Friday, February 27, 2015

lessons from 2014 educational research

Owen Phillips's article on nprED dated February 26, 2015 is a research retrospective. 5 Lessons Education Research Taught Us in 2014 lists what Owen believes to be the important findings of last year.

His lessons are:
1. First graders learn math best through direct instruction and practice, rather than manipulatives, music and movement.
2. Instructional alignment with curriculum is not what determines success on tests.
3. Some post high school credentials are no better than a high school diploma when it comes to earnings.
4. Community college classes often do not transfer to four year institutions, but students who achieve an associate degree before transferring graduate at the same rate as those that started in the four year program.
5. Social emotional learning curriculums do not increase learning UNLESS they are followed precisely.

I wrote about the first lesson myself. I believe that direct instruction is the most efficient way to provide instruction, but it may not be delivered in the most engaging manner which may reduce its long-term learning. The Common Core may be misguided in its emphasis on exploratory learning. Especially since we have only nominally reduced the content load of the curriculum. The biggest myth of the Common Core is that it is an inch wide and a mile deep. If we spend a great deal of time focusing in discovering information, we will still not have enough time to wade through the curriculum.

When we look at instructional alignment I am somewhat surprised at the disconnect with results. It seems intuitive that alignment will lead to better scores on tests. This is predicated on a few things: the test and the curriculum are truly aligned (last year's 7th grade NYS ELA test was not aligned with the curriculum or stated reading levels), teachers actually teach the curriculum not merely cover it, and students have the background knowledge and prerequisite skills that are expected. High quality teachers will find a quality, cohesive curriculum to be a great boon. They will differentiate the instruction to meet the needs of the kids they have, not the kids a curriculum writer thinks they should have. Struggling teachers will not meet the diverse individual needs of the students in their charge regardless of the scripted curriculum they are using.

When it comes to the third lesson, short-training credentials not being as valuable as the schools that offer them would suggest does not surprise me. We know that many BA programs yield less income opportunity than AS programs or even no program at all. Some of these training programs are out there merely to raise funds for the business. People hearing that training increases income fall into the trap of not all training is created equal. Guidance departments need to figure out how to encourage incurring debt for post-secondary instruction that will yield income, not merely "training" or an enjoyment of the program.

The fourth lesson also refers to higher ed and community college programs. Students who start at a community college because they are not ready for the big league- low grades, skill gaps, poor SAT scores, work ethic and time management concerns- are going to need extra time to be ready. Thinking they will get a bachelors degree in four years is silly. High schools sometimes promote the concept that community college credits are universally good. They have partnerships and offer these classes for "credit" but they really may have limited value. States trying to mandate that community college credits be accepted at public universities may backfire and ultimately result in classes becoming more challenging and costing students money and motivation at the community college. Private institutions do not take all credits from all other universities for a variety of reasons- only one of which is that they want you to pay for classes there. Students who are thinking of a four year program that starts at a community college need to be especially forward thinking- checking to be sure the classes that they take are transferable.

Peter Solovey and John Mayer postulated the concept of EQ being more important than IQ for success. With this in mind, people began pushing programs that focus on character and emotional qualities. Seeing the lack of support for SEL classes sticks in the eye of this idea. The fact that some teachers can be more successful with these programs may, as Owen suggests, be the result of better trained and more talented teachers. It may also just be reinforcing the idea that delivering a program with fidelity is essential for it to be successful. The idea that fidelity is important should not be shocking to anyone, but oddly, it is.

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