Can we produce innovative students with teachers chained to a script?

University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky responds to my interview last week with high school reformer Ted Dintersmith.

By Peter Smagorinsky

In a recent Get Schooled post, venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith made the point that today’s schools remain stuck in an industrial-age, production-line mentality at a point when they need to be emphasizing innovation over conformity. With jobs increasingly being turned over to automated systems and robotic devices, he argues, schools should no longer be in the business of training people to follow directions and keep their ideas to themselves.

Mirza_Khushnam_14Fall_Illu764_AJC 6Unlike many who see the business model as appropriate for public education, Dintersmith sees the increasing reliance on industrial business practices to be problematic, producing, in his words, “greater intensity and more testing. The result: Disengaged students, unmotivated teachers and flat test scores.”

He continues: “If we don’t have kids coming out of school being innovative, we are going to have kids coming out of school being unemployed.” The current emphasis on filling in bubble sheets, he contends, leads today’s students on a path to obsolescence before they even begin their journeys.

Instead, he values schools that ask of students: “Can you be creative? Can you be resourceful? Can you innovate?” His solution is to base learning on projects through which students construct products that have value and utility in the real world.

I agree with pretty much everything Dintersmith says, and hope his investment in schools produces the sorts of results he seeks. I find his goals to be far more worthwhile than the failed efforts of other philanthropists to energize education by making them as “accountable” as possible, with reductive test scores the sole measure of achievement. The development of real job and life skills, if anything, is set back by the overemphasis on answering someone else’s questions about texts rarely read outside the setting of a standardized test.

I would like here to look at what I see as the other side of Dintersmith’s solution to making student learning more vibrant and practical: the effects of a system based on industrial assembly lines on teachers.

Few students feel joy at the prospect of going to school to take another standardized test, or to prepare for one, and these tasks have increasingly taken over both instructional and assessment time in education. What seems overlooked in considering this problem is the way in which teachers’ enthusiasm and dedication for their work get undermined by the manner in which their thinking has been taken away from them by the standardization of teaching and learning.

When the whole of the curriculum is scripted and designed to prepare students for multiple-choice tests developed by people in the assessment business, what happens to teachers’ emphasis on preparing kids for life, their delight in helping kids understand concepts and apply them to life, and the reason d’être for many people who undertake teaching as a career?

Part of what I do as a researcher is study how teachers’ careers unfold over time. I’m now in the midst of a long-term study of a set of teachers whose academic and professional careers I began studying during their sophomore years in college. They are now halfway through their fourth year of teaching English in public schools in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee. What I share next comes from the most recent round of interviews conducted via Skype to help me understand how their career trajectories have been shaped by the conditions of their teaching.

My space here is limited, so I will focus on one of the teachers. She described her transition from a small school district in a rural part of an adjacent state to a school in a large Atlanta metro-area suburban district. She described the difficulty she has had in relinquishing the thinking behind her teaching to the corporate textbook and assessment publishers whose scripts she must follow so she is on the same page as every other teacher in the county every day.

I have studied other districts that have moved toward completely centralized decision-making in the past, from well before today’s high-octane drive to standardize education down to the last minute of every school day. The intention is often noble: to make sure each school provides equal educational opportunity to each school and student, no matter where they stand in the system’s socioeconomic hierarchy.

The reality is the corporate model takes the heart and soul out of schools by assuming every teacher should be identical to every other one, and students can all be equitably measured by the same assessment. This mechanistic perspective on teaching has made teachers feel, in the words of the teacher I interviewed recently, “robotic.” In this capacity, innovative and provocative teachers are denied the opportunity to use their good judgment to decide what their students need the most, deferring instead to the script provided by someone else far removed from their classrooms.

Sadly, she noted taking decisions out of teachers’ hands and minds is actually welcome to those of her colleagues who prefer not doing all the planning and grading that come with what Dintersmith sees as critical to project-based learning. Such learning is centered on carefully conceived tasks and environments that support their undertaking, and on dedicated time to assess the projects throughout their production.

The teacher has begun to question why she is teaching. She got into this profession because she loves working with kids, but finds the conditions of teaching in this district to be thoroughly stultifying.

Great teachers always seek to do whatever work it takes to make learning a dynamic, important, and growth-inducing experience for their students. This teacher finds the system has taken this prerogative away from her, replacing it with prescribed materials for her to trot out on schedule and administer to rows of students as if they are on the production line Dintersmith sees as obsolete.

She is considering leaving the profession because it no longer allows her the latitude to work hard to design instruction her students find engaging and worthwhile. Are there, she wonders, ways of working with kids that aren’t crushed by the standardization of schooling?

