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Bruno: Not Everybody Is An Education Expert

397080364_0b8225f5b6_nCritics of test-based education reform were pretty excited last week when a group of literary legends released an open letter - organized by FairTest - encouraging the Obama administration to scale back current standardized testing regimes.

It's natural enough to enjoy celebrity endorsements of one's favorite causes, but it's always a little surprising to see educators implicitly diminish the value of actual educational expertise by celebrating the input of non-experts.

Maya Angelou and Judy Blume write terrific books, but what, exactly, makes them authorities on matters of education or education policy?

In other contexts, reform critics will happily admonish reformers for their lack of relevant education knowledge or experience. Most reformers, however, are demonstrably more expert on educational issues than the signatories of this letter.

It may very well be that using Obama supporter Angelou to set up a "gotcha" for the President will give reformers a short-term public relations win. The subtler signal being sent - that educational expertise is neither rare or difficult to acquire - nevertheless undermines the long-term viability of any education movement that aspires to authority.

There are plenty of reputable individuals and groups that possess actual expertise in the relevant areas who are capable of making persuasive critiques of various education reforms. There's no need to dilute the value of that expertise with celebrity razzle-dazzle.  - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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*cough cough* Judy Blume has an education degree. And taught. Maya Angelou is a professor.

Meanwhile Bill Gates dropped out of college and has never taught, yet drives a large part of the "accountability" mania.

If the signatories of that letter with the most contemporary education expertise are 1) a professor of American Studies and 2) someone who is 50+ years past her teaching BA and 40+ years out of the classroom, I think it's safe to say there's not much expertise there at all.

Bill Gates, for all of his lack of teaching experience and late-career interest-switching is arguably better versed and more knowledgeable on a lot of ed reform subjects than the signatories.

Yes, writers shouldn't address reading. And physicists should stay the hell out of conversations about science ed.

Sorry Bruno, but this is a swing and a huge miss. I'm sure it makes sense to you, but to most people literary figures have more credibility when it comes to teaching and learning reading than hedge fund billionaires. But flog that false equivalency if you must. It's just embarrassing, is all.

Unless it's a special circumstance - say, standards design - or they have some particular educational (as opposed to scientific) insight, physicists *should* mostly stay out of conversations about K-12 science education. Knowing a lot about a subject isn't the same as knowing a lot about how people learn it.

These writers aren't really addressing "reading"; describing it that way makes their claim to authority sound superficially plausible, and even then it's not clear why an expert on writing would also be an expert on how people learn to read. Rather, they're making claims about empirical educational psychology and the effects of standards-based accountability, about which we are supposed to assume they are experts because they write good books.

Shorter Bruno: "Shut up about education, Maya Angelou. You're no Sandy Kress."

Thank you, Jake.

I'll tell you what makes me an education expert. I was immersed in education for 20 years, and paid close attention to a variety of teaching styles and approaches. I could see education's effects on myself and my classmates. I know how I and others have learned outside the formal educational setting, as well as in it. I have raised children in traditional and alternative educational settings. I have interacted with teachers, administrators, and school board members for many years. My conclusion is that nobody, not physicists, not other professionals, not any thoughtful person should stay out of conversations about k-12 education. They are at least as capable of making intelligent decisions as the C students who become teachers. If the so-called experts are so knowledgeable, how come our students continue to perform so badly in international comparisons? Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the difficulties in a discipline, partly because every discipline develops a jargon that limits what they can think about.

Educational effectiveness has multiple determinants outside of curriculum and the GPA of the teacher. The expert that I'm looking for is the one who can assemble the ingredients of learning in the classroom. Standards can help us assess effectiveness, but the goal is learning, not hitting some metric. As experts, we have to keep our eye on the ball.

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