Saturday, January 31, 2009

Ohio Chasing Kentucky Ed Fads

I must admit I was shocked to read today’s Kentucky Enquirer opinion piece, “A bid to remake Ohio schools.”

It's loaded with "stuff" like,

“An "evidence-based" approach to develop new teaching formats”

“Interdisciplinary "project-based" learning”

“Teaching to "foster creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving"

“Real-life skills”

Wow! It sounds so forward thinking – until you realize all of these ideas are two-decade old education fads that have been tried, without much real success, in Kentucky since 1990. It is sad that Ohioans are now so insular that they totally ignore what’s going on around them, right across their southern border.

Dropping Ohio’s graduation test, sort of an end-of-course exam, is ironic. Kentucky is debating changing from its current troubled CATS assessments – to end-of-course exams!

What Ohio’s situation really shows is the deplorable lack of decent education research to guide policymakers about what really does work in education. That problem has seen Kentucky chasing expensive education fads since 1990. Sadly, it now it looks like the same lack of data to support intelligent education choices is going to wreck havoc on the north side of the Ohio River.


Hempy said...

So, what's your problem with “An 'evidence-based' approach to develop new teaching formats”? What's wrong with collecting measurable data that can be evaluated for its statistical significance?

And, what's wrong with, “Interdisciplinary 'project-based' learning”? Do you think that every subject is an island unto itself?

Culture and foreign language studies go hand-in-hand. Geography, history and current events likewise go hand-in-hand.

Mathematics, economics, personal budgeting and "Real-life skills" go hand-in-hand.

And what's wrong with, “Teaching to 'foster creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving' "?

You have a problem with learning to think "outside the box"? Life doesn't exist within the narrow conservative paradigms of black and white, right and wrong, male and female; gay and straight. Everything cannot be reduced to a simple either-or proposition. We live in a world of both-and.

What's wrong with learning to recognize that the senses of intuition and humor are a part of the human sensory system just as much as are the five physical senses?

"Forward-thinking" is not a part of the conservative mindset.

Well did Franklin D. Roosevelt observe that "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward."

And well did Mark Twain comment: "The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them."

Richard Innes said...


I guess you didn’t catch it in the main blog item. We heard all those wonderful catchword ideas back when KERA got started in 1990. None of these things are new. Kentucky’s educators have struggled with all of them for nearly two decades. However, as KERA enters its 19th, very expensive year, there really isn’t much progress to show. Our ACT scores still lag the rest of the nation, our college remediation rates remain staggering and our NAEP proficiency rates show that, at best, maybe one out of three kids is on track to a decent education. So, Kentuckians have heard all of this from educators before. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to work very well, and it now costs more than we are going to be able to afford.

Regarding most of your posts examples, I have covered these issues before, but one bears repeating. When you talk about evidence-based learning, exactly what evidence do you have in mind? Most of the research in education isn’t of high enough caliber to provide real evidence.

I suggest you read Arthur Levine’s excellent “Educating School Teachers” and “Educating Researchers” (Google both titles with his name) if you really want to begin to understand this issue. As past president of Columbia Teachers College, Levine has enjoyed a unique opportunity to witness and understand the problems with education research.

We are getting a small amount of decent research today, but it isn’t adequate to cover everything, and many educators are in denial about scientific studies even when they are available. You see, those studies, such as the recent report from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, usually say that some things you would discard are what actually do work best for kids.

Ross the libertarian said...

What really works in education is allowing parents to have a choice. We should support vouchers and remove the mandate requiring parents to send their kids to public schools.

Privatization is the solution here - public schools give our children a unjustified trust and hope in our government.

Education should be treated like any other commodity, and handled by the free market. Imagine if schools didn't have to compete with the free education of public schools. Parents and students would be treated like customers, not subjects. Teachers that outperform others would be promoted, paid more, and otherwise rewarded for their success.

Free education would still be available via charity for the needy.

We need to have a little bit more faith in freedom, and back off of this idea that the government is the solution to all of our problems.

For a more in depth analysis of my position on this, please watch this brief clip:

Hempy said...

"Free market" is a contemporary term, which means nothing more than "divine right of…" to avoid accountability and responsibility--answerable and accountable to no one.

Hempy said...

By "evidence-based" I means "collecting measurable data that can be evaluated for its statistical significance."

I don't know how much clearer I could have made it than that.

In every discipline there is measurable data. After a given period of time, a student should be able to demonstrate the acquisition of a certain amount of information. That should be measurable and tested for its statistically significant at some pre-determined level, say, .05 level for example.

Another student is tested, and while he may not reach the same level as the first student, that student should be evaluated as to the degree of statistical difference, and to what degree is it statistically significant.

There are seven different levels of learning, and any testing should include measurable data of all these to evaluate to what degree a student can demonstrate the use of the learned data.

Student A, may be able to demonstrate recall mastery of certain types of data; whereas student B, may be able to demonstrate a creative use of such data.

Most of the discussion in this blog amounts to protagonists saying that because I like method A, it's to be preferred over method B.

It usually comes out in such statements that charter or private schools are better than public schools because their politics reflect my views.

Mark Pennington said...

Education does have more than its share of fads. Check out a brief history of spelling fads and trends at

Hempy said...

Interesting post, Mark. I generally agree that phonics is the preferred method for teaching reading. Although I'm not sure that "Hooked on Phonics" type programs are that effective.

Phonics is basically the learning the sequence of sounds in the direction in which they flow. It's helpful to write or type out those words to help reinforce learning. Too, learning to use them in a subject-matter context also aids learning. Another technique is to have students write questions instead of sentences. Questioning helps encourage thinking.

However, there is a place for "sight-learning", especially with those words that don't follow a sound-sequence pattern.

The Wide Range Achievement Test is an example of a reading test that's based largely on sight-based words, while ignoring the majority of English-language words that follow the sound-sequence pattern.

For pre-school children, many videos of children's songs tend to have a rhyme scheme that also prepares children for learning. Singing along with these songs helps facilitate learning to read.