If she and others like her continue to bail on a teaching career, what will be left is a teaching force filled with those who are content to let the corporations plan their classes for them. That would be tragic, both for the kids whose learning needs will remain unmet and the teachers who loved their jobs until their dynamism was stolen by the robber barons from Pearson et al. and the administrators who have let it happen.

We deserve much better than this.

 

 

Reader Comments 0

58 comments
CSpinks
CSpinks

"Scripted instruction" was based upon the assumption that, if instruction were "fool-proofed," any fool could be hired to provide it. How's that worked out?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@CSpinks If that were so, we could get our Georgia legislators to show us how!

class80olddog
class80olddog

"innovation" - how do you measure that to make sure you have taught it?  Well, you can't - you just have to take teachers' word for it that the student has properly learned it.  Unlike reading and writing and arithmetic - which have right answers and wrong answers.  That is why teachers don't like standardized tests - because they tell the TRUTH.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@class80olddog


Teachers take lots of standardized tests to become teachers and aint skeerd of them.


They are exceedingly terrified of having no voice in the practice of their profession.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog " Innovation" is a buzzword poorly used.  What schools CAN do is give students appropriate opportunity to make decisions, teach them to look at ideas from multiple points of view, pose solutions that are "outside the box,"  and construct arguments and debates on issues.  THIS kind of opportunities can help set the stage for innovation.  Sadly, with our "lockstep" and one-sided examples that kids get from parents and media every day of their lives, along with classes too large to engage many of the students, and classes with constant disruptions, little of this is able to happen.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

Let's see... If you script the corporate packaged content to prep for the corporate prepared rest, then you don't need college educated teachers making middle class wages in classrooms. You can use less educated, lower paid workers to read the script or monitor online delivery. Then, the "excess" money that follows the child can be skimmed by charter schools for more corporate profit, while wealthier parents can add their money to their voucher to put offspring in a "good" school.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@AvgGeorgian 

What you have described is right on the money and it is called "playing the system" for personal gain at the expense of the common good, unfortunately.

Legong
Legong

We continue to have far more applicants for teaching positions than there are positions available, as anyone with a daughter or niece knows.

Yet the teachers' unions continue to peddle the canard that testing and accountability are somehow causing the sky to fall. And this newspaper column in particular helps the unions peddle that canard.

What unions and their allies fear are parents empowered to actually choose the schools best suited to their children's needs.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Legong


You make the assumption that those many applicants are quality teachers.  


Folks are always implying that a teaching degree is SOOOOOO easy to get and/or that too many teachers are not worth their pay... yet your comment appears to suggest that any warm body in the classroom is just as good as any other.  Seems like some folks want their cake and want to eat it too.  They want excellent teachers, but don't want to provide either the money or the teaching conditions to attract or keep them.  They complain about "bad" teachers, but are willing, apparently, to hire whatever person applies.


Make up your minds. 

Legong
Legong

Absconding? Those local taxpayers you claim to speak for overwhelmingly approved more charter schools a few years ago, and will give the go-ahead for Opportunity School Districts in November.

What the legislature should consider are tuition vouchers empowering parents to choose the school, public or private, which best meets their needs.

Just as Pell grants do at the college level.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Legong


It is not unions that fear parents with children absconding from the local community with local tax money - it is the local taxpayer. Parents of school aged children are not some elite class that should hold sway over all education taxpayer money. It belongs to the community to build up community schools.

sneakpeakintoeducation
sneakpeakintoeducation

@Legong


Where is your evidence that vouchers will improve educational outcomes? Please provide research-based studies to show that this would be the right thing to do for all our students.

MargaretHolt
MargaretHolt

I couldn't agree more.  I was a high school English teacher for many years, and I would never think of teaching under the current circumstances.  I was a very good teacher.  My students thrived.  They developed skills to ask vital questions and do deep thinking.  We were not subjected to endless tests, but they did write and speak often.  I often think how sad it would be to be this teacher you describe who entered the profession with a certain thrill about what she was going to be able to do only to have her creativity and excitement snuffed out by a barrage of tests.  

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@MargaretHolt 

Also, the students will lose an understanding of nuance in thought and multi-dimensional shades of meaning and of character when their teaching constructs consist mainly of knowing "THE" correct answer in all curriculum areas, without their understanding that thinking in simple dichotomies is rarely enlightened thinking.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

ROFLMAO, Smaggy rails against the "corporate model" of education, but fails to realize the university Schools of Education are big business.  Millions (billions?) of dollars exchange hands every year so that prospective teachers can get that diploma that allows them to enter the teaching profession.  Hundreds (thousands?) of Smagorinskiy's contemporaries publish "research based" opinions on how to best teach little Johnny that 9+7=15 and we shouldn't count off because he got the final answer incorrect, but he did show his work.

