Monday, December 6, 2010

Cathie Black, Bill Gates and the Ed Deformer Assault on Class Size

I didn't see the quote myself but there were reports that Cathie Black said that teacher quality was more important than class size. Of course that would be her position since disparaging class size as a factor is a basic belief of ed deform – not really a belief since ed deformers full well know about the impact of class size since they either went to schools themselves with low class sizes (Black, Gates) and/or send/sent their own kids to private schools with low class size.

But ed deformers must focus their attention on the teacher not the conditions in their assault on the profession and the unions.

The Dec. 4 edition of the NY Times had an article about how Bill Gates is funding new teacher evaluation projects supposedly intended to find the best teachers and practices, often by video taping lessons.

This really is a must read article because of what Gates won't fund as part of these studies.

First of all, a lesson doesn't exist outside of the results. My old principal Benjamin Bromberg who came up through the ranks of teaching used to say "Nothing learned, nothing taught." Thus, if you teach a lesson on the Pythagorean theorem you need some mechanism to see if the kids got it. And then a follow-up method of seeing if they still get it a week later, a month later and at the end of the year. And maybe next year too.

Second, can you place the blame solely on the teacher for those kids who do not get it? Did some not do any work at home to practice? What about the level of the kids coming in? What if a bunch had never learned or understood basic times tables? Can they really understand the theorem unless a good base has been laid?

And then comes the big enchilada - what is the impact on the lesson of the number of kids in the class?

So to do the full research, let's see the same teacher, same lesson, done in classes of widely varying class size with follow-ups to see which kids learned it and which didn't and the staying power of the lesson.

But Gates won't fund that as the results would show that the basis of the ed deform movement has no legs.

I know many excellent private school teachers who shudder at the thought of teaching in public schools and one of the main reasons are the high class sizes. Some think it is the kids they would have to teach that keep them away but they say they could teach anyone of the class size was reasonable.

I laughed at the idea of videotaping lessons since I was part of a similar project at PS 16 in my 3rd year of teaching - the spring of 1970. They set up a camera and videotape machine. The idea was that I would stay after school and watch the lesson with the idea of categorizing each question I asked the kids looking for the percentage of questions that just asked for facts vs those that made them think. It was time consuming but valuable. I wasn't uptight at them looking at my lessons - I trusted they wanted to help me be a better teacher. Not like today when they are interested in dumping people.

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