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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Trusting Teachers

There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning

I just spent a few days on the East Coast and among my excursions was one to a tony independent school: handsome facilities, lovely teachers, a generous library, vibrant students. What more could anyone ask? In my case, there’s more.
An April 2012 study from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institute, titled “Choosing Blindly: Instructional Materials, Teacher Effectiveness, and the Common Core,” says:
"There is strong evidence that the choice of instructional materials has large effects on student learning—effects that rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness. But whereas improving teacher quality through changes in the preparation and professional development of teachers and the human resources policies surrounding their employment is challenging, expensive, and time-consuming, making better choices among available instructional materials should be relatively easy, inexpensive, and quick."
So I asked the supervisor who was my guide about the books and materials used at the school. We were in the lower grades and she showed me a commercial reading series, from one of the three mega-publishers who, from my perspective, control learning in our country.
“Why don’t you just have your students read good books, why a proscribed series?” I asked.
“Oh, that’s the way I would teach,” she said, “but young teachers need more guidance. The series covers all the bases.”
I sighed, remembering the textbooks when I was a young teacher. They left little room for teacher imagination or knowledge. My supervisor insisted that I follow all the teacher instructions for activities and analysis. I found them boring, so did my students.
Things haven’t changed much. What I heard on that foray into an independent school was the same as what I hear in public schools. We choose teaching materials with the teacher in mind, not the child. And then we wonder why children are bored with much of it.
The Brookings report says, “The evidence is clear that instructional interactions between students and teachers are framed by the instructional materials that teachers are provided by their schools and districts.”
Those commonly used instructional materials have garnered a lot of money for a few publishers. They must bear much of the responsibility for the decline in learning in our time.
Good books, mostly, are inexpensive. Standard texts are, mostly, overpriced. But, whatever the books and materials, they need to be presented well by our teachers. Given opportunities to share ideas, and given supportive administrators, I think our teachers are smart enough to do that.
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