Tag Archive for 'reason'

Slavin on Shanker, professionalism, and evidence

Over on the Huffington Post blog, in a fine remembrance of the founder of the American Federation of Teachers, Bob Slavin reminded readers that Al Shanker championed both professionalism and evidence.

Back in the day, I knew Al Shanker, the founder of the American Federation of Teachers. No one has ever been more of an advocate for teachers’ rights – or for their professionalism. At the same time, no one was more of an advocate for evidence as a basis for teaching. He saw no conflict between evidence-based teaching and professionalism. In fact, he saw them as complementary.

Professor Slavin continues his remembrance with sage argument about the importance of teachers embracing evidence-based practices. Ultimately he cited the value of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) evidence standards.

I applaud Professor Slavin’s argument and amplify it with an additional call for educators not only to embrace evidence-based practices, but to do even more. As professionals, we educators have a duty to

  • Identify evidence-based practices that have the strongest effects. Some evidence-based practices are more effective than others (in fact, Professor Slavin has been among the leaders in helping refine research methods to compare instructional practices). Professionals need to know how to find those practices.
  • Implement evidence-based practices with fidelity (see Cook & Odom, 2013). Having a great recipe for a soufflé is no guarantee that one will serve a gourmet dish; one has to use the right ingredients and execute the steps in preparing it, as well. That’s a big part of professionalism.
  • Monitor the effects of programs on individual students and groups of students so that, when needed, adjustments can be made. It is inevitable that evidence-based practices will move too slowly or rapidly for some learners. Professionals need to adjust instruction for them. These adjustments should, of course, employ evidence-based practices. See this post for an illustration.

There may be other important relationships between professionalism in education and evidence-based practices. Readers are welcome to suggest them in comments.

Cook, B. G., & Odom, S. L. (2013). Evidence-based practices and implementation science in special education. Exceptional Children, 79, 135-144. doi: 10.1177/001440291307900201

Barbash: Fix affirmative action by fixing k-12 instruction

In a clearly reasoned, researched, and written analysis, Shepard Barbash argued that the solution to racial disparity in higher education outcomes is not likely to come from affirmative action. Instead, he wrote, it will come from improving instruction in K-12 schooling. Yes, indeed! We need to teach effectively. His essay is worth the read.

A few questions for Joel Klein

According to widespread reports, in your just-published book about your time as chancellor of the New York City Schools, Mr. Klein, you wrote that firing a teacher “took an average of almost two and a half years and cost the city over $300,000.”

I’d ask you to consider a little context, please…. The reasons we have teacher unions and tightly worded contracts in the first place is because teachers historically were mistreated and they lost confidence in their employers. And what of the “incompetent” administrators—you fail to mention them. It takes two to tango. One more thing—you hired these people. Instead of deflecting blame to Ed Schools (I’ll get to them in a second), why don’t school districts and boards take responsibility for those they hire? The union did not make you hire them. The union did not make you neglect proper induction, good supervision, mentoring, effective programs of professional development. And the union did not create the pool of low SAT/GRE applicants. You and your board did that by not paying a professional salary or offering professional working conditions for professional work. What’s that? Better compensation requires higher taxes? Well then, what exactly have you and the board done to educate the voters on this issue instead of playing the politics of union confrontation. And by the way, maybe the value-adding abilities you tell voters you want can not be had at the price voters are willing to pay. Have you told them that?

As for Ed Schools—hang on a moment—let’s talk about state licensing boards and commissions. Your state, with support of your legislature, issued licenses to these teachers. Have they met labor market demands at the expense of quality? Who told them to do that? Not the unions. With legislative consent, are they setting the licensing bar low because the salaries we pay will not draw better candidates into the field? Have you lobbied your legislature on this issue or are you just writing books about the problem and running for-profit companies to sell products to the same schools you once administered? By the way, do you really feel the problem is we have too few commercial products or that commercial products have a hope of solving the systemic problems you describe.

UOh, and Ed Schools…. Why do you persist in thinking that you are small colleges of letters and sciences? Why have experimental stations filled with scientists to solve agricultural problems produced increasing yields (anyone use a split plot ANOVA recently?). Does growing crops require science but growing children require philosophy? And about those SAT/GRE scores, Mr. Klein, have you considered that training standards are set by accreditation bodies that respond to market demand which are created by salaries that you, your board, and your voters are willing to pay.

Thank you, Mr. Klein, for listing these problems, although some serious solutions for the system in which teachers do their work would have been more edifying.

