little rules. You inadvertantly came a little to close to endorsing that we should get rid of the educators who refuse to be copy-cats in regard to the mindless as well as the substantial.

    In my experience, the copy-catting demanded of teachers is the opposite what we expect of respected professionals, like doctors. You wouldn’t fire a surgeon for not keeping his “Word Wall” identical to others, and for resisting demands to commit malpractice.

    And in this era when it seems to teachers that more consultants and policy people are demanding educational malpractice than there are demanding real best practices, nonteachers need to be more sensitive.

  17. Gina Fournier 29. Sep, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    I enjoyed last year’s Education Nation as a progressive teacher in an outdated environment that, yes, does house greedy unions and inept administration. I speak because I feel strongly compelled as a duty, yet there is no real protection for serious criticism. As a lawyer commented, free speech is less free than it use to be. I felt supported more than usual by what others are calling imbalance in last year’s event. I’ll check out this years but I hope it’s edgy. I hate the multi-tier wage system, the lack of checks and balances on effectiveness, the way integrity is optional at my institution. I wish the country could actually debate and allow personality combined with distinct ideas without the urge to lynch and cry “attack!” I want to be able to say that at the community college level I hear way too many stories and see way too much evidence of failing classrooms that hand out diplomas. Community college: where the scat hits the fan. Teaching during the reading crisis is so difficult. Students literally read next to nothing in high school, squint at half the words, and pass. Standards are so low. Instilling demanding standards is doable but requires a river flow of patience and energy. Good news! I have developed methods that work, still every day is a fight against forces from unions, faculty, the small percentage of belligerent students, and the Facebook culture. And I want to create, not fight. College essays are many times longer than Facebook posts. Someone pay real attention to what’s going in community colleges, please. We are the end of the education trash heap. Send help! Nurses and police are paid by the hour. At my job there is no limit to the amount time and energy needed to fight the reading crisis. I must turn into a separate teacher as needed for each student, and we cram tons into each class, each student deserving, each with distinct needs. Yet I could lecture, hand out paper hand outs, avoid technology and spend half the time I do planning and working with students outside of class, not conduct assessment, take on more over-time teaching and make a lot more money. Money, money, money changes everything, wall street banker or midwestern union member. But I do not want to wait in line for my turn to work the system for my benefit, and that opportunity won’t be there anyway, most likely, due to declining property taxes. Feel good conversations about education nation have in little in common with my world.

  18. john thompson 29. Sep, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Also, be very very careful before loosening rules on ‘seat time.’ Again, in my experience, more educational malpractice has flowed from the unintended results of that understandable goal than any other. What is the opposite of seat time? Unless you have a realistic alternative, the most likely scenario is pressuring schools to “pass on” kids who cut class dozens of times, often walking the halls causing extreme disruption, and that inevitaably leads to pressure to lower academic standards as well as behavioral standards for everyone in inner city neighborhood schools that are not allowed to enforce their rules. The medical equivilant of loosening seat time, as it often is implemented, is requiring doctors to write identical memos instructing patients to “heal thyself.”

    Do we need a certain amount of change in the role of seat time and are improved conversations with studentsand important part of that? Yes. But think through the entire chess game before supporting silver bullets that typically make things worse.

    • Andrew 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

      Why are we keeping kids in schools where they don’t want to be like so much penned cattle? Because it’s good for them? If a teacher is boring, why shouldn’t a kid leave? Do you really think a kid is going to learn if they’re thinking about other things instead of paying attention? The environment that we’ve created and the numbers make it hard to create a school with more freedom, but that’s what this discussion is about — rethinking the way we do things.

  19. Will Richardson 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    My biggest problems with the conversation in education generally are:

    1. We talk about kids as numbers to be managed and “improved” which in my mind is blatantly offensive. And…

    2. We are arguing about reform in the 21st Century through a 20th Century lens. Look at what the National Council Teachers of English considers literate readers and writers today:

    Twenty-first century readers and writers need to

    *Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
    *Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
    *Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
    *Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
    *Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
    *Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments



    In fact, the VP of NCTE told me earlier this summer that she thought 95% of kids who graduate from high school in this country are illiterate by that definition.

    John, was anything REALLY different being discussed at Education Nation this year, or was it all about how we keep doing the old stuff better?

  20. john merrow 29. Sep, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Thoughtful points about the limitations of imitation and the dangers of loosening ‘seat time’ rules. To the latter point, I suggested that next year’s Education Nation explore the possibilities AND risks, one of which is adults playing fast and loose with rules in order to get their graduation rates up, et cetera.
    And somehow we have to empower teachers on this issue of ‘what works’ and what should be imitated/copied, because there are a lot of people in power who put headlines about them and their own career promotions ahead of the interests of students.

