Sunday, October 30, 2005

What Every Ed Student Should Know

The below piece was sent to us by our friend Kevin Killion at Illinois Loop. org. He received this from a teacher friend. This was the note attached. "I thought you might enjoy this article below. This letter to ed school students was written by Martin Kozloff (, an independent thinking professor who is the Watson Distinguished Professor in the education department at the University of North Carolina. " Our education system would be amazing if all teachers took this message to heart.

What Every Ed Student Should Know

March 23rd 2005

Dear Education Student,
I've never met you but I know you.

You are bright.

You are energetic.

You like kids.

You want to do good by kids.

I salute you for that.
You deserve to know the story-to know what the deal is. Therefore, at the risk of being presumptuous and paternalistic (after all, you haven't asked for my opinion), I'm going to give you some advice.

And here it is!

1. Most of what education professors tell you is totally useless.
It has nothing to do with any of the REAL tasks of teaching -- such as communicating information to your students and checking to see if they get it (which is the CORE of teaching).

It has never been tested and shown to be valid, true, reliable, or useful. It fact, most of what education professors tell you is wrong, false, and pure baloney. It is superficial. You'll be told a few things that Piaget believed. It will add up to nothing. You'll be told to adapt instruction to your students' "learning styles," but no one will tell you exactly how to do this. [Besides, there's really no such thing as learning styles, anyway.]

2. Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. Don't be taken in by nice-sounding words.

"Best practice." Oh, yeah? Who says?

"Authentic." What on earth does that mean?

"Developmentally appropriate." Are all kids the same?

"Reflection." How is that different from thinking about something?

"Child centered." What else?

"Multiple intelligence." How is that different from skills?

"Learning styles." Does not exist.

"Portfolio assessment." Look at junk in a kid's scrapbook.

"Brain-based." Is there some other organ involved? Real brain scientists think "brain based learning" is just a stupid fad. Do you think education professors know ANYthing about the brain? Would you take their advice on medication?

These words sound good but they are logically absurd (i.e., stupid) and there is almost no research to support them. They will be NO help to you in the classroom. In fact, they will confuse you and take time away from designing CLEAR instruction that is to the POINT. There you are standing in front of your kids. Your objective is to teach them the strategy for decoding words (sounding out words and then saying them fast) -- regular words (such as ran, slim, ask) and irregular words (such as the, was, said). If kids don't learn to decode words accurately and quickly, they will not learn to read connected text accurately and quickly, and therefore they will not comprehend what they read, and therefore they will spend their lives being ignorant.

How will "learning style," "child centered," "holistic," "authentic," and "Piaget said!" help you now?

They won't. Not one bit. So, drop it. Delete it from your memory. Forget it.

Teaching is a technical game. A logical game. All you have to do is demonstrate the strategy for decoding words clearly and explicitly (showing students exactly HOW), using a range of examples of words that they will soon have to read.
Boys and girls, I'll show you how to read this word (point
to "slip") the slow way. When I touch under a letter I will
say the sound. Get ready. Here I go.

Watch again.

Do it with me.

Your turn.
Excellent for reading that word the slow way.

Was Piaget a lot of help there?
In other words, if you present information in a logically clear way, you don't need ANYthing else.

3. Be skeptical. In fact, have an "attitude." Ask hard questions. After all, you're paying for this education.

"What exactly does 'authentic' mean?"

"What research shows what is best?"

"What experiment pits so called developmentally appropriate practices against so-called developmentally inappropriate practices?"

Most education professors will turn red when you ask these questions. They won't have good answers. They'll just repeat themselves.

"Best practices are practices that (work best, are child-centered, are effective)." Gee, that's REAL helpful.

"Is there any research? Oh, yes. Lots of research. Lots. A whole lot." Oh, good.

If that's how your physician answered questions would you stay or would you run?

4. Education is a moral enterprise. We do NOT have the right or the public mandate to experiment with (other people's) children or to play with "ideas" by using (or by teaching ed students to use) untested methods and curricula.

