What's Wrong With Our Schools?
Is There ONE Best Way to Run a School?
Is there only one way to run a school?
Does rhetoric about "best practices" point to a single "best" way to teach children?
Of course not.
But ed school theorists insist that there is one "best" method.
Not only that, they claim that they know exactly what it is!
Consequently, most American schools have moved to that "constructivist" approach and
continue to expand its usage further in their classrooms.
But mounting evidence calls the whole constructivist framework into question.
While there are many subtleties and variations in designing an education
program, there are two main themes.
Education researcher Diane Ravitch succinctly defined
them in an
essay (May 12, 2005) in the Wall Street Journal. Let's compare two
quotes from that article side-by-side:
On one side, beloved by schools of education, are the century-old
ideas of progressive education, now called "constructivism."
Associated with this philosophy are such approaches as whole
language, fuzzy math, and invented spelling, as well as a disdain for
phonics and grammar, an insistence that there are no right answers
(just different ways to solve problems), and an emphasis on students'
self-esteem. ... By diminishing the authority of
the teacher, constructivist methods often create discipline problems.
On the other side are those who believe ...
- that learning depends on both
highly skilled teachers and student effort;
- that students need
self-discipline more than self-esteem;
- that accuracy is important;
- that in many cases there truly are right answers and wrong answers
(the Civil War was not caused by Reconstruction); and
instructional methods should be chosen because they are effective,
not because they fit one's philosophical values.
Establishment Ideas, and the Anti-establishment Critique,
Martin Kozloff, Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina, October, 2003.
Dr. Kozloff introduces us to
"the two opposing forces in the war in education: the establishment and the anti-establishment."
From there he sets up each of the tenets of the Romantic "establishment" camp,
and subjects each with an "anti-establishment critique."
It's very solid, very clear, and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Comparison of Traditional and Progressive Education Models (PDF), Commonwealth Education Organization:
As a very practical benefit to parents, board members and others who are just beginning
to learn about this "war" over school design,
this convenient chart (click below!) compares some of the practical
differences that often appear between the traditional and progressive education models.
Parents: which do you want for your own children?
Education Schools: Helping or Hindering Potential Teachers?
by George K. Cunningham, Ph.D., Pope Center Series on Higher Education Policy, January 2008.
This HIGHLY RECOMMENDED paper pulls no punches in distinguishing substantive education from
the fluffy theory-based programs that prevail in our nation's schools, and just as clearly
assigns the blame on schools of education. From the intro:
"Most people believe that the purpose of schools is to ensure that young
people learn the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in life.
Accordingly, they expect teachers to impart skills and knowledge to
their students. ... That view, however, is not
generally accepted in schools of education, where the great majority of
teachers receive their training. The philosophy that dominates schools
of education ... stresses the importance
of objectives other than academic achievement, such as building
self-esteem and multicultural awareness.
"The dominant 'progressive/constructivist' philosophy in education
schools leads to teacher training that prescribes a student-centered
classroom where the teacher's role is to serve mainly as a facilitator for
student-directed learning. Under that philosophy it is regarded as bad
practice for teachers to actually do much teaching. They are supposed to
act as 'the guide on the side' rather than 'the sage on the stage.'
"Unfortunately, the progressive/constructivist approach is markedly
inferior to traditional, 'teacher-centered' pedagogy, particularly when
it comes to teaching students important skills like reading and math.
Most students do better if they are taught with traditional methods,
such as 'direct instruction.'"
Constructivism and Your Children
As a society, we've been chasing the chimera of progressive education
through most of the 20th century, and now it's come home with a
We have kids who can't read or spell very well, can't multiply or
make change without a calculator, can't form logical arguments and
can't think coherently, who don't know the difference between the
Civil War and the American Revolution, never heard of the Reformation
or the Enlightenment, and who haven't a clue what Charlemagne,
Newton, Jefferson or Dickens did.
