Friday, June 20, 2014

Education Improvement Myths that Need to Die

Do you read Edutopia? I love that George Luca's educational foundation looks for evidence-based interventions and works hard to spread those ideas around. A couple of weeks ago, Mark Phillips published a review of 50 Myths that Threaten America's Public Schools. Phillips highlighted the eight myths that he thinks are most damaging, but he didn't link to the relevant research.

I hope every policy reads the book, but for those of you with a little less time to devote to ed policy reading, I thought I'd share some of the compelling work out there that shows maybe we're not focusing on the interventions that will help the most disadvantaged students.

Myth #1 - Teachers are the most important factor in student learning. Socioeconomic status and parents' education level actually play much bigger roles in student learning.

Myth #2 - Homework boosts student achievement. Research on homework actually tends to be pretty mixed. This coming year, I'm going to try to give students homework designed to help them develop a personal reading practice. I'm interested to see how that goes.

Myth #3 - Class size does not matter. This myth really gets me as I've seen my caseload increase year after year. This increase diminishes my ability to differentiate, and class size could also have an effect on students' wage potential.

Myth #4 - A successful program works everywhere. I think we've seen this not work in nearly every charter model that has yet to be brought to scale. Humans are a difficult variable to control.

Myth #5 - Zero tolerance policies are making schools safer. Researchers have been finding for a long time that automatic suspensions or expulsions don't do much to make schools safer. They also do plenty to increase socioeconomic and racial achievement gaps.

Myth #6 - Money doesn't matter. This did get linked in the Edutopia piece and you should watch it. And read pretty much everything by Linda Darling-Hammond you can find.

Myth #7 - College admissions are meritocratic. Inside Higher Ed found differently when they surveyed college admissions directors in 2011.

Myth #8 - Merit pay for teachers works. Research in both Tennessee and New York City suggests paying teachers to improve students' test taking skills rather than focus on authentic learning have done little to improve either.

Of course, a lot of these studies are based on what a mentor teacher of mine calls the "McDonald's of testing" -- standardized tests that are cheap, quick, and not healthy at all. I'm still trying to figure out how we can get divisions and states to adopt learning measures that are more useful and statistically less noisy. But that's a post for another day.