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My Turn: Actually, effective teachers are already using this best practice

As a longtime educator (public school teacher and reading specialist, K-12 literacy consultant, college professor and author of Lifers: Learning from At-Risk Adolescent Readers), I was confused by “Why not adaptive learning?,” Roy Schweiker’s letter in the Dec. 5 Monitor.

His discussion of three classroom instructional methods makes me wonder about his sources of information.

He seems to think that “separate but equal,” a euphemism he uses for classroom tracking, might well be “a miracle cure” for what ails U.S. public school education. In fact, research over the past three decades points to the understanding that once a child is placed in the low track in school she or he is forever consigned to the role of slow learner.

And since this labeling, based primarily on socio-economic factors rather than on intellectual potential, often begins by the second week of kindergarten, academic failure quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for many undeserving children. Far from a “separate but equal” curriculum, low-track students more often than not receive an inferior level of instruction, are treated as “different” by both teachers and peers, and come to see themselves in a depressingly disparaging light. Such a negative self-image can and often does lead to disruptive and counter-productive classroom behavior, sinking the “slow learner” even farther into the dismal swamp of academic failure.

The other instructional extreme Schweiker mentions is what he calls “lockstep learning,” which in his opinion is being adopted by some school districts in order to “narrow the gap” among learners, making sure that by teaching “the same number of pages per day regardless of whether the particular students understand it. . . fast learners learn less than they could.”

I will sadly admit that such an ineffective one-size-fits-all approach may well be in use in some schools. But I am confident that in the vast majority of local elementary classrooms a third approach, one which Schweiker seems to believe is virtually non-existent, is currently an instructional method of choice.

“Adaptive learning,” as he labels it, is indeed an integral part of most effective teachers’ classrooms, as they strive to differentiate their instruction in order to meet the needs of a wide range of learners. By using this best practice, educators are able to teach a common curriculum while working to meet the learning needs and preferences of each student entrusted to their care by parents who expect the best education possible for their children.

Perhaps this response will take columnist Rob Fried off Schweiker’s proverbial hook.

(Pam Mueller lives in Contoocook.)

Legacy Comments13

This is not about whether or not effective teachers are using a technique it is about the curriculum and experimenting with ideas created by non-educators. Arne Duncan has never been an "educator" for instance.....they are making everything "politically correct". It is agenda, ideology, indoctrination. The method may be interesting but why experiment with a generation.

In Finland, teachers must have a masters degree, and competition is quite real to even get a teaching position.

Tracking is popular in third-world countries because it improves learning outcomes at minimal additional cost, but the USA values political correctness more highly. Maybe that's why students in many countries that spend much less than the USA on education regularly demonstrate more knowledge. I can see why students assigned to tracks by income not ability and not allowed to move between tracks would feel negative and become disruptive. Perhaps the solution is not to ban tracking but rather to replace the incompetent administrators who made the assignments just as you would replace a coach who refuses to alter his lineups as the season progresses even though players' skills may progress differently than expected, but of course you can't do that in the USA either. I am glad that Pam Mueller shares my disdain for lockstep learning and apparently at least one case in her book is an example of a poor outcome. Because Rob Fried wrote a good Explanation of Common Core and because he is apparently the Monitor's new education columnist, I still hope that he will soon explain why large school districts to the W and E of Contoocook have adopted it (although of course they use a more euphemistic name).

I think one reason our education costs are higher is due to our spending more on special education, which has taken a big chunk of the overall increase in ed spending during the past 3 decades. As for tracking, it's also my understanding that one reason for the higher performance in math by other countries is because more students take higher level courses--that is more kids have greater exposure to higher level math, rather than being tracked to repetitive/remedial courses. And finally, any international comparisons must first be comparing the same things. It's not clear to me what % of students in other countries are being compared to our own. Many of the other countries in these rankings also have far lower rates of childhood poverty--Finland's is 5%, while ours is 20%. When our results are adjusted to control for this, we move up in the most recent PISA rankings, to 6th in reading and I think 13th in math.

Totally agree Bruce. I would love to see how much money is spent on Special Ed. I think we all would be quite surprised to see what the costs are. Special Ed has been expanded to include a lot more kids who have a lot more issues. I also agree with comparisons to places like Finland. The culture there is quite different in regards to who lives there, the size of the country and the poverty level. Finland does do education very well though. The kids start school at an older age, the teachers all have master degrees, and evidently parents are involved and have a high regard for reading books to their kids at young ages. Kids in Finland spend a lot of time outdoors as opposed to watching TV and playing computer games. Very different from how we raise our kids in the US these days.

Employment is one of the surest ways to avoid poverty and it raises all outcomes. Yet, regulations and attacks on industries by the Obama administration (coal, oil, financial, hospitals, insurance companies) and just the private sector in general has had the most devastating impact. Twice as many people are unemployed compared to 2008. I know that you like statistics, Bruce, so here are some “inconvenient statistics” (yes that is a play on words referring to Al Gore). 2.9% of full time workers were poor in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and those who worked less than full time were 16.9% of all poor folks. Now let’s look at population in general. Suburban population poverty in 2012 was 11%, urban population poverty was 20%. The bulk of childhood poverty exists in urban areas which are primarily run by Democrats, have the highest expenditure of social programs and these urban areas are failing. African American poverty was 7.2%, non-Hispanic whites was 9.7% and Hispanics was 25.6%. Female single, head of household, unmarried, divorced was the highest in 2012 at 30.19%. Kind of speaks to the decay of our society, huh? All of the money that we have spent on affirmative action, all of the money that we have spent on inner city education seems to have failed. Our changing social mores, the breakdown of the family and unbridled illegal immigration are decaying our society and spinning it into poverty. Over regulation, failed presidential leadership and policies based more on ideology versus common sense and the best interest of the people impact as well. Moreover, children in poverty are not distributed equally. Suburban childhood poverty rates are 11% where urban rates are 3X as high. Think about failed social policy, think about cultural attitudes, minority teen pregnancies, etc. But most of all think about job killing ideology and policy and the NEW cost of health care due to Obamacare, less dollars in the economy due to that. Statistics are not cut and dried, they reflect overall policy consequences. Obama has had 5 long years to improve things but his agenda and ideology are the cause of our economic mess. One only has to look to the boom economy in North Dakota to show what harvesting our own natural resources can do to unemployment, wages, etc. But I don’t expect that extreme ideologues will every put other people’s well being and prosperity above the “ends justify the means” lockstep march to leftist ideology.

actually effective teachers can be found in Private Schools - In the liberal union dominated Big Govt zip code based institutions of liberal indoctrination....NOT so much

Then why do I know so many families who've moved their kids OUT of our local private schools and into the public school I work at?

Probably low information

Low information is certainly in play here Bean, but with whom?!?!

Hey Dan .....Federal Trade Commission, a governmental Goliath, crushes the Music Teachers National Association….. Piano Sonata in FTC Minor..... Wall Street Journal, by Kimberley A. Strassel . did you know this .... thought not...... that is why we have LIDV'

Sorry, I meant Faux information.

You mean MSNBC-CBS-NBC-NPR-PBS-ABC-CNN-NYT-LAT-Monitor-and on and on water carrying for the left faux news.

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