Tuesday, December 02, 2014

The public school train that lays its own track

The boiler-plate public school establishment explanation of why public schools don't do a better job of educating students (this is when they are not denying that they are doing a bad job of it) is that they don't have enough money.

Tom Shelton, former Superintendent of Fayette County Schools, is now the director of the Kentucky Association of School Superintendents. He left the district as it was under a cloud of financial irregularities. He presses the default button once again, saying, "We must advocate at the state level for better funding of our classrooms throughout Kentucky."

Right. I thought of this this morning when I read that the L.A. Unified school district is adopting an online history program from Stanford University. The district is adopting the program, which has an actual curriculum with lesson plans, because most of its students are historically illiterate.

Now I have several thoughts here, the first of which is to wonder why a school district with teachers who are certified as educational professionals can't competently teach history without having to pay a university for outside help.

And the answer, I think, is that education classes that teachers have to take to be certified are generally worthless and should be almost completely eliminated in favor of classes that teach the content and unique principles of whatever discipline the teacher is going to be teaching.

The second thought is something that has occurred to me several times over the last several months as I talk to teachers about Common Core, which is to wonder why teachers don't already have a curriculum they can use to teach history and lesson plans (or at least lesson plans that work). Schools spend billions of dollars every year not only employing curriculum specialists (in some cases whole curriculum departments) and buying expensive, flashy curricula from curriculum companies which you would expect would guide teachers to teach what they need to teach.

Things like history.

What is so bad about the regular educational options available to the L.A. district that they would have to bail out and go straight to a university for help?

If you listen to teachers in the public schools, what they tell you is, first, that in many subjects they don't have a curriculum. There is simply no coherent scope and sequence in many subjects which they are expected to teach. In fact the expression "scope and sequence" is apparently baneful to the certified teacher's ear.

In addition, even when they have a book that covers the subject, they have to write their own lesson plans. Talk to your friendly neighborhood teacher and ask her what she spends most of her time doing outside of actually directing a classroom and she will tell you that she spends most of her time doing lesson plans.

Now I have noticed this before, but Common Core has apparently worsened it because, after all, it is Common Core and it is new so we have to look like we're doing things differently and if we're doing things differently that means we need new lesson plans. But this seemed to be the case even before Common Core came down the road.

Why do teachers in 2014 need to spend so much time doing lesson planning? Why does every teacher have to re-invent the wheel every year in a subject they presumably have taught before--in some cases many times before? What the heck are all those people in the curriculum department doing anyway if they are not finding these teachers a curriculum with lesson plans or writing them themselves so teacher don't have to do them?

Just imagine if our rail system in this country was composed of trains which (like the train at one 19th century world's fair) laid their own tracks. Not only would very few things ever get where they were supposed to go, but the landscape would be one big mess.

I run an association of classical schools. We offer educational resources, teacher training, and accreditation services. If I went on an accreditation visit and a school had its teachers writing their own lesson plans, not only would the first question I asked be why in the world it doesn't have a curriculum with pre-done lesson plans, but I would recommend against accrediting it.

There is no reason, after educating children for over two millennia, that any school should still be playing a constant guessing game about what it teaches to students every year or for any teacher to have be constantly writing new lesson plans.

This just goes to show that not only do children not benefit from history because they don't know it, but that our education system itself has so disconnected itself from the hundreds of years of teaching and learning that have gone before that it has to constantly reinvent itself.

We teach history so that we can learn from the past. But in order to teach history at all we have to have learned from our educational past—something schools clearly have not done.

Until they do, none of them should be asking for more money.

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