    John is right (or at least I agree) about silver bullets. Those of you who have read The Influence of Teachers know where I stand on our system’s fixation and the harm that does.

    • Mary Ann Reilly 30. Sep, 2011 at 2:38 am #


      Education is a complex system that is (in)formed and conditioned by racial, ethnic, geo-political, economic, gendered, and other sociocultural forces. It is a human activity and cannot be divorced from where, when and who it involves, marginally involves, and fails to involve. As such there are no “best” practices. There are only practices that happen within contexts. To confuse such things is to create the pretense that something (a ‘proven’ product) can be employed anywhere, anytime and with anyone. This is how products are sold, but we should not confuse selling with learning.

      Second, the education system described on Education Nation and in this post is based on a belief that knowledge is stable and that students are situated as that which can be acted upon. Knowledge is not stable and learning requires agency.

      One reason so many of these mistaken understandings about learning occur is that the experts who continue to write about school are often people who do not have insider knowledge. They may be guests or funders or people who make their living selling packages as promises and in doing so visit schools for a few hours or a day or perhaps even a week. Their determine truths are based on their comings and goings. What they cannot know though is all that they miss by not being on the job 24/7. What is a truth via a one day stop may in fact be nothing more than symptom or misdirection. These “experts” cannot understand the continuity of the narrative we call school as they are at best one-stop patrons who come and go, selling what they must.

      Dwelling matters.

      I turned off Education Nation. It reminded me of a circus show, of Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque. It was a monologue.

      We need narratives of learning that are told by those who dwell at school and other places of learning. These narratives will be complex, multivoiced, and contradictory.

      I wish you might feature such voices via your blog.

  21. john merrow 30. Sep, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I fear that the best is becoming the enemy of the good, and I may have inadvertently started this chain of thought. Rather than staying hung up on ‘best,’ can we talk about the things good teachers do, in certain situations, with certain kids?
    While teaching cannot be reduced to a formula, there certainly are patterns and strategies and behaviors and precepts and truths.
    Consider the ‘classroom discussion.’ I have been in classroom in which the teacher and two or three students engaged in a lively back-and-forth for a long time, while most of the rest of the class sat and…and what? Listened, appeared to listen, or paid no attention whatsoever. I’m willing to bet that the teacher felt pretty good about that class because it was full of energy and engagement. But would any of you endorse that as best or even good practice? No, because the good teacher would have pulled in the listeners by asking, “Josh, what do you think of Anita’s point about Roosevelt’s speech?”
    I envision a library of 5-8 minute videos of what good/great teachers do in certain situations, a library that is easily searchable and free. The Khan Academy provides lessons for students. Why not something comparable for teachers?
    I would show that classroom discussion with the teacher pulling in lots of uninvolved kids, then perhaps treat it like a football replay, going to slo-mo with the announcer marking up the screen with magic marker as he says, “Notice how she’s calling on that student in the corner, inviting him to react? That puts everyone on full alert. But she wasn’t threatening, just inviting. Let’s hear from the teacher.”
    And then, under the video, we would hear the good/great teacher explain her strategy and philosophy. And other teachers who are watching the video might think to themselves, ‘Hey, I could do that!”
    The slo-mo and mock sports announcer approach might not work. We could also try to emulate John Cleese’s work videos, again using over-the-top humor to set a mood and tone and engage the viewer. Most education training videos are terminally dull, in my (limited) experience.
    The goal is not Taylor-esque videos that provide step by step instructions, a la IKEA instructions for assembling a chair, and it might be important to have two or three videos per subject, or three or four voices in one video about, say, dealing with an unruly kid.
    And the voices would not be those of consultants or PD providers but of great teachers.

    • john thompson 30. Sep, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

      Again, your example of helping teachers bring all students into the discussion, (to talk or listen if they prefer) is one of those doable efforts that would yield results. There are no shortcuts around the reality that conversations are crucial. We need real coaching, teaching, and listening, involving everyone, to improve those methods.

      • Amanda 23. Nov, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

        I have been reading a lot on the inaetporcrion of technology in the art based classroom and my findings are really interesting. Perhaps the two points that sunk in the most are:1. We need to teach how to use the basics in programs. Rather than trying to keep up with the everychanging programs, we as teachers need to teach students to find their way through the basics such as cut and paste, layers, searching on the internet, etc. Then on their own time, students are less afraid dive deeper into the subject. This way we are not wasting time teaching things that will change, but instead are teaching practical applications. 2. We as teachers need to encourage technology or the idea of technology everyday. It needs to be a constant, whether we use the vocabulary or the computer. This makes students more comfortable with it and its implementation.I recently had my students blog on the art site about whether they think it is important to incorperate technology in to art program. Their thoughts were very honest and very interesting.

