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Bruno: Reforming *Instruction* Is Where It's Really At

2146423_stdI certainly hope that Sol Stern is correct and that Common Core implementation means that education reform debates are going to starting focusing as much on what kids are learning as on who's teaching it to them and in what kind of school. As a teacher, education reform debates can often seem frustratingly distant from what I do at work on a day-to-day basis. If we think that what teachers do matters for student achievement, then it's a little strange to think about how little of education reform seems to relate directly to teaching.

In fact, I'd like to see education reformers (of all kinds) think more carefully not only about content, but about instruction as well. As it is, arguments about instructional context suck most of the air out of the room before we have a chance to talk about instructional substance.

This means we end up having lots of conversations about whether parents should be able to take over schools, whether kids should do their learning online, or whether public money should follow kids to private schools. Those are all important topics, but they're macro-level issues that succeed or fail to a large degree on the basis of the quality of instruction at the classroom level.

We almost certainly don't know enough, collectively and with certainty, to start mandating many instructional practices as a matter of policy. Presumably, though, education reform groups could put a higher priority on efforts toward identifying, researching, and disseminating best teaching practices.

This happens a little bit already. The AFT's lesson-sharing site is a step in the right direction. The back-and-forth about Sal Khan's videos is interesting.  And the research literature does have some fun findings that, if widely understood, could have positive effects on student learning: here's a new review on the virtues of  guidance during instruction, and an interesting one applying principles of psychology to PowerPoint design.

I just think these instructionally-focused discussions are too small a fraction of the overall debate. Or maybe there's plenty of this stuff out there already and I'm just not aware of it. If so, point me in the right direction! - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)


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Speaking as an advocate who combats the currently faddish education "reforms," my view is that instructional practices aren't my area of expertise at all. Perceiving, understanding, interpreting and speaking out against pro-privatization, anti-public school and teacher-bashing propaganda IS my area of expertise. So I stick with what I know.

I first learned about education "reform" in the late '90s, when as a freelance writer I did a project for the Hoover Institution that involved reading many of their writings. I was reading the education "reform" propaganda of that era when my older child was in early elementary school -- so that was a new environment to me -- and it was apparent that those Hoover folks pontificating about education reform had no clue what the inside of an urban public school classroom was like, or they didn't care to take that into account. So this comment of Paul's rings very true: "education reform debates can often seem frustratingly distant from what I do at work on a day-to-day basis." (And that observation, made in 1997, still holds true.)


We know what pedagogy works, and have for many decades:



Also see especially the conclusion in POLICE IN THE HALLWAYS, re: damage being done by test-based pedagogy:


I'd say it is a mistake to focus on any of the three. Instruction, curriculum, and context are all intertwined. That being said, I suspect context trumps the others.

Since we're doing so much research, we should do an experiment. Teach x number of low-income neighborhood schools using Common Core (with its pd), invest in 'teacher quality" pd on instruction with others, and then invest the same money in alternative schools and allow the third group of schools to enforce their academic, attendance and discipline standards. I bet group three blows them away.

If John is right, one has to wonder why we don't allow all schools, rather than just independent and chartered ones, to enforce those standards, at least at the senior high school level. In my past education debates with local leaders, I heard school board members use the differing freedoms as an argument to take away the autonomies of chartered schools. Now, sensibly, LAUSD is moving strongly in the direction of granting those same freedoms to the teachers in all of their own traditional schools. It's about time.

I agree with John in the sense that trying to fix education has, as of late, felt rather linear, as though people actually believe there is one magical solution that will fix the education system once and for all. And that’s not realistic, we need people to attack the singular problem of a need for reform by addressing ALL of the issues, not finger-pointing one specific thing.

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