Thursday, April 14, 2011

Myth-Based Education Policy

GREGORY J. MARCHANT is a professor of educational psychology at 
Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.

Classroom teachers and education re- searchers continue to live in frustrating times, and not simply because of lack of funding. Just about everything that policy makers think they know about education is wrong. Here’s my “top 10” list of the most commonly cited myths about education that are driving policies today:

1. The Teacher Training Myth. Being an expert in a content area is not enough to be an expert teacher. A master teacher knows how to teach the content. Putting a computer programmer in a classroom as a teacher after a few weeks of education courses shortchanges the students and the teacher.
2. The Merit Pay Myth. Bad teachers don’t become good because of more pay, and good teachers are not in it for the money. However, more resources would help both. Besides, we have no simple, objective, fair way to evaluate teacher performance.
3. The Bad Teacher Myth. Most teachers are good and dedicated. However, we do lack controls for the few who aren’t, and there is a need for better professional guidance. Teachers need a professional association like lawyers and doctors have, not a labor union. Those associations need to establish standards and criteria for different levels of expertise in the teaching profession.
4. The Early Childhood Myth. It’s not that early childhood doesn’t matter; it is critical. However, lack of follow-through, especially at the transitions into middle and high school, is equally important. Without it, most progress made during the early years fades away.
5. The Money Myth. Doing more with less is a fantasy. Most profiteers who thought they could make money by running public schools have failed and abandoned their efforts. At this point, we get what we pay for in educating our children, especially our poor children. Poor schools need resources, not punishment for low performance.
6. The Time Myth. Time matters, both how much is available and how it is used. The school year is too short, with long breaks that run counter to student learning. Staff days for teachers and half-days for students should never count as full instructional days.
7. The Testing Myth. Standardized achievement tests provide a snapshot of a limited kind of learning that is very sensitive to the demographic background of students. When students’ test scores are averaged by teacher, school, or state, these aggregated scores reflect too much of the background of the students to be used to gauge the quality of instruction. If teachers reported student progress on education standards, rather than grades, costly testing could be greatly reduced.
8. The Myth of Grades. High school grades are good indicators of performance and, compared to the SAT, are as good as or better predictors of college success. However, letter grades and student honor roles at the elementary level should be considered malpractice. There need to be more efforts to increase intrinsic motivation and to develop standards- based report cards.
9. The Charter School Myth. Charter schools constitute outsourcing, not educational programs. Research suggests that some charters are better than the regular public schools; some are worse. Charter schools are not a way to improve education as much as they are a funding alternative. Real improvement comes from developing programs with goals and direction, not from simply letting someone else do it.
10. Achievement Gap Myth. Schools can’t fix the achievement gap alone, period. Schools can’t overcome the culture of failure firmly established in some homes and neighborhoods. Race and income have been interpreted as indicators of parent values. Eliminating most of the gap requires interventions in homes and communities.

The beliefs of the general public and policy makers tend to be shaped by the uncritical eye of the media, and myths and political agendas end up driving our education policy. For our children’s sake, we all must speak up to dispel the myths.       

Source: April 2011      Page 80.

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