They can't sit still because no one ever told them to just sit down
and listen, they can't think or work independently because they've
been depending on their collaborative workgroups since Kindergarten,
and they don't know how to ask questions because they have little
experience in dealing with definite factual answers.
Later in life, they take vacations to places they can't find on a map.
But they do have terrific self-esteem.
Decoding the Lingo
Terminology Every Parent Must Understand:
Do you think it's just wonderful that your
kids' school says it is "child-centered", using
"developmentally appropriate" classes with "collaborative
activities" and "discovery learning" with an emphasis on
"critical thinking"? Do you nod your head in agreement that a
"drill and kill" on "mere facts" to be
"regurgitated" is a bad thing and that "less is more"?
If so, then it's vital to your kids that you read
Terminology Every Parent Must Understand. This
convenient, comprehensive report will help you see through the
muddled rhetoric used to justify changes at your children's school..
What Teaching Methods Work Best?
What Is an Educrat?
by Debra J. Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle, January 4, 1998.
"What is an educrat? ... I use [this term] because it captures a special kind of person in the
education world: pinheads who are so process-oriented that they are
more excited in the process of learning than the myriad wonders that
can be learned.
Simply put, educrats believe in process -- as opposed to educators,
who believe in results. Educrats focus on how children learn.
Educators focus on what they learn. ...
"What is the difference between an educator and an educrat? ..."
The remainder of this powerful article gives many succinct
descriptions of those differences! Highly recommended.
Which Teaching Methods Work Best? (PDF)
-- excerpt from Facing the Classroom Challenge: Teacher Quality and Teacher Training
by Lance T. Izumi with K. Gwynne Coburn. (There is a link to the full report in the next item.)
"The experimental research evidence overwhelmingly
shows that teacher-centered methods are
more effective in improving student achievement.
For example, Jere Brophy of Michigan State
University and Thomas Good of the University of
Missouri examined dozens of
and concluded that 'students learn
more efficiently when their teachers
first structure new information for
them and help them relate it to what
they already know, and then monitor
their performance and provide
corrective feedback during recitation,
drill, practice, or application activities.'
Brophy and Good also say that
'Students achieve more when they
spend most of their time being taught
or supervised by their teachers rather
than working on their own (or not
working at all).'
Further, according to the late
famed Harvard researcher Jeanne Chall, 'the traditional
teacher centered-approach generally
produced higher academic achievement than the
progressive student-centered approach.' Chall also
found that 'the evidence on the superiority of
structured, teacher-centered methods for lowsocioeconomic-
status children is so consistent over
the years that it would be difficult to reject.'"
Facing the Classroom Challenge: Teacher Quality and Teacher Training (PDF)
by Lance T. Izumi with K. Gwynne Coburn, Pacific Research Institute, 2001.
This groundbreaking and important study looked at evidence for what works in the classroom,
and compared the findings to what prospective teachers were being taught.
After reviewing quantitative research studies, Izumi and Coburn concluded
teacher-centered methods are more effective in raising student
achievement ... but schools of education favored
less-effective student-centered methods. A few brief examples give a flavor of the problem:
- "Content knowledge is not seen to be as important as possessing
teaching skills and knowledge about the students being taught." (from
a San Francisco State University pedagogy textbook)
- "No longer can teachers expect to be fountains of wisdom and convey
knowledge to passive students." (from a CSU Fresno textbook)
- Advocating less student "sitting, listening, receiving, and
absorbing information" and more "active learning in the classroom
with all the attendant noise and movement of students doing, talking,
and collaborating." (from a required text at CSU Dominguez Hills)
- "We cannot afford to become so bogged down in grammar and spelling
that we forget the whole story," which includes "racism, sexism, and
the greed for money and human labor that disguises itself as
'globalization.'" (from a CSU Dominguez Hills multicultural textbook)
- "There is no place for requiring students to practice tedious
calculations that are more efficiently and accurately done using
calculators." (from a San Francisco State University math text)
The "Laws" of Learning
by Laurie H. Rogers, Education News, October 8, 2008.
