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Mona Charen
Mona Charen
26 Aug 2014
The Republican Racist Myth

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Build Better Teachers

Comment

For the past half-century, and particularly since the 1983 "Nation at Risk" report, Americans have been heaving great sacks of money at schools. Federal spending alone has tripled since the 1970s. The New York Times calculates that the federal government now spends $107.6 billion on education yearly, which is layered over an estimated $524.7 billion spent by states and localities (source: National Center for Education Statistics).

Reformers have urged — depending upon where they stand ideologically — smaller class sizes, more accountability, merit pay for teachers and educational choice. Each year seems to bring a new fad: child-centered learning, new math, cooperative learning and so forth. The No Child Left Behind reform focused on testing. There have been proposals to repeal teacher tenure and to provide every child with a laptop. And always there are fights over curriculum — the Common Core being the controversy du jour.

But perhaps the most promising thinking about education arises from the discovery from economist Eric Hanushek that the most important factor in student performance is the quality of the teacher. Not class size. Not spending per pupil. Not even curriculum.

Our system produces some great teachers, but only by luck. Each year, 400,000 new teachers enter American classrooms, many knowing little about the nuts and bolts of teaching. As Elizabeth Green argues in her new book, "Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach it to Everyone)," our education schools do not teach the mechanics of teaching: how to control a classroom, how to engage students' imaginations, how to check for understanding. They've been sidetracked by educational psychology and fads at the expense of teaching how to teach.

Green cites "education entrepreneurs" including Doug Lemov, author of "Teach Like a Champion," and Deborah Loewenberg Ball, now dean of the University of Michigan's school of education, who focus on helping ordinary teachers to become great.

Lemov, an education reformer and consultant, was struck by something he found by poring over statistics from the state of New York.

While the correlation between zip codes and educational success was notable, there were always outliers: schools or classrooms in which even kids from impoverished backgrounds were doing well. Lemov zeroed in on those schools and those particular teachers.

The result is found in the subtitle of "Teach Like a Champion": "49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College." Some of the techniques are inspired; others are quotidian but still important (like how not to waste time pleading for responses). The point is that teaching is a performance every day, which is not easy. Teachers must engage the interest and attention of their students (who bring all kinds of troubles from home), encourage the weak ones along with the strong, maintain discipline, and build a sense of team spirit. Lemov doesn't believe that anyone can be a great teacher, but he does think that with coaching and mentoring, good teachers can become great.

Some of Lemov's proven techniques will not surprise educational traditionalists. He believes in drill, though he calls it "muscle memory." A great teacher will drill arithmetic skills, for example, until they are second nature, so that students needn't stumble over the easy stuff when they get to algebra and geometry. (Education schools had disdained this as "drill and kill.") Another technique Lemov suggests is "cold calls" — that is, having the teacher choose students randomly rather than just those who raise their hands. Each child, knowing he might be called upon, must be ready. (It works in law schools). A companion technique is "no opt out." If the child says he doesn't know, the teacher asks a related question to another student to narrow down the possible right answer and returns to the first child for a second chance.

There are broad suggestions about classroom management and more subtle and difficult challenges like maintaining "emotional constancy," that is refraining from showing anger when a child gets the wrong answer. Anger will teach a child to try to hide his ignorance rather than accept it as a normal part of the learning enterprise.

Teaching is a craft. It may be among the hardest to master. Renewed attention to teaching teaching seems long overdue.

Mona Charen is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2014 CREATORS.COM



Comments

1 Comments | Post Comment
Ms. Charen's commentary, The idea of Republicans being racist is just a myth, is a chuckle. She writes about the Republican and Democratic parties of the 1960s, neglecting to deal with the sea changes of both of the parties since then. She's correct if you talk of the parties then, but today? She doesn't mention the Southern Strategy of the Republican party which was developed to appeal to white racists. She doesn't mention the gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics which are endemic in state legislatures controlled by Republicans. There are also the not so closet racists like Steve King, a good Republican House member, who supports racial profiling. Why do us old white males vote Republican and people of color, Democratic?
But it's a great column if you still live in 1950s America.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Bob Ashmore
Fri Aug 29, 2014 1:01 PM
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