Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's the wrong goal, and it's wreaking havoc.

Again, a disclaimer. This is about K-12 education, not about education as it applies to colleges and universities.

In July of '08 I wrote about how a degree in education is about equivalent to a degree in conjuring. There is not a core body of knowledge that is included in all university teacher preparation programs, like there is for medicine, engineering, or even psychology.

There certainly could be. There certainly ought to be. But why does it not exist?

It's because the goal of K-12 public education isn't about how students learn. It's a conveyor belt designed to spit out a college-ready student at age 18.

While there are many things about learning that apply to this goal, the goal is really nearly impossible.

First, only about 70% of the population actually graduates from high school. Then, only about 32% of THESE are actually qualified to go to college. Perhaps more actually go to college, because colleges complain loudly about the amount of remedial work they have to do before their students can take college level courses. Google the question about how much of the general population actually graduates from college and you get a lot of nebulous answers. Many try college, fewer finish.

K-12 education is laid out on the industrial-manufacturing-conveyor-belt model. It should be on the customer service model. "What do you need? How can we help you?" But "college-ready by 18" is the tail wagging the dog.

So in education we poke and tweak and fall heir to the latest educational fads, trying to figure out why our model does not work. K-12 educators are required to get certified in all kinds of nonsense. The worst one while I was working on my MA-Ed degree was Howard Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. Gardner never meant it to be a model for educating, and I saw it implemented in stupid, ghastly ways based on zero research. It mostly became a reason for a student to not do his/her homework, as in "According to Multiple Intelligences, I'm no good at math, and you can't expect me to do this." A lot of garbage was written and a lot books were sold, and money was made, but now all that has given way to something else. Several times have we given way to something else. The central body of knowledge about education gets more and more nebulous.

How DO people learn? What do we intend to achieve by sending them all to school? When we actually have good answers to that question, when we stop trying to use 'education' to force a template on the student, when we stop trying to force the model onto the student, then we will be able to observe the student rather than the outcome. We'll have several models, a bigger toolbox filled with real tools rather than magic wands and spells that sometimes work and we don't know why.

But it won't be a teacher preparation program that distributes it. It will be people with skills who will want to learn how to teach them to others. Notice the order. You have skills first. Then you want to find out how to teach those skills.

Now about that disclaimer. Some of the BEST teacher preparation programs are found in grad schools who use graduate students to teach undergraduate classes in all kinds of subjects. Those grad students are given a crash course in how to design and manage a course, grade fairly, and deal with whiny students. Notice they are given a specific set of skills to impart to their students, then they become teachers, usually of students who want those skills. And that works much better.

In K-12 education, we think we need to make students want to learn. Perhaps we should re-examine that notion!