"A central tenet of ... constructivist teaching is
that children should work cooperatively in groups to 'explore' and
'discover' ... figure out concepts on their own. Reformers say
this method makes [school] interesting and fun and leads to 'deeper
understanding.' ... I'm not sure how much fun this process actually
is for the students, who tend to be concrete thinkers and who
generally appreciate straightforward, logical approaches to learning.
Experimentation in groups can be fun for them, but I suspect they'd
rather it come in small doses. Otherwise, they can become stressed
out trying to teach themselves 5,000 years of math in the small
snippets of time they have available to them.
"I was thinking about this while reading an Air Force Training Manual
from 1974 called Principles and Techniques of Instruction.
The manual is old, its cover is lost, and the pages are yellowed.
It's been around the block well, around the world, actually. It
contains much valuable information about teaching, learning,
leadership, ethics, guidance, counseling and critiquing effectively
all presented in an incredibly concise, straightforward, readable and
"As I read through this manual, I caught myself nodding my head in
agreement, saying at one point to the cat, 'Now, that's what I'm
Why Constructivism Doesn't Work
The Attack on Knowledge
"The central educational fallacy of our time:|
that one can think without having anything to think about."
-- Heather Mac Donald
Nurturing The Life Of The Mind: If Schools Don't Value Intellect, Who Will?
by Kathleen Vail, American School Board Journal
(cover story), January 2001. This is a wake-up call for school board
members, alerting them to the anti-knowledge philosophy that pervades
education theory. Excerpt:
"[S]urely our schools are bastions of intellectualism?
Not necessarily. Your parents and community, even your teachers and
administrators, perhaps even you, might unwittingly be holding back your schools from cultivating
intellect in your students and exposing them to the joys of the life of the mind. ...
Schools are places where we send our children to get a practical education --
not to pursue knowledge for knowledge's sake. Symptoms of pervasive anti-intellectualism
in our schools aren't difficult to find ..."
Who Is to Blame for American Teens Ignorant of History and Literature?
by Rita Kramer, March 13, 2008.
"It was like ... the movie 'Groundhog Day,'
where the same thing keeps happening over and over. ...
The headline in question: 'Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic
History and Literature Questions.' ... Because the same headlines announcing the
same deplorable facts appeared 25 years ago, and nothing seems to
have changed in the intervening years.
"Beginning in the sixties, the mission of the schools has been
redefined. The institutions training our teachers have come to see
their job not as transmitting our culture but as changing it, not as
passing on an understanding of the history and traditions of a
democratic United States of America but as pursuing an agenda of ...
social activism. ...
"For the past half century this has been the message young people who
want to be teachers have been getting along with a curriculum heavy
on pedagogical methods and light on subject matters -- a lot of
emphasis on how to teach and very little knowledge of anything to
"All of this has prepared a couple of generations of American
schoolchildren to be barely literate and hardly able to deal with
simple arithmetic. By the time these students reach high school, a
vast dumbing-down has become necessary to keep them afloat. When
third grade is the new eighth grade, much has been lost along the
"So we are failing to educate an informed citizenry, an efficient
workforce, or a people proud of their nation's special character.
Unable to articulate its worth, unaware of its gifts to them, how can
the coming generations be expected to defend it?"
And What Did We Learn In School Today?
by Dan Sernoffsky, September 01, 2005.
"It's time for a quick quiz. Divide 304,487 by 931. But do it without a calculator.
Question two: Find the sum of 5/9, 5/6, 3/4 and 11/36.
Those are two of the math questions students expecting to graduate
from eighth grade in the state of Washington were expected to answer.
In 1910. Other questions required students to identify the author of
Rip Van Winkle and The Raven, among other short literary works. Students were
also asked to state the qualifications of a U.S. Senator, and to
identify the Senators from Washington. They were required to diagram
a sentence. They were required to identify Alexander Hamilton, U.S.
Grant and Clara Barton, and to state their historic significance."
