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April, 2016

  1. Textbooks No More — Bad news

    April 30, 2016 by Tunya

    Institutional Memory For Education Reformers Sadly Lacking

    This post on textbooks in schools, or the lack thereof, illustrates just how handicapping it is not to have informed discussions about education issues. Going back to previous discussions 6 years ago it’s interesting to note how valuable it is to have context and a wide-range of views expressed.

    The education system has its institutional memory to advance its positions. The teacher unions have institutional memory to advance their benefits and political agendas. Parents and public and taxpayers simply do not engage very effectively in public discourse because there is little by way of background on which to lean on for facts and figures and to advance reform. This is where Society for Quality Education, through its blog, has been so helpful. It provides both a forum for discussion and a backup archive from which to search for issues of the past. Long may we enjoy this excellent service!

    Now, to the matter at hand: textbooks.

    1 I do know that home educators are great at using textbooks — be they old, used (even ancient) textbooks for their studies. We do know that home educated students generally do very well in education whether it’s on standardized tests or college and university.

    2 In the commentary brought forward from 2010 this gem pops up from a post by TDSBNW on 06/07 — “Unfortunately, pseudo-science is the name of the game in education, and always has been.” So, even if the latest, best, and compelling research shows up that textbooks are definitely superior to the mish-mash now being used the question arises: Would the education system bow to evidence? This seems to be the continuing refrain informing current education debates and adding to the polarization — on one side we see parents and some reformers pressing for evidence-based standard procedures and on the other hand we see an education system steadfastly resistant to that position in favor of methods largely based on subjective beliefs, fads and politics versus hard facts. What will it take to shift to more objective standards?

    3 Of course, textbooks, by themselves are not the issue alone. It’s the credibility of the textbook that’s also important. Here is an oft-quoted story about Dr Suess:

    “That damned ‘Cat in the Hat’ . . . I did it for a textbook house and they sent me a word list. That was due to the Dewey revolt in the Twenties, in which they threw out phonic reading and went to word recognition . . . I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country . . . there were two hundred and twenty-three words to use in this book . . . I read the list three times and I almost went out of my head. I said, I’ll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme that’ll be the title of my book . . . I found ‘cat’ and ‘hat’ and I said, ‘The title will be ‘The Cat in the Hat.’”

    That dismaying experience with the whole-word, look-say, word recognition movement and his first “Cat” book (1957) was reported in 1981 in “Arizona” magazine. When Dr Seuss fully grasped the situation he then afterwards became known as a strong champion of phonics.

    The Internet just cannot replace textbooks as long as they’re credible and students can read !

    [To SQE 20160430]

  2. Crazy-making, brain-scrambling — intentional?

    April 19, 2016 by Tunya


    [There was a time when people started challenging the habit (technique) of educators to mystify.  Mystification was identified as an obstacle standing in the way of parents trying to understand what was going on in education.  And, a barrier to their meaningful participation in consultation and decision-making.  There was an inkling of understanding.  Nonetheless, parents still continue to be mystified, and driven "crazy" by ongoing system-led changes to education.  To stretch the concern further, here is my theory — this confusion is a deliberate way not only to keep parents at bay and out of the picture while "transformation" of education proceeds but is also a means, via "discovery" methods and other confusing means, to weaken the foundation of early "primary" and "elementary" education altogether rather than to ensure it's strength? This goes back over a 100 years when John Dewey enunciated, and started the slide down the rabbit-hole, as he proclaimed that foundation-building of skills in primary education was a "fetish", a "perversion" — that is, a fixation and not a necessary building block of learning?     My comment to SQE about a government sanctioned communiqué to parents about reading in Ontario — Bats in their Belfries ]

    Crazy-Making Education Reform

    Yet another education absurdity is brought forward for our attention — avoiding letter-sound rules in the teaching of beginning reading.

    The flyer — The Facts on Education: How Children Learn to Read – — is such a mish-mash ! People who know the field rather well find a number of inconsistencies, omissions and ambiguities, which, if followed, would be rather counterproductive to teaching youngsters to read. This flyer was broadcast widely in Ontario public school systems and especially targeted for parent-teacher connections.

    The flyer is obviously a public relations product — designed probably for well-meaning purposes but hardly of a standard a reading teacher or committed parent would find helpful. One such expert has concluded that the authors of the flyer have “bats in their belfries” and “clearly don’t have a clue”.

