Monday, August 07, 2006

So who knows more? 

Teachers? Or professors of schools of education? Jay Mathews explains:
Jason Kamras, the 2005 National Teacher of the Year, made regular visits to his students' homes in Southeast Washington, showing up unannounced if he couldn't reach a parent by phone. Rafe Esquith, a Disney national teacher of the year, developed a system for his low-income Los Angeles fifth-graders that pays them virtual dollars based on their work. Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, award-winning creators of the Know-ledge Is Power Program (KIPP) for low-income fifth- through eighth-graders, require students to call their teachers' cellphones after school if they have questions about homework.

These practical, if unorthodox, teaching methods have helped produce some of the largest achievement gains in the country. Yet none was learned at an education school. Kamras, Esquith, Levin and Feinberg say their ed school classes primarily taught theory, and they had to develop their most powerful methods through trial and error or watching other teachers.

...the few ed school people I heard from seemed unfamiliar with many of the strategies, and more than once I was told that teaching methods in the curriculum must be confirmed by research. The problem is that education research is often so vague, impractical and controversial that it isn't much help to a new teacher.

The most forthcoming of my ed school correspondents, a professor at a leading university, approved in general of collecting home numbers and lengthening, with care, the school day. He knew much about the research on increasing time for effective learning. But the same professor said he did not like most of the other suggestions from expert teachers. "No one wants someone just showing up at their home unannounced," he said. "Teachers must treat parents with respect."

He advised against requiring students to call teachers after school. "Teachers usually have class preparation and grading to do at home," he said. "Students should contact their teachers via Blackboard [a Web site] or e-mail." He also opposed Kamras's selective homework marking: "Teachers should be willing and able to grade all homework. If they are not, then they should not assign so much homework."
I completely disagree with the ed prof on that one. I can (and have a couple of times) announce in class in advance "I will assign X homeworks for you to do. Of those, I will collect Y (< X) for grading. You don't know what Y is, only I do." It works, just like the sign "Trespassers shot on sight two days a week; you guess the days" works to keep hunters off one's property. It frees up time to prepare lectures or go sit in some committee meeting while providing appropriate motivation to students.

I don't deal with parents as a university professor, but I can say that if a parent is not getting his or her child to do the homework, I'm not all that concerned about disturbing them at home. Were this a private school there would be a contract that specified whether teachers would contact parents at home or not. Why should public schools be different?

(h/t: Newmark's Door.)