Valerie Strauss in the Answer Sheet blog tells us of the "most powerful learning experience" Arne Duncan, the US Secretary of Education, shared with author and educator Sam Chaltain.
Arne Duncan's Learning Story
I grew up going to my mother’s afterschool tutoring program in a church basement on the South Side of Chicago. It is the best learning community I’ve ever been a part of and the best learning experience I’ve ever had. That is high praise because I have been lucky enough to attend extraordinary schools and to have great professional development and learning experiences as an adult.
My mother created a unique culture. Everyone was challenged to do their best, every single day. It was the ultimate in high expectations, both for individuals and the group as a whole. There were no short cuts or excuses. We did lots of things in teams and groups. These collaborations created positive peer pressure where we encouraged one another. Folks who were strong in one thing were helping ones who were weak in something else. We had a sense of camaraderie. We were all in it together.
Everybody was both teaching and learning. Ten-year-olds taught five-year-olds, and 15-year-olds taught 10-year-olds. At every stage, you were expected to continue to learn and improve, but you also were expected to help others. The older students took great ownership for how the younger children were doing. At a very young age, children felt like leaders, role models and teachers. It also had the benefit of helping students understand what they were learning because one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it or explain it to someone else.
In the learning environment, everyone was both a teacher and a learner. We were constantly pushing each other’s limits. There was no valid excuse for not working hard or for misbehaving. We had clear rewards for working hard, and there was a sense of teamwork and support across age groups. Finally, there were adults in students’ lives who would stay with them for the long haul. They were there day after day, week after week, year after year, through good times and bad.
Schools should combine all of those things: passionate, caring adults; teams of students learning together by helping each other and pushing each other; students constantly both learning from others and teaching others, and having the highest expectations for everyone. If every child had the chance to have that kind of learning environment, education in this country would reach an entirely different level. It would change students’ lives.
I wonder how much of child's learning experience effects his or her future outlook when an adult. Mr. Secretary does not mention any high stakes testing and gives no explanation what led students to have "the highest expectations for everyone." Obliquely, we are made to understand that Mr. Secretary does not believe that his experiences are common and thinks himself fortunate to grow up in such an outstanding learning environment. He does credit his mother with creating a "unique culture."
Paul Lockhart in his A Mathematician's Lament (p. 46) says that "... you can't teach teaching. Schools of education are a complete crock" and that one must be born to be an effective teacher.
Lockhart's view jibes well with a 5-year study conducted by the RAND Corporation in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The study has been reported by Anthony Rebora at the Teachers Magazine, Will the Real Effective Teacher Please Stand Up?
The study, which examined data from the Los Angeles Unified School District over a five year period, found that there was little correlation between teacher effectiveness (as measured by student test-score progress) and any particular qualifications or credentials. That includes years of experience, education level attained, or licensure test scores. Even initially failing a licensure exam showed no "statistically significant link" to a teacher's future effectiveness.
All the aforementioned links came from Jerry Becker's mailing list. Becker subsequently reported a response from Robin Polletta:
Okay, so what is teacher effectiveness?
I just spent 3 hours grading short research reports that my 6th graders had to write. I started the project over 5 weeks ago with a letter home outlining what the report's requirements were and had a tear-off form for parents to sign and the students return; posted the report on the website, did mini-lessons on topic selection, organizing information and using it in the student's own "voice," how to compose a title page, bibliography, how to organize the body of the report, how to compose an interesting lead and conclusion, and did this with collaboration of the computer teacher who gave the students research time, the science teacher who gave them time to work on gathering information and the Media Center.
50% of my students turned in a report.
So am I not effective? Or is it my students who don't care? (They will go on to the next grade next year regardless of failing to do their class work or homework.)
How do we measure student effectiveness or accountability?