    What is troubling in the flyer is that we are led to believe that any of a number of “different ways” can be used to teach reading. Today, however, we do know a lot more about successful methods and discredited methods. Research literature clearly shows that a phonics approach can be highly successful in teaching reading, to both boys and girls and to special needs children. This is not the achievement level attained by the other major approach, the whole-language approach, which figures indicate somewhere around 60% functional literacy level.

    What is even more disturbing is what I heard at a Comparative Education conference March 10 this year. There is to be in the next few years a massive world campaign to promote teaching of reading to children in developing countries. The work has been done — needs assessment tools have been field-tested — protocols for community involvement have been mapped out, etc. What remains is for the Ministries of Education of the developing nations to then adopt the methods for implementing the reading programs.

    BUT, the literature involved already foresees a problem — “The reading ‘wars’ are alive and well in many low-income countries, often miring ministries of education and teaching centers in seemingly endless debates between the ‘whole-language’ and ‘phonics-based’ approaches.” (pg 11 of 1st edition , 2009, EGRA toolkit. The 2nd edition, 2016, does not have that sentence. Nonetheless, when I talked to some people they said it was always a policy to be set by a Ministry of Education as to which method(s) were to be chosen.)

    The point I am aiming at is this — upon knowing the difference between highly successful teaching methods and less stellar methods how ethical is it to promote, or even keep talk, talking, about those methods which have poor yields and also, at the same time, spin-off secondary industries in remediation — both at school levels and college levels?

    There is some other agenda at play here. Is it political? Is it related to ensuring safe jobs for the industry? This quandary is certainly maddening and absolutely a cause for considerable frustration for parents.

    I have been involved for over 45 years in this effort to get more parent/consumer satisfaction from our education systems, and truly, the deafness to, and sabotage of, successful methods is painful to bear. It certainly is enough to make one think twice about trying to reform an unresponsive education system, which seems to exploit opportunities more for self interest than for clients. The matter of ethics and conscience are raised. Accountability is definitely missing in the equation between client and producer sides in public education.

  3. Education scam – funding discredited programs

    April 12, 2016 by Tunya

    None Dare Call It Scam — The Money Wasted In The Education Industry

    Scam, ripoff, swindle, fraud, corruption — whatever — we (gullible, naïve, hoodwinked public) are being taken for a ride. Do you suppose if I called the additional $60 million Ontario has just dedicated to the discredited “discovery” Math approach a scam I might be sued ?

    Let’s look at this another way. Maybe it’s not a scam at all. Maybe it’s MISSION ACCOMPLISHED ! What if the poor Math achievement scores are INTENDED, and this $60 M is just to make sure NO CHILD IS LEFT BEHIND. Each child MUST come to the solution that 2 + 2 = 5, AND SHOW YOUR WORK !

    This is not so far-fetched!

    Just this week in the US and going the rounds is an incredible expose that is either true statistical research or pure prank and hyperbole (or something in between). There are some very serious people whom I trust who are taking this thoughtfully (Thomas Sowell, Will Fitzhugh . . .). This site is mostly about finance and trading and while some readers find the style conspiratorial others find it rather “sophisticated”. I’ll pull out some quotes that are credible and I do this in support of my above statements about Math and my view that outcomes and future projected even poorer Math outcomes may very well be intentional. This is about Reading but relevant to our Math discussion here.

    “Department Of Education—Our Work Here Is Done

    “Sources: National Institute for Literacy, National Center for Adult Literacy, The Literacy Company, U.S. Census Bureau.

    “- Illiteracy has become such a serious problem in our country that 44 million adults are now unable to read a simple story to their children.

    “- 3 out of 4 people on welfare can’t read.

    “- 50% of the unemployed between the ages of 16 and 21 cannot read well enough to be considered functionally literate.

    “- 3 out of 5 people in American prisons can’t read.

    “- To determine how many prison beds will be needed in future years, some states actually base part of their projection on how well current elementary students are performing on reading tests.

    “All that’s needed now is a “Mission Accomplished” banner and this is yet another perfect example of the failure of government intervention.”

    [posted on SQE re Math, and ECC, a listserve]


  4. child abuse via schools — many angles

    April 4, 2016 by Tunya


    “Child Abuse” And Schooling Is An Urgent Matter

    When I was in Teachers College (Ottawa), ’70-’71, practically the first thing we were cautioned about was not to exploit the students. This was equivalent to the dictum for doctors to “At least do no harm”.