How Can Learning Facts Make Thinking More Enjoyable -- and More Effective?
by Daniel T. Willingham, American Educator, American Federation of Teachers, Spring 2009.
"Perhaps instead of learning facts, it's better to practice critical
thinking. Have students work at evaluating all that information
available on the Internet, rather than trying to commit some small
part of it to memory.
"Appealing though it may be, it turns out that this argument is false.
Data from the last 30 years lead to a conclusion that is not
scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts,
and that's true not simply because you need something to think about.
The very processes that teachers care about most -- critical thinking
processes like reasoning and problem solving -- are intimately
intertwined with factual knowledge that is in long-term memory (not
just in the environment). ...
"Much of the time that we see people apparently engaged in logical
thinking, they are actually engaged in memory retrieval. ...
When faced with a problem, you will first search for a
solution in memory, and if you find one, you will very likely use it.
In fact, people draw on memory to solve problems more often than you
might expect. ...
"That's not to say that all problems are solved by comparing them to
cases you've seen in the past. You do, of course, sometimes reason.
Even in these situations, background knowledge can help. ...
"Most or all of what we tell students about scientific thinking
strategies is impossible to use without appropriate background
knowledge. The same holds true for history, language arts, music, and so on.
Generalizations that we can offer to students about how to
successfully think and reason in the field may look like they don't
require background knowledge, but when you consider how to apply
them, they actually do."
Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to
Expertise by Daniel T. Willingham, American Educator,
Winter 2002, American Federation of Teachers. The contents page of
this issue of the AFT magazine says, "Getting students to apply their
knowledge in new situations is important--and a sign of growing
expertise. But, says the cognitive scientist, reaching this goal
generally requires that students have a large store of knowledge on
the relevant topic. Just knowing how to 'solve problems' or 'apply
knowledge' won't do the trick." The article itself says, "Cognitive
science has shown us that when new material is first learned, the
mind is biased to remember things in concrete forms that are
difficult to apply to new situations. This bias seems best overcome
by the accumulation of a greater store of related knowledge, facts,
The Destruction of American Education, by Alan Caruba, April 19, 2004.
"So, let's sum things up. The present educational system does not
effectively and successfully teach children to read or write well. It
does not teach history or civics well. Pocket calculators have
replaced the learned ability to compute anything in any way. It
requires large numbers of those children to be medicated with
mind-altering drugs. A growing number of school districts around the
nation are either in revolt or finding creative ways to fudge the
numbers required by "No Child Left Behind." The largest teacher's
union is more interested in political activities than educational
achievement. A high school diploma is too often a worthless piece of
Bringing Content Back into the Center of Education
by Jerry Morris, Boston Globe, June 2, 1997.
"For decades, educators have watched fisticuffs erupt between process
and content. Process involves methods, strategies, and techniques for
diagnosing and solving problems. Content involves the facts,
knowledge, and ideas needed before a solution can be achieved. ...
If you want to become a stockbroker, a lawyer, a commercial truck
driver, a ship's captain, or an engineer, you study a specific
content. You gain a great volume of knowledge and then process it.
After the learning, you can analyze, synthesize, and make judgments
and evaluations. ...
Educational theory rests on quicksand. It assumes that problems can
be solved using strategies, techniques, and thinking processes
without having solid background in a given area. If your car is
running poorly, do you want a mechanic who has critical thinking
skills, or do you want one who has knowledge and thinking skills? The
same could be said about your heart surgeon, lawyer, or plumber. Good
thinking usually comes from good information."
"Educational theory rests on quicksand ...|
Good thinking usually comes from good information.
Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach:
Ed Schools Purvey Multicultural Sensitivity, Metacognition, Community-Building -- Anything But Knowledge
by Heather Mac Donald, City Journal, Spring 1998.
This groundbreaking article should be read by school boards and anyone else hiring teachers,
and certainly by anyone considering becoming a teacher! Some excerpts:
"For over 80 years, teacher education in America has been in the grip
of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense.