Mike Gerber

Michael M. Gerber, Ph.D.
Professor, Gewirtz School of Education
University of California, Santa Barbara

Yet another plea to consider instruction

I am a presenter at the conference of the Division of International Special Education and Services (DISES) of the Council for Exceptional Children in Braga, Portugal, on 15 July 2014. There are a lot of people here who will be, in keeping with the conference theme of “Embracing Inclusive Approaches,” talking a lot about where special education happens.

In many ways, on the international scene, simply having students with disabilities included—as in not excluded from—education is important. As faithful readers will know, I think it’s great to include students with disabilities, but I think that what happens with them when they’re included is incredibly important. The instruction that occurs in schools is critical. Why send them to school to be defeated by lousy instruction? This is especially true for students with high-incidence disabilities when being “included” very often plays out as meaning being assigned to a regular or general education setting full time.

So I’m talking about including science about effective teaching…just taking the opportunity to enter another plea for teaching effectively. A PDF copy of my slide deck and a couple of pages of the references to which I refer are available.

Neuroimaging data do not validate left- vs. -right-brain types

If you believe in learning styles, personalities, and so forth, skip this entry. It just reports that another of those balloons has been popped. However, it you’re into understanding the fascinating nature of humans’ thinking, there are a couple of morsels here.

Unless you’ve been putting your thumbs in your ears and wiggling your fingers while loudly saying, “Yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m not listening to you. I can’t hear a word you’re saying,” you’ve probably heard some educator talking about left-bained or right-brained learners, schools as catering to left-brained learners, girls as better at left-brained tasks and therefore better in schools, and so forth. (Think I’m kidding? Try this example from the widely circulated magazine, Scholastic or check on the sales of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.)

Fortunately, some folks have called “bologna” on this already. See, for examples:

Well, if that’s not enough (and it should be), a group of neuroscientists at the University of Utah (abstract and source follows) studied images showing the neural connections in the brain hemispheres of over 1000 people ranging from seven to 29 years of age. Although they found that there were functionally separate areas in the brain (e.g., language regions or hubs), these connections consistently showed lateralization between the major “hubs,” not a general individual type. They said that their

…analyses suggest that an individual brain is not “left-brained” or “right-brained” as a global property, but that asymmetric lateralization is a property of individual nodes or local subnetworks, and that different aspects of the left-dominant network and right-dominant network may show relatively greater or lesser lateralization within an individual.

Before you get carried away with interpreting that statement, please read the article. It’s available for free!

Nielsen, J. A., Zielinski, B. A., Ferguson M. A., Lainhart J. E., & Anderson J. S. (2013) An evaluation of the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis with resting state functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71275. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071275


Lateralized brain regions subserve functions such as language and visuospatial processing. It has been conjectured that individuals may be left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant based on personality and cognitive style, but neuroimaging data has not provided clear evidence whether such phenotypic differences in the strength of left-dominant or right-dominant networks exist. We evaluated whether strongly lateralized connections covaried within the same individuals. Data were analyzed from publicly available resting state scans for 1011 individuals between the ages of 7 and 29. For each subject, functional lateralization was measured for each pair of 7266 regions covering the gray matter at 5-mm resolution as a difference in correlation before and after inverting images across the midsagittal plane. The difference in gray matter density between homotopic coordinates was used as a regressor to reduce the effect of structural asymmetries on functional lateralization. Nine left- and 11 right-lateralized hubs were identified as peaks in the degree map from the graph of significantly lateralized connections. The left-lateralized hubs included regions from the default mode network (medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, and temporoparietal junction) and language regions (e.g., Broca Area and Wernicke Area), whereas the right-lateralized hubs included regions from the attention control network (e.g., lateral intraparietal sulcus, anterior insula, area MT, and frontal eye fields). Left- and right-lateralized hubs formed two separable networks of mutually lateralized regions. Connections involving only left- or only right-lateralized hubs showed positive correlation across subjects, but only for connections sharing a node. Lateralization of brain connections appears to be a local rather than global property of brain networks, and our data are not consistent with a whole-brain phenotype of greater “left-brained” or greater “right-brained” network strength across individuals. Small increases in lateralization with age were seen, but no differences in gender were observed.

So, can the bunk. Quit blaming kids’ outcomes on irrelevant factors and let’s get to thinking about what matters: The things we can do to alter the teaching environment to improve those outcomes. Let’s see, we could start with having more light in the classrooms. O.K., how about adjusting the temperature up or down one degree? What? You think it would be more important to change the teaching?

Well, I agree.

ACLU suing schools for failing to teach students to read

The Michigan chapter of the US civil rights group, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLY), announced 12 July 2012 that it has filed a class action suit on behalf of children in Highland Park, Michigan, who the local public schools have failed to teach to read. The suit alleges that the schools’ failure to teach students to read violate Michigan laws.