    Though I never taught in a classroom I have ever since been struck by the humbling experience it is to be a teacher.

    Our current division in approaches to teaching arises mainly from the monopoly nature and compulsory attendance feature of current public schools. People generally act as if there should be one-best-way and it’s THEIR way or the Highway!

    Unfortunately, the biggest split is between those who favor pedagogically supported methods and those who have an ideological worldview. The “basics” or teacher-centered approach does differ significantly from the child-centered approach, which in the literature is sometimes dubbed as working for “emancipatory social change.”

    At this moment (as I have to run over asap and lengthen trousers for growing grand teens) I will provide only quotes on this topic (BTW, I’m on the teacher-centered side) from “The Conspiracy of Ignorance”, Gross, 1999”. The quotes are about Reading, which along with Math, is a hotly contested education issue:

    Ken Goodman, a prominent leader in a new reading program in the 80s says:
    “Whole language classrooms liberate pupils to try new things, to invent spellings, to experiment with a new genre, to guess at meanings in their spellings, or to read and write imperfectly. In whole language classrooms risk-taking is not simply tolerated, it is celebrated.”

    William Honig, superintendent in California says:
    “Whole language swept the nation . . . it pushed out phonics and substituted the new system . . . It became the gospel in education colleges . . . many school districts . . . The results as shown by the NAEP reading results . . . were catastrophic. The whole language experiment was interesting, but as we found out, the theory is dead wrong.” (pg 78-79)

    Pedagogic research finds whole language wanting, yet to this day it persists across education systems in the Western world. Similar concerns are now being expressed concerning Math.

    Why does the education establishment favor and cling to discredited methods? How can this malpractice be allowed to continue? Is this not “child abuse” of the highest order ?

    [ posted Apr 04, ’16 to SQE — topic: Child Abuse? ]

  5. When will teachers learn?

    April 2, 2016 by Tunya

    Which Other Professional Besides A Teacher Would Say That?

    Only in education would you hear someone say — “Teaching is such that it takes a lifetime to get good at it and then you retire.” John Myers, Professor, on Educhatter blog, Mar 26, 2016

    No doctor, engineer or accountant would say that ! Nor, would they be allowed to remain in their profession for long! To use your clientele and your field continually as subjects of experimentation and a playpen for your own learning is really upsetting and disturbing. Is this a responsible profession or a “disabling” one as Ivan Illich used to say and write about ? Why do we have to appeal to a Daniel Willingham to sort this out — aren’t there professional and ethical standards in education?

    It’s only in education that there is some kind of accepted (or is it somehow intimidated) tolerance that educators can have so many excuses to avoid proven standard practices. “Methods” is a bad word to use in conversations with teachers — “Don’t tell me how to teach. I don’t tell my doctor how to take out my appendix.” — is a frequent (or variant) reply when a parent dares mention “methods”.

    Where we’re at right now is very much where we were 45 years ago when I tried to get parent voice more heard. There actually was a much greater awareness then and a good number of groups supporting the parent voice. Unfortunately and regrettably, not so much now. All I was able to accomplish was to play a role in the launching of the home education movement —

    Discredited and questionable practices and developmentally inappropriate expectations of the young are still practiced and parent qualms are still dismissed. And parents are still stuck with few choices or exits or any sympathetic listeners in the defensive system.

    Both Reading and Math are considered foundational skills that the young student should start mastering at an early stage. Where are we at with these two? Math is a continual worry and news articles continue to expose the issues.

    Regarding Reading there is a worry of colossal scale! At an international conference on comparative education held in Vancouver recently (CIES, Mar 6-10,’16) at one of the sessions it was announced that after considerable testing an initiative would soon be launched by UN and other agencies to help developing countries with reading programs. BUT, within the literature there lurks one sentence that dooms the enterprise:

    “The reading “wars” are alive and well in many low-income countries, often miring ministries of education and teaching centers in seemingly endless debates between the “whole-language” and “phonics-based” approaches.” (pg 4 Early Grade Reading Assessment Toolkit)

    What should be done? Those poor families will not be getting the best information or practices to help their children to read as promised.

    [Most of the above is also posted to Educhatter blog ]