BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
Everybody is an education reformer, i.e. everybody has ideas on how to reform our schools. Those who know least about education tend to have the most radical ideas on education reform. Those who know the most about education, the ones in the trenches doing the work, also have their ideas for reform – but usually less radical. Politicians have ideas for change, normally the uninformed kind. Researchers and theorists in our universities have their ideas, too.
Long ago when this writer was studying and practicing education, or later teaching educators, counselors, and school psychologists, he learned that sound practice and productive change must be based upon research. That research comes from trial and analysis of new ideas under controlled conditions. Analysis needs to be mathematical and objective. This does not mean there is no room for empiricism, i.e. experience based knowledge or traditional practices, because these often have some scientific basis. But laboratory studies, controlled group studies, and controlled practical experimentation must not be neglected.
Basic learning psychology studies have much to offer. For instance, these can tell us much about ideas for the four-day week, 90-minute period, and organizational structure. For younger minds “massed learning” has been proven by research to be less efficient and less effective. Especially in complex subjects, such as mathematics and science, spaced learning with reviews has proven much more effective in laboratory and classroom research.
Why would we not look at such research before we play around with study periods, days, weeks, or with curriculum? Have our colleges and universities not passed along such knowledge in professional classes during the last couple of decades? Are school administrators and teachers ignoring what they were taught about the psychology of learning? Are lay boards ignoring the advice of professionals? Are there too many administrators and teachers functioning without proper professional education credentials?
Are our politicians, encouraged by their party and by some in the media, undertaking wholesale changes in our educational system, its structure, and its academic standards and requirements without consultation with knowledgeable professionals? Are we about to embark on changes without looking at research relevant to these decisions? Although we have an aversion to looking at practices elsewhere, especially internationally, we are nevertheless constantly comparing our student product and test scores. Should we not also look at their practices as well?
For instance, if we are comparing our high school graduates and scores with others internationally, should we not look at the selectivity taking place in some of those national systems? Holding to our ideals of open opportunity for all in high school, we may find unfavorable comparisons with systems which allow only the upper half to advance to that level. Is that a proper or fair comparison?
As long as we hold to the notion that every student is equally able to learn any and all subject content, we are creating ourselves an educational problem. Some might call this a dilemma. High schools harnessed with one type of graduation credential and one set of graduation requirements, essentially academic college preparatory courses, are indeed saddled with a dilemma. Teachers must decide if they are going to pass only the half who master the content, while failing the other half, or is it best to modify [water down] content and standards so that most can pass some of the basics? This is a dilemma.
There are some recent theorists who claim that anyone can learn anything if taught the right way and given sufficient time. These have done a disservice to schools, teachers, and especially to those pupils caught in the ignominy of frustrating and failing circumstances. Bright pupils are also deprived of the opportunity for rigorous learning experiences, properly preparing them for advanced study.
Learning research tells us that “one size fits all” is not right. There should be no single set of requirements foisted upon every student. Students should be allowed to have different life goals, and to choose different routes in school toward different credentials. School counselors know this, but it seems everyone else has forgotten. Parents often unwisely demand college prep for all.
Some educators may have forgotten what research has taught about education, or never learned about the profession. Perhaps we are not listening to knowledgeable professionals, or we are simply choosing to ignore the accumulated knowledge that could guide us in our efforts to improve our schools. This approach will lead only to change for the worse.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer