Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Expert Teachers, the #1 Reason Kids Succeed

Recently I've been reading some research that pertains to the effects on student achievement of pre-packaged programs and curriculum designs that are being sold to schools across the world. Program A claims to raise student achievement higher and faster than ever before, while Program B makes the same claims. Sometimes these programs do make positive gains on achievement (usually measured by standardized and/or norm referenced tests).

The first few years of my doctoral studies have been focused on looking deeper at the negative aspects of business models in schools, of pre-packaged programs (Success For All and DNG to name a few), and of what actually has the most profound impact on student learning in the long term. It's a hard thing to study, because as a teacher-researcher I've decried standardized testing as inherently unequal and inaccurate. Of course the current studies, some of the best I've ever read, agree with this, but go a few steps further.

To put it quite simply, these articles, that I won't name here yet, because that's not the point of my discussion here, claim that the single biggest factor on student learning is quality teaching. Of course, quality teaching is almost impossible to define because it means different things to different students.

This is something I've tried to keep in mind every day when I enter the classroom. There's 28 young kids in my classroom, and what works for him may not work for her and so on. In the current era of test reform, rigorous political factors, and money being put at a higher level of importance than kids, it's hard for teachers to ever reach the level of teaching students, they're so focused on teaching content and teaching tests that they are afraid that actually *gasp* teaching to their students needs will be seen as subversive. I can confirm this, in my short five-year career, I've focused on teaching students and have been considered quite the rebel because of this.

I hope to continue looking at and pegging down indicators of great teaching, and hopefully researching it more in depth some day. If we can define it, if we can prove that it serves the best interests of children and scores them proficient on those ridiculous standardized tests, there might be a compromise out there that actually hands the reins of education to teachers while keeping the politicians at bay.