Saturday, February 28, 2009

Different approaches to educational reform

Standards approach, Expert teacher approach and Fundamental restructure.

Standards approach. If we measure student output then government can demand that teachers improve those results. The thinking here is that by keeping teachers accountable then education will improve. It is hard for teachers to resist the seemingly very reasonable demand that they be accountable even if the way in which it is being measured is dubious. Standards tests measure who is good at standards tests. It is not clear beyond that what they do measure even although it is possible / probable that they do measure something else. It is this doubt and difficulty of refuting the claim that standards tests might measure something important that makes this approach appealing to those who want some "hard data" and clear benchmarks but who don't want to think too much about deeper educational issues.

Expert teacher approach. eg. John Hattie's analysis. An analysis of the education system reveals that teacher quality is the factor that is possible to change that would make the biggest difference. According to Hattie teacher quality accounts for 30% of learning improvement. This is not the biggest factor (what students bring to the table accounts for 50% of learning) but it is the biggest factor that is possible to change without major social upheaval. Teacher work can be analysed and the factors that distinguish expert teacher from experienced teacher can be identified and learnt. Wider questions to do with the nature of the system and the role of the individual are put to one side in the interests of getting on with the job of improving education.

Fundamental restructure. Periodically, great thinkers come forward with ideas about how to change education in more fundamental ways. For example, Jerome Bruner has written extensively about this and even introduced a radical curriculum reform called Man: A Course of Study in the USA in the 1970s. Several thinkers - for example Seymour Papert, Alan Kay and Andy diSessa (I'm currently reading his book, 'Changing Minds') - have put forward really interesting ideas about how to transform education using computers. Of course there are others and people argue about how significant they are. One important thing here is simply to identify that this group exists and cannot be ignored.

This is just a perspective or framing on different types of educational change, which could be rudely categorised as dumb reform, realistic reform and deep questioning. It's easy to lose sight of the big picture.

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