That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge.
... The early decades of this century forged the central educational
fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to
think about. ...
"the central educational
fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to
"Once you dismiss real knowledge as the goal of education, you have to
find something else to do. ... In
thousands of education schools across the country, teachers are
generating little moments of meaning, which they then subject to
instant replay. Educators call this 'constructing knowledge,' a
fatuous label for something that is neither construction nor
knowledge but mere game-playing. Teacher educators, though, possess a
primitive relationship to words. They believe that if they just label
something 'critical thinking' or 'community-building,' these
activities will magically occur. ...
"Once you dismiss real knowledge as the goal of education, you have to
find something else to do."
"The ultimate community-building mechanism is the ubiquitous
'collaborative group.' No activity is too solitary to escape
assignment to a group: writing, reading, researching, thinking -- all
are better done with many partners, according to educational dogma.
If you see an ed school class sitting up in straight rows, call a
doctor, because it means the professor has had a heart attack and
couldn't arrange the class into groups. ...
"Collaborative learning leads naturally to another tic of the
progressive classroom: 'brainstorming.' Rather than lecture to a
class, the teacher asks the class its opinion about something and
lists the responses on the blackboard. Nothing much happens after
that; brainstorming, like various forms of community-building,
appears to be an end in itself."
What Harm Is Being Done?
The Other Crisis in American Education
by Daniel J. Singal,
Professor of History at Hobart & William Colleges,
Atlantic Monthly, November 1991. (The link is to another source that has posted this
important and influential article.)
"Two crises are stalking american education. Each poses a major
threat to the nation's future. ... The first crisis, which centers on
disadvantaged minority children attending inner-city schools, has
received considerable attention, as well it should. ...
"The second crisis, in contrast, is far more academic than social and
to a surprising extent invisible. It involves approximately half the
country's student population--the group that educators refer to as
'college-bound.' Although the overwhelming majority of these students
attend suburban schools, a fair number can be found in big-city or
consolidated rural districts, or in independent or parochial schools.
Beginning in the mid-1970s these students have been entering college
so badly prepared that they have performed far below potential, often
to the point of functional disability. ...
"The overwhelming majority of these students attend
"Our brightest youngsters, those most likely to be headed for
selective colleges, have suffered the most dramatic setbacks over the
past two decades--a fact with grave implications for our ability to
compete with other nations in the future. If this is true--and
abundant evidence exists to suggest that it is--then we indeed have a
second major crisis in our education system. ...
"No account of the present condition of college students would be
complete without mention of the extraordinary dearth of factual
knowledge they bring to college. Horror stories on this topic
abound--and they are probably all true. ...
Indeed, one can't assume that college students know anything anymore. ...
"... the extraordinary dearth of factual knowledge they bring to college ..."
"No matter how fascinating or valuable a new detail might be, a person
finds it almost impossible to hold in memory and have available for
retrieval unless it can be placed in some kind of larger context.
Providing that basic intellectual scaffolding used to be a major
function of a good high school education. Year-long survey courses in
history and literature, covering the United States, Europe, and the
world, were designed to ensure that college-bound students would have
the necessary background to make sense of the new subject matter they
would encounter in college. Yet few high schools today teach that
kind of curriculum. ...
Little wonder that so many students experience great difficulty in
absorbing detail; since they have no context in which to fit what
they read ...
"A check of the typical high school curriculum would disclose that
plays are favorite choices these days (they tend to be much shorter
than novels and make easier reading), along with personal memoirs.
The rich diet of fiction and poetry that used to be served
up--Dickens, Twain, Poe, Hawthorne, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Thoreau,
Dickinson, Milton, Melville, and Steinbeck--is increasingly hard to
The rest of the English curriculum also reflects the impact of the
sixties. If the reports I get from my students are accurate, it would
appear that formal drills on grammar, vocabulary, spelling, and
diction are infrequent these days.
