Monday, April 20, 2009

Why CEOs Shouldn't Run Education.

It almost pains me now to read interviews from Arne Duncan.  Seriously, I cringe at generally somewhere around the second sentence.  If not earlier.

So not all that surprising from the latest.  But one part jumped out at me in particular.
In response to the question, "Regular folks don't get the distinction between certified teachers and  qualified teachers - why the teachers' union wouldn't let Einstein teach physics to high school students because he wasn't certified," Duncan responded, "Isn't all that matters that our children learn?  That teachers give students knowledge?[emphasis mine]"

A couple of things that made my blood boil here.  One, the question is a total red herring.  (For many reasons.)  Two, the answer reflects a complete lack of understanding about how children learn and what makes a great [i.e. "qualified"] teacher.  As it happens, I just finished reading a study, Effects of Teachers' Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching on Student Achievement from Hill, Rowan & Ball that shows that the most significant predictor of student achievement isn't teacher's knowledge of mathematical content, but their knowledge of the pedagogy of teaching math - as they put it, "mathematical knowledge for teaching."  In other words, we have to know not just what we're going to teach, but how to do it.  

Which brings me to my next point.  "...teachers give students knowledge..."  Mr. Duncan.  Tabula Rasa is so 17th century.

Perhaps it's not all that surprising that Duncan likens education to Pavlovian experiments.  Students = Dogs?  Sure.  Why not.


  1. I've known some brilliant scientists as well as atists who have a difficult time explaining basic concepts within their discipline in an easily intelligible way. I would love to have a film record of Einstein teaching a high school physics class. I taught some college art classes with no background/certification in teaching. The experience was largely frustrating for me, with the class composition breaking down into 'thirds', (from my perspective). One third seemed highly motivated, and were a delight to teach. One third were not motivated at all, and I was tempted to staple an application for employment at McDonalds to their evaluations. The other third fell somewhere between the other two. A good teacher, with the knowledge of 'how to teach' probably would have done better than I in motivating that middle and bottom 2/3 of the class.

  2. Duncan says, "I think the school day is too short, the school week is too short and the school year is too short."

    Ok. That's it. I don't need to read anymore. Kill him. Kindly, of course, but death IS required.

  3. LOL Miguel. A good point though - it's a constant challenge to meet the needs of a class where the spectrum of learners is HUGE. That first third? They're the easy ones. ;) (And sometimes, because of that, they get lost in the cracks - without being challenged.)

    And Q - Yes. I had to put the interview down the first time I picked it up after I got through that sentence. Unfortunately, it's one he's been repeating. Over and over again. He had it up to 7 days a week at one point. Ha.

    I actually had a discussion in the third grade class I'm in now about this - the longer school year. We were talking about writing op-eds and exploring the pros and cons of an issue in order to have an informed opinion. (Something I'd like to see more adults doing.) The stuff they came up with was brilliant. I'll write up a post about it soon. But I went into it expecting them all to say, "Hell no! We won't go!"

    They surprised me. As they often do.