    • Andrew 30. Sep, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      Having videos available is a great idea. That being said, I wouldn’t try to collect a set of videos with commentary — let people look at a good cross-section of teaching and draw conclusions for themselves about what is effective and what is not effective and why.

      I think that Denis Auroux is just about the best lecturer in Calculus that I have ever seen. I can even tell you why I think he is great. Many students agree that he is great. But the key is that I can watch him teach and watch another — the differences help make it clear to my why Auroux, in my mind, is superior.

      You’ve mentioned Sal Kahn. I have looked at some of the Kahn Academy presentations and don’t find them particularly good. I can tell you why. But being able to compare for myself and make these distinctions for myself is crucial.

      Note also that despite my best efforts, I could ever do as good a job as Auroux. He has certain qualities that others do not. For one, he is exceedingly brilliant at mathematics. I’m pretty good at math, but I’m not brilliant. Give me all the professional development and time to work on my stuff, and I’ll never be as good as Denis Auroux. That’s life.

      • Andrew 30. Sep, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

        Make that “…never do as good a job…”. Where’s the “EDIT” button?

    • Will Richardson 30. Sep, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

      Add to that some videos of classrooms that are built upon inquiry, problem creation and solving, and allowing kids to pursue their own learning. I think at a gut level, we are too focused on improving “teaching” and not focused enough on improving “learning” both with the adults and the students in the room. Back when we didn’t have access to all the information and knowledge and people we have now, we needed to be good at “teaching” all the stuff we thought kids needed to know. Now, the most important thing we can “teach” is how to learn deeply, patiently and continually. That’s not something that comes from a textbook or a degree in education. It’s not something we can measure on a multiple choice test. And it’s not something we will learn from watching videos.

      It’s a disposition to be modelled and a culture that stems from everyone in the room having, as Mary Ann says, agency and autonomy to pursue concepts in the context of their own interests. Why are kids not paying attention? Because they see no relevance to their own lives, no application. They’ve acclimated to spaces where they are told what to learn, when to learn it and how to learn it. In this system, good “teaching” is covering the curriculum and making sure students “achieve” by doing well on the test. Today, a video game could do that. As a parent, please don’t put my child in that teacher’s classroom. I’d rather not sacrifice my child’s inherent passion to learn for a high test score.

      We need learners in the classroom, John, folks who engage in debate and discussion much like you are doing here. People who are willing to allow their worldviews to be pushed, and who engage kids on that level as well. Ask a kid how much his teacher “knows” and he’ll answer in a second. Ask that same kid how his teacher “learns” and he’ll look at you funny. They don’t see the adults as learners…just teachers.

      This is not about delivering and education to kids any more. That world has passed. This is about preparing kids to create their own education (h/t to Stephen Downes) and it’s about preparing “teachers” to do that as well. It’s ALL about the learning.

  22. john merrow 30. Sep, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    On “Seat Time”: That has to be addressed in a major way. We have lots of artificial structures and categories, such as ‘Fifth Grade Math,’ that serve the interests of adults and those who are maintaining records.
    HOW we put the interests of students first is the question, not WHETHER. Ken Bernstein says competence/mastery is the issue, and I agree. But this is not as simple as the DMV and its way of testing applicants for a driver’s license, but that is the right approach.

    • john thompson 30. Sep, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

      And since math is the area, predictable, where data and assessments and accountability have yielded the best results, and where the talent shortage was among the greatest, online resources show more potential there. Conversations about math are just as improve, however, are just as important as class discussions in History. So, that’s another area where we should coach people on better articulating math into words. Conversations, in education of all places, must be seen as central.

  23. Mary Ann Reilly 30. Sep, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    Thanks John. Appreciate you dropping the “best”. ASCD did a rather elaborate series of videos usually about 15 minutes in length several years ago. They cross K-12 span and seem to be designed to highlight informed practices. There are several I have used with staff as they help us to highlight ways of reading classrooms spaces.

    Who owns the conversation?
    What do we make of learner agency?
    Whose voices are heard, not heard, and what might we make of that?

    And so on.

    • john merrow 30. Sep, 2011 at 4:07 pm #

      What I love about this format is the teaching and learning that occurs. My web guy tells me that 11,000 people have opened this particular blog post in the past three days, staying an average of 10+ minutes. That means there is an audience that cares about these issues. And my own education continues, as I am forced to confront my own (sometimes!) limited thinking.

  24. Linda Johnson 30. Sep, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    John, whether I agree with you or not, I always respect your sincere desire to learn as much about education as possible, and to use your influence to improve education for all children. With this in mind, I hope you read this article: “Educated nation?” by Harold Levy (Hechinger Report, Sept.28). Mr. Levy writes of the research on brain development in infants and young children and states (correctly, in my opinion) that education policy makers are ignoring the implications of this critical work. Basically, the most important period in any person’s education likely comes in the first few years of life.