"Observing the performance of students who have been arriving at
college campuses over the past decade, one can only conclude that the
present generation of American parents has been failing in its
obligation to provide its offspring with a high-quality education.
... Is it right or sensible to place our children at such a strong
disadvantage before they even begin their adult lives?"
The Failure of Progressive Education:
Survey Says Employers Find Grads Lacking Basic Skills by Anna Bray Duff,
Investors Business Daily, November 12, 1999. Excerpt: "The promise of
the progressive movement in education was grand: a more humane system
of schools that would better address the needs of individual
children, producing smarter students and adults prepared for their
roles in society. The results, however, were anything but grand.
However good the intentions, the progressive education movement
helped leave American students lagging the world in critical skills.
At home, it helped entrench the very inequality of opportunity that
schools were supposed to help overcome."
K-12 Education Reforms Not Working, Manufacturers Say
by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, January 2006.
"according to the latest annual employer survey ...
by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), the
Manufacturing Institute, and Deloitte Consulting LLP ... manufacturers expressed significant
dissatisfaction with the quality of K-12 education.
An overwhelming majority of respondents -- 84 percent -- said K-12
schools are not doing a good job of preparing students for the
workplace, up from 81 percent in 1997. The top three items cited by
employers as evidence of unpreparedness were:
lack of basic employability skills, such as attendance, timeliness,
and work ethic (cited by 55 percent);
deficiencies in math and science abilities (51 percent); and
deficiencies in reading ability and comprehension (38 percent)."
K-12 Establishment is Putting America's Industrial Leadership at Risk
by Robert J. Herbold, member of President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology,
managing director of Herbold Group, LLC, and a retired executive vice president and chief operating officer of
"There are some very worrisome trends in the United States with
respect to our global share of science, technology, engineering and
mathematics expertise. Our share of this expertise is decreasing
significantly, both at the bachelor's and at the Ph.D. levels. I will
provide below the basic data that show those trends, suggest the
reasons behind them, explain the attendant risks and offer some
Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work:
An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based experiential and inquiry-based teaching
by P. A. Kirschner, J. Sweller, and R. E. Clark, Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86 (2006).
(Also available here.)
From the abstract:
"Although unguided or minimally guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appealing,
... these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human
cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that consistently
minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than instructional
approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning process.
... Recent developments in instructional research
and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described."
From the introduction:
"Disputes about the impact of instructional guidance during
teaching have been ongoing for at least the past half-century. ...
On one side of this argument are those advocating
the hypothesis that people learn best in an unguided or
minimally guided environment, generally defined as one in
which learners, rather than being presented with essential information,
must discover or construct essential information
for themselves ... On the other side are those suggesting that novice
learners should be provided with direct instructional
guidance on the concepts and procedures required by a particular
discipline and should not be left to discover those procedures
by themselves ...
"The minimally guided approach has been called by various
names including discovery learning ... problem-based learning ...
inquiry learning ... experiential learning ... and
constructivist learning ..."
From the conclusions:
"After a half-century of advocacy associated with instruction
using minimal guidance, it appears that there is no body of
research supporting the technique. In so far as there is any
evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports
direct, strong instructional guidance rather than
constructivist-based minimal guidance during the instruction
of novice to intermediate learners. Even for students
with considerable prior knowledge, strong guidance while
learning is most often found to be equally effective as unguided
approaches. Not only is unguided instruction normally
less effective; there is also evidence that it may have
negative results when students acquire misconceptions or
incomplete or disorganized knowledge."
- From our "college" page:
Colleges Try to Cope With The Failures of K-12:
Here is a collection of articles on how colleges address the weak preparation of today's entering
college students. Only one in three 18-year-olds is even minimally prepared for college,
according to a recent report. "Remedial" courses abound in colleges, serving anywhere from a fifth to a half (half!)
of entering students. Professors report
that they need to simplify content and reduce demands if students are to learn anything at all.
What's going on here? As one article puts it, "What, the colleges moan, has K-12 been doing with the kids
all these years?"
Do We Need Progressive Reforms?