“The capacity to learn is deeply rooted in the ability to achieve literacy. A child who cannot read will be disenfranchised in our society and economy for a lifetime,” said Kary L. Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “Highland Park students want to be educated. However, their hopes and dreams for a future are being destroyed by an ineffective system that does not adequately prepare them for life beyond school.”

The ACLU contends that this is a first-of-it’s-kind lawsuit, and it may be a true assertion, depending on how one defines “kind.” It’s a class action, which is the first of that theory that I’ve seen—and the class-action approach may be a very good path to pursue because the injury is more clearly widespread than it is for an individual, and the harm to society is easier to show. There have, however, been previous suits alleging that schools failed to discharge a duty to teach reading. Alert readers of Teach Effectively will recall a post about “J.K.” suing his schools for failing to prepare him for post-secondary education (“Ex-Student sues school“) and may also recall that in that post I listed notes about the Peter Doe case from the 1970s as well as some other resources about educational malpractice that have discussed this topic.

Let’s see what happens. For right now, here’s a cheer for the ACLU for raising this important issue. Too many students are being neglected, shunted aside, left for lost. Students who can read and write (and compute and do science as well as sing and do other things, too) will have a better chance to make more and more lasting contributions to society than they would were they if they are left ill-educated, as is happening too often in our public schools. So hooray for the ACLU shining a light here.

Meanwhile, here is as the press release from the ACLU, entitled “Highland Park Students File Class-Action ‘Right to Read’ Lawsuit” (follow the link embedded in the end of the release that points to many additional material) as well as a list of selected examples of coverage of the current story in various press sources:

Free gift from Education Consumers Foundation!

partial image of cover of Clear Teaching

Isn’t it unusual to get something for free that is actually worth a lot? The good folks over at Education Consumers Foundation (ECF) are giving away a small book that is quite valuable, and I encourage readers to download it, read it, and tell their friends to get it, too.

What are they giving away? It’s a book called Clear Teaching: With Direct Instruction, Siegfried Engelmann Discovered a Better Way of Teaching by Shep Barbash. As one can tell from the subtitle, it’s about Zig Engelmann’s work on education. I talked with Mr. Barbash as he worked on the manuscript for the book, read an earlier version of it, and am very impressed with this finished product. It’s even more impressive that the book is now out in the wild for free. Kudos to Mr. Barbash, John Stone, and all the others at ECF who made this happen.

Clear Teaching – The Book
Written by veteran journalist Shepard Barbash over a period of 10 years, Clear Teaching is a well-researched, highly readable introduction to Direct Instruction (DI), a systematic teaching approach which for more than 40 years has dramatically improved learning outcomes for students of all abilities and from all walks of life. The book looks at the development of DI through the early experiences of its creator, Zig Engelmann; explains the principles that underpin this approach; and looks at DI’s reception in the world of teaching, where it has been effectively shunned despite a formidable research base and example after example of transformative success.

The image at the top of the post is hot, but readers can also click here to go to the ECF page where they can download the PDF.

Learning styles goes public (radio)

“Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely.” That was the headline that Patti Neighmond used in reporting on the popular myth of learning styles for US National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. One of the experts she interviewed for the segment that aired 29 August 2011 was friend of Teach Effectively, Dan Willingham.

The coverage by Ms. Neighmond is brief (4+ mins), but it includes solid content. In addition to Professor Willingham’s comments, she has sound from Doug Rohrer, one of the authors of the thorough examination of the evidence about learning styles published by Psychological Science in the Public Interest in 2008.

As Ms. Neighmond noted, there is big money in learning styles. Do you think the folks who have a stake in this unproven, thin-sliced bologna will accept this report without response? I doubt it. It’ll be intriguing to watch the comments in Ms. Neighmond’s story. There’ll be some shameless appeals to intuition and personal experience, some references to shoddy studies, and more. Watch the fun!

For those of us who have for many years been noting that the learning styles hypothesis is bogus, it’s very nice to have the message reach the general public. Thanks to Ms. Neighmond for that.

Read the print version of “Think You’re An Auditory Or Visual Learner? Scientists Say It’s Unlikely” (or go there to listen to the audio version or download an MP3 of it). Read other posts about learning styles that have appeared on Teach Effectively.


Kavale, K. A., & Forness, S. R. (1987). Substance over style: A quantitative synthesis assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching. Exceptional Children, 54, 228-234.

Lloyd, J. W. (1984). How shall we individualize instruction-or should we? Remedial and Special Education, 5(1), 7-15.

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 106-119.

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