Teaching Reforms Should be Based on Research and Experience

Posted on 04 December 2009

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By Marty Hittelman
California Federation of Teachers

The State Assembly Education Committee is currently considering legislation regarding the federal “Race to the Top” education funding program. The Legislature should not pass a bad law just to compete for federal funding. In a year that Governor Schwarzenegger and the legislature have made billions of dollars in catastrophic cuts to school funding, it is ironic that the Legislature is rushing to adopt bad policy to compete for a relative pittance in federal funding.

The money offered by the federal government will not begin to replace what has been taken away. Legislators are rushing to make permanent changes without a solid basis in facts or research in return for the possibility of three years of funding.

A plan should be developed with the participation of all education stakeholders, including classified employees and parents. Some legislation may be needed, but care should be taken regarding any long-term effects. California should not pass a bill that adds to the education bureaucracy without improving schools.

Student Data

The California Federation of Teachers (CFT) believes the data issues in SB1 5X have already been resolved by SB 19 (Simitian) that has just been signed by the governor.

Student achievement and student growth data may be worthwhile tools in helping to improve school instruction when the data instruments contain information that is useful to the teacher. But we must ensure the privacy of our students and of our staff while still providing the information needed to improve instruction. The primary use of the data system must be to support instruction.

Charter Schools

Charter schools are not a panacea for our education challenges. No evidence suggests that more charter schools enhance educational outcomes. We need to hold charter schools accountable for claims to parents, students and the state, and protect the public interest. Schools closed because of academic, financial, low enrollment or mismanagement should not be considered successful. We need to look at the private use of public funds, and teacher, principal and classified staff turnover as we evaluate charter schools.

We believe that the heavy hand in favor of charter schools in "Race to the Top" is misplaced. Most of them do not do better than regular public schools, and many of them do worse. A recent study has shown that only 17 percent of charter schools produced higher academic gains than the traditional public schools and 37 percent did worse. The rest were about the same.

If charter schools are to become labs for new directions they should be required to serve English-language learners, students with disabilities, and very low income students. They should be held accountable for academic achievement the same way that our traditional public schools are. They should be financially sound and based on the same state standards as those proposed for traditional public schools.

Standardized Testing, Student Assessment, and Teacher Evaluation

We believe that the emphasis on standardized tests is misplaced and destructive. Multiple-choice tests in math and reading do not address the real goals of education. Teaching to the test not only narrows the curriculum but also tends to destroy any love of learning. When tests drive the curriculum, instruction suffers. It is not fair to teachers, students, and schools to have standardized test scores as the main determinant of teacher and school quality. It is not fair to base high stakes decisions on these test scores.

Anyone who has spent much time in the classroom will tell you that one day’s performance in not a valid indicator of a student’s mastery of his or her school year curriculum and growth. That is why educators use ongoing quizzes, tests, written assignments, and portfolios to determine how much a student is growing.

Not only are children’s performances on one standardized test not a valid measure of quality, but it is also unfair to determine things like compensation and dismissal based on these test scores. Such an approach will cause some teachers to fight for the easiest group of students to teach in order to maximize pay. This is just not a productive approach.

Making Progress in Closing the Achievement Gap

Any effort to close the achievement gap in our schools that does not address the conditions that children grow up in is doomed to failure. Schools can only do so much in the time that they work with students. Until this country closes the gaps in job opportunities with a livable wage, health care, and affordable housing, efforts for improvements in the schools will have limited success.

In addition, you can develop all the best tests in the world but if you don’t improve the conditions in the schools in which students and teachers operate in, the test scores will not improve either. As the famous farmer said, “Weighing my hog accurately doesn’t help it to grow heavier.”

Marty Hittelman is President of the California Federation of Teachers. The CFT represents faculty and other school employees in public and private schools and colleges, from early childhood through higher education.

I have taught for 6 years. I have never seen an article that told the truth like this article does. Amen. Amen and Amen.

Sure, teaching reforms OUGHT to be based on Research and Experience, but with ONE EXCEPTION that I am aware of, they haven't been.

Usually they are based on some wild-hair theory - some fad that has overtaken the educational establishment. Some educator;s PhD or Masters thesis that reads well, even though it is backed by no meaningful research (few educators even understand the process of scientific research - develop a hypothesis and test it statistically, and fewer still have the patience to do it). Many more just don't philosophically agree with it. The quality of teaching, they claim, can NEVER be measured objectively, but must depend on the subjective assessment of the teacher - that is the senior teacher, since the union insists on it.

Generally we just adopt these glitzy wild-hair notions that come out of the Claremont colleges or other 'centers' of education at face value - spend billions of dollars and eventually dump these for the next fad that comes along - while home-schooled kids win a disproportionate share of all the OBJECTIVE testing,

If you've been around long enough you've seen them.
The 'new' math - I' ve got two cousins who still can't make change - at least not in base ten - after that debacle.
The 'school without boundaries' -all classes taught in one large structure, ' like the old one room schoolhouse. That one died before my youngest went to school, but she still had to deal with the poor air circulation that came from having schools specifically built for that concept subdivided with interior walls that screwed up the original HVAC system.

The fact is, the only education establishment that I know that IS SCIENTIFICALLY based is that of the military services. Yes, the same guys that developed the STANINE testing sytem back in WWII - the same guys who take kids who can't even read the high school diploma they were given and a year later have these kids maintaining multi-million dollar aircraft and doing air traffic control duties more complex than those done by the FAA - these imperialist warmongers know not just HOW to do the research to see what works and doesn't work in teaching, but they actually DO a fine job of taking many of the people who the US educational system has failed, and helping them to perform to their true capabilities.

But the teachers unions have no interest in listening to these guys....