"'Progressive Education' has had a firm lock on America's schools for decades and
each year they try to pretend that the enemy is some imagined
bogeyman that's making kids learn facts through rote memorization."
"Progressive" education already IS the mainstream:
Huntington Lyman, Ph.D.
"I have taken education courses over the past fifteen years at Brown, Yale, Wesleyan,
Georgetown, and the University of Virginia without hearing any teacher promote tracking,
standardized testing, or the curricular emphasis on content.
In addition, I have worked in elementary schools and high schools over past
twelve years without seeing much 'drill and kill,' memorization of decontextualized facts,
or pedagogical emphasis on standardized tests.
I have never actually seen a classroom with desks bolted to the floor,
and very few where the desks are in rows."
Getting the B.S. in Education: A Glossary of Ed-land Euphemisms and General Nonsense:
"The 'Rote Learning' Straw Man
"This is a big one. Ed schools, and teachers in general, like to
pretend that there is some traditional teacher out there who is the
norm and bores his or her classes with lectures, facts, and
information. This phony concoction is often accompanied by the
phrase, 'drill and kill,' in which students are imagined reciting
meaningless facts which are deadening their minds. Check out a local
school classroom today and you'll search long and hard for any
remnants of rote learning or drilling of information. You definitely
won't find much concern for -- or even belief in -- facts. 'Progressive
Education' has had a firm lock on America's schools for decades and
each year they try to pretend that the enemy is some imagined
bogeyman that's making kids learn facts through rote memorization."
Kevin Killion's statement to the Chicago session of the National Math Advisory Panel,
April 20, 2007. Excerpts:
"In Chicago, some 290 schools use progressivist, constructivist math
programs in early grades. On the flip side, we have been able to
identify only 5 -- count 'em -- 5 conventional CPS schools that use
practice-and-mastery math programs ... Now the suburbs. The Illinois Loop has
collected info on the math programs used in 118 suburban K-8
districts in five collar counties. We find that progressivist,
constructivist products are the math foundation in 77 percent of
Putting the Fox in Charge of the Hen House; Or, Why School Reform Often Fails to Improve Education
by J. Martin Rochester, Curators Distinguished Teaching Professor at the
University of Missouri-St. Louis, and author of
Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Betrayed Kids, Bewildered Parents, and the Attack on Excellence.
In this article, Prof. Rochester argues that so-called "progressive" or "constructivist"
practices are in truth very self-serving for the teachers and theorists who espouse them.
Here are some excerpts:
Although students certainly should be encouraged to take initiatives
and engage in "discovery," critics rightly have called constructivism
the equivalent of "the Socratic method minus Socrates" and have
questioned how realistic it is to expect children to teach
Professional development of teachers now stresses process
(atmospherics) rather than substance (content). In language arts, one
no longer is supposed to get his or her hands dirty drilling students
in grammar, punctuation, and the rigorous use of standard English
conventions, but rather is expected to teach the "writing process"
and promote "creativity." In math, computation skills are out and
"problem-solving" is in. In history, facts are passé and "critical
thinking" the reigning fad. Since there are no longer right and wrong
answers, teachers do not have to perform the labor-intensive task of
carefully reviewing student work and denoting errors with a red
marker. Teachers no longer have to know the basics themselves, much
less insure their students do, since this is considered demeaning and
boring for students and teachers alike. Everybody is a college
professor "wannabe," everyone a member of a "community of scholars,"
from little Johnny and Shirley, who have trouble finding the lavatory
or the laboratory, to the teacher, whose job description now revolves
around the heavy load of seating kids in circles rather than rows.
Why Is Fixing the System So Difficult?
- Why is Education So Hard to Reform? by Chester
E. Finn, Jr., Ph.D. This beautifully-written article is concise and clear, and
yet manages to quickly encapsulate most of the main issues in the
decline of education, which Dr. Finn lists as ...
- We know more about the quality of our dishwashers than the quality of our children's schools.
