TITLE: Heard at a Summit on K-12 Education AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: July 11, 2007 7:02 PM DESC: ----- BODY: As I 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:
  1. Education researchers talk a lot about students and teachers "talking about thinking" and "talking about learning".
  2. 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 course.
  3. "Context matters."
  4. "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.
  5. "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.
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 development). -----