In any other field, using methods that have not been thoroughly field tested and shown to be reliably effective would be considered malpractice and perhaps criminal. Corporations spend more time and money testing if a new shampoo will really give you "lustrous and vibrant hair" (and not make you bald) than education professors spend on whole methods for teaching reading or math to millions of children. Yet, they will tell you -- with great confidence -- to use these methods.

How do YOU spell immoral?
Remember. It's YOU in front of those kids! Your professors are back in their offices. If your kids don't learn to read or do math, even though you did what your education professors told you, it will be YOU that is considered responsible. No one will be going after them.

The arrow of accountability -> You

Yes, you!

5. As in medicine, architecture, structural engineering, and food science, the only morally acceptable guide to action is research. Not personal opinion. Not personal preference or style. Not "philosophy." And certainly not what a lot of other people [who just might be morons] think is right.

Has a new curriculum been field tested with thousands of kids before it is sold? [If not, run!]
What does the preponderance of scientific research-experimental research (with control groups, longitudinal, quantitative data)-say about a method, an assessment instrument, or a curriculum? If you can't find a ton of serious research on it, then RUN!

Don't be sucked in by qualitative research (e.g., case studies of one classroom, interviews with teachers or students, field notes). This kind of information is too subjective and unreliable. For example, there is NO experimental research showing that teachers make better decisions about how to improve instruction when teachers assess kids' portfolios than when teachers use standardized tests to see what kids have learned. So how come education professors want you to use portfolio assessment?

Would you give your own children medication that had not been tested scientifically? Would you use medication that is supported only by testimonials?
"I used Dr. Bingbong's Herbal Rejuvenator. Now I have LOTS of energy. Of course all my teeth fell out and I can't hear. Hello? Hello?"

6. We are not social revolutionaries or even social reformers. No one asked us to do anything but teach. We will not produce greater equity in the life chances of disadvantaged minorities by having ed students mouth platitudes about diversity or student centered instruction. We can only try to teach all kids well.
So, when education professors try to enlist you in THEIR great cause (social justice, equality, stamping out racism, reforming American social institutions), ask yourself,
"Who IS this person? Where does THIS person get off thinking that changing society is HIS job? Would I even let this person baby-sit my little brother? Besides, look at how this guy dresses! Where does he get those clothes? A dumpster?"

7. Teaching well is not an art. It is not about teachers' creativity. It is a technical game -- like surgery, architecture, engineering, and even cooking. Just as perfection in dance, music, archery, sky diving, martial arts, sports, and creative writing are FIRST technical. There is a way (a routine-a set of steps governed by rules) that produces good results (balance, speed, strength, grace, hitting the target-i.e., accomplishing the objectives). Your job is to learn those ways. The time for creativity is thinking how to expand or enhance instruction. Once you have taught students figures of speech, symbolism, rhyme and meter, how might they APPLY this? Now be creative.

8. We know enough about the technology (how to) for teaching reading, writing, spelling, math, foreign languages, history, logic, science, and many other subjects, so that instruction can be relatively straightforward and routine for most students, and can even be in commercial curricula. Creativity is reserved for nonroutine situations and problems.

So, don't be a dope. Use commercial, tested programs to teach the core skills in the major subjects. Or, you can spend hours every day and all weekend preparing lessons!

Here are your real friends:

Sopris West

Curriculum Associates

SRA McGraw-Hill

Core Knowledge

Singapore Math
Websites used by homeschoolers. They have done the research
on good programs for you.

"Teach Your Child in 100 Easy Lessons " at You can teach almost any kid to
read using this book -- for 20 dollars.

"Designing effective mathematics instruction" by Marcy Stein.
All the lessons are there.

And there are lots of resources at
Professor Plum may be a little strange but he's not always wrong.


Cal Skinner said...

Fascinating. Thanks for posting it.

val miller said...

I was surfing for "brain-based or brainwashing?" when I discovered your post. I am in the middle of an intense brain-based education course that uses a lot of your aforementioned jargon.

I needed a sanity check - thanks and keep up the good work!