Bruno: A Goodbye & Retrospective
I've been contributing posts to This Week in Education since January 2012, when Alexander kindly invited me to begin writing. This, however, will be my last post here.
Last week I submitted my resignation at my teaching job which, for a variety of reasons, was not a good fit for me.
I don't have firm plans for what I'm going to be doing next - possibly teaching, possibly some consulting work, probably something education-related - but investigating other opportunities was going to be easier for me if I wasn't simultaneously working full time. (And if you've got suggestions for cool jobs I should be applying for, let me know!)
While I make these transitions - including, potentially, the transition out of the classroom - I'm going to be scaling back the blogging.
To some extent this is about time constraints and focus, but it is also because it's less clear what "point of view" I will represent going forward - teacher? former teacher? consultant? interested citizen? - and I don't want to have to worry about my credibility in the eyes of readers.
With that being said, now is also a good opportunity for me to reflect on the last two-and-a-half years. Below the fold, I'll reflect and offer a short retrospective.
Writing here has been a lot of fun. This Week in Education has given me a reason to think more thoroughly about many issues and a platform through which to share my writing and meet and interact with lots of interesting people.
I've written almost 200 posts here, many of which I think hold up very well and which I'm quite proud of.
More than that, though, I've tried in my writing to emphasize a few themes that - in my view - are all too rare in education debates. Among them:
Think in terms of trade-offs. It's tempting to think that our preferred reforms are free lunches. In reality, though virtually every change involves both costs and benefits, from college admissions criteria to homework policies to tenure and pension reform to "forced placement" of teachers. Pretending trade-offs don't exist can be helpful rhetorically, but it makes it much harder to have reasonable discussion or mitigate possible costs.
Knowledge matters. Somewhat paradoxically, many educators and edu-activists underestimate the importance of students knowing things. This is because they overestimate the extent to which students can be taught to "think well" - regardless of their knowledge - across a variety of contexts. The importance of content knowledge has implications for teaching, assessment design, and the Common Core.
There is more good news in education than you might think. Partisans don't like to admit it, but educational outcomes have improved steadily over the last several decades. And it's not just absolute achievement and attainment that has gone up: achievement gaps have shrunk, too. Nor is it just scores in math and reading. School discipline is also better.
Teacher preparation is a bit of a mess. You wouldn't necessarily know it from listening to the debate, but we don't have many concrete justifications for all for all of the time and resources we dedicate to traditional teacher preparation in this country. It's natural to assume that teachers who spend more time being trained will turn out to be more effective, but that doesn't appear to be the case. This might be because teacher training is often a low priority even for ed schools, but it's also related to the fact that we just don't have a clear, useful consensus about "good teaching" anyway.
Don't rely too heavily on your intuitions. This is arguably the most important, as it underlies many of my favorite themes above; the fact that something feels very obvious to you is not evidence, and it may prevent you from thinking more carefully or looking for other explanations. Our intuitions are subject to a variety of biases, can easily mislead us or obscure nuance, may cause us to leap to conclusions or misattribute blame, and probably contribute to perpetual faddishness in education.
I know I'm often guilty of breaking those rules myself, but they're good rules of thumb to remember.
Thanks to Alexander for the opportunity to write in this space, and thanks to all of you who shared your thoughts and feedback! - PB (@MrPABruno)