Simple truths too often ignored

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Contrary to popular belief, very few teachers are sitting around scratching themselves. They are mostly teaching as hard and as fast as they can. Many are working nights, days and week-ends to pull their students test scores up.

Consequently, if we abruptly decide to raise score expectations, then we must realize that the classroom teacher may be unable to deliver those improvements without extra support. That support might be morning or afternoon tutoring. That support can even be delivered by outside tutoring companies. But without that extra academic time and support, those scores will not hike upward as demanded.

When you can’t work harder, or much harder, you have to work “smarter.” However, many teachers are working as intelligently as they can. “Work smarter” may make a good sound bite, but the idea that some secret teaching techniques exist that somehow we all missed — well, even if that were true, the amount of improvement our secret techniques could deliver will probably not create sudden, rapid spurts up the learning scale.

The idea that a secret cure in the form of a new teaching technique will somehow fill in years of academic gaps is supported mostly by wishful thinking. In fact, the idea that teachers can somehow work “smarter” may be an illusion and a dangerous one at that. Suddenly, for example, teachers discover they are all required to do think-pair-shares because the principal loves this technique. I had to do those think-pair-shares. I can tell readers they don’t work nearly as well in some classes as they do in others, and even represent a net loss of learning time in the wrong classes. If most my students are operating four grade levels below where they ought to be mathematically, having them teach each other yields dubious results at best. Yes, we can all teach smarter, but those smarter efforts may only be enough to affect scores at the margins.

Eduhonesty: If we truly desire to push those test score numbers higher in academically-challenged school districts, we need to stop looking for shortcuts or workarounds. Only longer school days and longer school years will deliver those numbers.

(Notice I am not talking about “learning” here. I think learning has become the loser in this testing mania. I don’t believe that learning and test score numbers are as highly correlated as some administrators and bureaucrats seem to believe, so I can’t substitute in the word “learning” for “test scores” above. The one word does not represent the other. In some cases, I think learning has been actively discouraged by America’s testing focus. But that’s another post.)