    Teachers have been advocating for early childhood education for a long time. About twenty years ago I wrote to the U.S. Department of Education suggesting that they place emphasis on the first five years of life. I received a personal reply that said something to this effect: “Yes, that’s what many teachers are telling us.”

    Please focus on recent research on brain development and the implications for education. Thank you.

    • john merrow 30. Sep, 2011 at 6:48 pm #

      I saw Harold at Education Nation not long after that session (best of the event, I thought). He sent me the link to his piece after he read this one, and I devoured it. He’s a very smart guy. Let’s try to expand his audience…

  25. Alexis Wiggins 01. Oct, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    I think people are arguing the wrong things here.

    First of all, “best practice” is about being the best teacher you can be — period. The best teachers I know consider themselves learners, always growing and trying new and better things to see if they work better. That is best practice. It is not meant as a term to disparage or separate.

    Second, I don’t think the problem is with the consultants. Some are good and some aren’t, but you can’t fault the consultants for drive-by workshops and a school checking off that item from the checklist. That is the school admin’s fault. When you have an administration that is truly visionary, they don’t just check an item off the list, but they invest in it whole hog. They hire the consultant to come back every two months for two years; they have team leaders within the school following up on the work, making sure it’s happening in a way that works for the school. True leaders get that a half-day workshop by a big name is not really effective, and if you want your whole faculty to buy in to a particular method, it takes time and investment — just like in the very learning model you are replicating every single day in your classrooms.

    Lastly, let’s get real. Some of us are willing and able practitioners and some of us are not. I can look down the hallway from my classroom and see who is truly invested in their students and their learning, and who is just killing time all day. As in every profession, not everyone is acting with the clients’ (read: students’) best interest at heart.

    And Grant is not saying that teachers need more stupid certification training or useless workshops; he’s saying that there should be real, accurate, and regular review of teachers and their effectiveness in a way that both benefits students and those teachers who need to improve.

    I don’t think teachers benefit themselves or anyone else by pretending that we are all good at our jobs and everyone should just go away and let us do what we know how to do best. The best teaching job I ever had was one that required constant collaboration and asked me to observe and be observed regularly, giving me constant opportunities for change and growth as a teacher. Best practice means not being afraid of quality, accurate feedback — actually, it means embracing it.

  26. George Dewey 01. Oct, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    The very thing which has been going on here (and on numerous other threads) illustrates that those of us who are concerned and involved listen and learn from one another continuously. Despite the sarcasm, ruffled feathers or missed(understood) opportunities, you all here (and in a number of other lists like Teacher Leaders Network and CTQ here in VA) are engaged in sharing and listening and learning…qualities we all need with our kids in the classroom.

    John, Gail, and Mel and successive responders have mentioned innovate/imitate in regard to class rules. In my work with 11-12 grade science students, I have enjoyed and learned a lot about mutual respect in the classroom by having all my kids post in “stickies” their one most important class rule on the first day of school. Over recent years I have been impressed by how often the words, “respect,” “listen,” “work together,” “focus” have appeared. After a brief class discussion, I write a summary of their “rules” and we go by them for the rest of the year. In contrast to our huge county’s emphasis on the negative side in student responsibilities and rights, I find the positive student-developed guidelines have produced a degree of ownership and responsibility absent from the customary top-down approach. This is a small example, but emphasizes what can happen when students AND teachers form supportive relationships to enhance our mutual learning. This can happen on a larger scale as all of us, from published education gurus to policy wonks, to NBC efforts and journalists who include teachers in the debate and dialogue, open up and listen.
    Congratulations, John, for opening the dialogue no matter what and risking the harpoon when you come up to spout!

  27. John Merrow 03. Oct, 2011 at 5:01 pm #

    George, did you just call me a whale? Maybe I need to shed a few pounds, but a whale?!?!

  28. Joe Nathan 11. Oct, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    Two quick things:
    1. Congratulations on having an audience of 11,000 plus and more than 50 comment. Clearly you are reaching a number of people. Rather than add my comments to what may have ended as a conversation, I hope that you will return to the subject of replication and best practice.

    2. Yes, there are some strategies that work well with certain groups of youngsters – not necessarily all, but some. We have just spent a year working with 11 inner city charter schools. We helped them increase the % of students judged “Proficient” in reading by 11% – compared to the state average increase of 1.6%. As you know, it is easy to play games with numbers so the statistic above needs more explanation. The schools we were working started off with a much lower percentage of students proficient. Nevertheless, the schools made consider able progress. We used strategies supported by considerable research with these low income and in many cases limited English speaking youngsters. More another time.

  29. KitchenAid Professional 600 Mixer 26. Dec, 2011 at 9:11 am #

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  31. tv credenza 13. Jan, 2012 at 8:27 am #

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  32. Librada 21. Jan, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.

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