- More emphasis is placed on what goes into education than what comes out.
- Adult feet don't get held to the accountability fire.
- Consumers lack clout.
- Weak competition encourages weak performance.
- Too few of the best and brightest come work in schools.
- The education profession is awash in fads and bad ideas.
- Even Houdini couldn't escape the red tape.
- Schools are expected to solve all of society's problems.
School Reform: Easier Said Than Done
by David W. Kirkpatrick, December 30, 2007.
"Perhaps no institution, occupation or profession is as difficult, or
impossible, to reform as public education. ... It isn't that needed reforms are not
introduced or that, in those rare instances where something better is
introduced and shown to work, other districts don't replicate it -
it's that there is virtually no recognition that they exist.
Curiosity and interest in what is occurring in their field seems to
be almost nonexistent in the ranks of public educators.
"When doctors, with whom teachers dearly love to be compared,
introduce a new technique, such as heart transplants, or an advance,
such as the polio vaccine, its use often spreads rapidly throughout
the profession and becomes so common that in some instances, of which
polio is one, the medical condition may virtually disappear.
"In the public schools, however, even the successful pioneer is rarely
hailed as a model but, rather, is viewed as a threat or a
troublemaker and may even be treated as a pariah."
- "Why Education Experts Resist Effective Practices
(And What It Would Take to Make Education More Like Medicine)" by
Douglas Carnine. Education experts tend to ignore research-based
practices like Direct Instruction and instead embrace constructivist
methods that are not backed by good research. This Fordham Foundation
report explains why. You can view the web version, or download a PDF version.
The Tyranny of Dogma, a chapter from Education Reform 1995-1996
by Chester E. Finn, Jr. and Diane Ravitch, August 1996.
"To be sure, educators pay lip service to diversity and the
uniqueness of each school, classroom, teacher, and pupil. When it
comes to instructional philosophy, however, all the dominant
approaches can be traced to a common ancestor: the
progressive-education movement that arose in the early part of this
"Strategies that heed this orthodoxy are described with such phrases
as 'student-centered,' 'child-centered,' 'learner-centered,'
'developmentally appropriate,' 'discovery-based,' 'self-directed,'
'constructivist,' and the like. Their names, details, and emphases
vary. These features, however, are less important than what their
common dogma excludes. Practices that are deemed 'teacher-directed'
or 'knowledge-based' or that involve 'direct instruction' are most
certainly not welcomed by contemporary instructional theorists. The
pedagogic tent, it turns out, is not very big at all. ...
"The reigning orthodoxy demands not only obeisance, but also the
exclusion of dissenters. The results of rigorous studies and pilot
projects that don't conform to progressive ideology are dismissed,
while airy speculation, vacuous theories, and sloppy evaluations that
buttress the prevailing wisdom are published in Ivy League education
journals. Unproven methods are thus imposed on thousands of America
schools. The failures that often follow are predictably attributed to
lack of funding or time (no matter how much of either was available).
Other excuses include lack of faith, inadequate staff development,
ignorant parents, or a malevolent society. Never is it admitted that
the concept itself may be flawed and the method ineffective, much
less that different methods were ruled out and never tried."
Other sections of
"The Tyranny of Dogma" discuss:
Whole Language and California, Mathematics: England Shows the Way,
The Romance of "Natural" Learning, The Instructivist Alternative, and
The Case for Diversity and Balance.
by Jay Greene, American Enterprise, July/August 2006.
It is just about impossible to uncover what's ailing the education system
without tackling its most pervasive myths. This article
identifies seven common myths that dominate established
views of education these days. Dispelling these misconceptions could
open the door to long-awaited improvement in our nation's schools. They include:
- The money myth
- The teacher pay myth
- The myth of insurmountable problems
- The class size myth
- The certification myth
- The rich-school myth
- The myth of ineffective alternatives
"We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place
where you want to be. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing
an about-turn and walking back to the right road. There is nothing
progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake."|
-- C. S. Lewis