TITLE: Heard at a Summit on K-12 Education
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: July 11, 2007 7:02 PM
mentioned last month,
the Board of Regents in my state has charged the public
universities with a major reform effort aimed primarily
at K-12 science and math education. My university, as
the state's old teachers' college, is leading the effort.
Today, we hosted a "summit" attended by researchers and
practitioners at all three public universities, folks
from other four-year colleges, K-12 science and math
teachers, legislators, representatives from the state
Department of Education, and many other folks. It was
a big crowd.
Here are some of the things I heard in my break-out
group of twelve:
I can see now why this problem is so hard to solve. We
can't specify our target very clearly, which makes it hard
to agree on what to do to solve it, or to know if we have.
There are so many different stakeholders with so many
different ideas at stake. It's pretty daunting. I can see
why some folks want to "start over" in the form of charter
schools that can implement a particular set of ideas relatively
free of the constraints of the education establishment and
various other institutional and personal agendas.
My initial thought is that the best way to start is to start
small. Pick a small target that you can measure, try an
idea, get feedback, and then improve. Each time you meet a
target, grow your ambitions by adding another "requirement"
to the system. Do all of this in close consultation with
parents and other "customers". This sounds "agile" in the
agile software sense, but in a way it's just the scientific
method at work. It will be slow, but it could make progress,
whereas trying to wrestle the whole beast to the ground at
once seems foolhardy and a waste of time. Starting from
scratch in a new school (greenfield development) also seems
a lot easier than working in an existing school (legacy
- Education researchers talk a lot about students and
teachers "talking about thinking" and "talking about
- The teachers on the front lines face many of the
same problems we face in the university, including
students who would rather spend their time at their
part-time jobs than doing homework in a challenging
- "Context matters."
- "How do we measure the quality of teaching?" Too
often the answer from the Establishment is that it's
a really hard problem to quantify, or that we can't
quantify it all. Unfortunately, when we can't
measure our "output" we are going to have a hard
time knowing when we have succeeded or failed.
- "You don't need to be a physicist to teach physics."
No, but you need to know some physics -- more and at
a deeper level than what you hope to teach. And you
need to be able to think like a physicist, and be able
to do a little physics when the situation calls for it.