If you want to criticize someone, criticize the politically correct, equal outcomes pathogens who think that a student with an IQ of 70 should be taught at the same pace and level of instruction as the student with an IQ of 120.  Criticize the administrators who refused to do their jobs and get rid of the not-worth-a-crap teachers.  Criticize the university schools of "education" who lobbied to ensure their paycheck was guaranteed by getting the requirements to become a teacher to flow through their own schools of education.

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@Quidocetdiscit @Lee_CPA2 

I will go further and state that a student with an IQ of 85 (which is not special education) should not be taught curriculum concepts on their continuums at the same rate as a student with an IQ of 125 (which is not gifted) in order for both students to master the curriculum with 90% mastery.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

@Quidocetdiscit @Lee_CPA2 I beg to differ.  Not only are students with an IQ of 70 taught at the same level as those with an IQ of 120, they are expected to pass the same EXACT tests and they are expected to earn the same EXACT diploma via the required classes.  Yeah there may be another teacher in the room, more time to take a test, but really - does that help a student with an IQ of 70? The fact that you didn't know that tells me you know nothing of what is expected of teachers in public schools today.  

Write again after spending 10 days in a class with students of both IQs and having to required to have the same learning outcomes.

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Lee_CPA2


"...teach little Johnny that 9+7=15 and we shouldn't count off because he got the final answer incorrect, but he did show his work."


I have never had anyone suggest this at all.  The closest that any pedagogy might come, is the suggestion that Johnny's work be analyzed at several levels and that he earn "points" for each particular section - so showing his work and showing the correct process would get him partial credit.  Getting the correct answer would give him more credit. 


"...who think that a student with an IQ of 70 should be taught at the same pace and level of instruction as the student with an IQ of 120. "


Students with an IQ of 70 quality for special ed services and are not taught at the same level of instruction as the student with an IQ of 120. Georgia provides for both Special ed services and gifted instruction.  Now, if you want to argue the illogic of having the same expectations for meeting the standards for both students, or the same requirements for student growth (by which teacher paychecks may soon be determined), then we can talk - but that is not a decision that is made by any school of education or local district. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Beach Bound2020 @Quidocetdiscit @Lee_CPA2 Hey, wait now, occasionally that 70 IQ kid got a parapro part of the time (shared with the other 70 IQ kids placed in your room to better use the parapro's time (to keep from having to hire more parapros)).

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@Beach Bound2020 


I am not sure if you were responding to me or not, but if so, please note I said a student with an IQ of 70 would "qualify" for special ed services - not that they would necessarily receive them.  What SHOULD occur, and the reality are often very different, as I am well aware. (I have been in the classroom far longer than 10 days, BTW.)   The fact that the system often falls short, however, is not due to anyone promoting that it is best  that students with low IQs be taught the exact same way as students with high IQs, but rather with issues of funds, available teachers, support from administration, parental power, and political expediency. 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@MaryElizabethSings @Quidocetdiscit @Lee_CPA2

A child with an IQ of 125 could be placed in the gifted program in Georgia via the multi-criteria assessment process which looks at creativity, motivation, achievement as well as mental ability.


And yes, indeed, they should not be taught at the same rate (and I would argue with the same level of depth) - but managing that level of differentiation is becoming harder and harder in our increasingly micromanaged and scripted classrooms.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Quidocetdiscit @Beach Bound2020 Correct me if I am wrong, but "tracking" has been eliminated, and because of LRE requirements, the 70 IQ students, the 100 IQ students, and the 125 students all MUST be taught in the same classroom.  Am I correct?

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

The issue is a terrible teaching/learning environment because of the lack of discipline options for teachers.  Until the admin removes trouble making students, this will continue.  


The idea that "corporate environment" is the issue is insanity.  Trouble makers are fired from corporations.  They need to be fired from "normal" public schools as well - so they are no longer able to detract from teachers and students alike.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Wascatlady @dcdcdc Right...because tripling of per student funding in the last 35 years - after accounting for inflation - isn't providing money.


Give it a rest.  That canard has run its course.  If anything, the taxpayers are going to start asking why, alone among industries, the Eduacracy is not only allowed to not improve their productivity, but rather:


- Take 3 TIMES the amount of money to produce the same results.  


This bird is quickly coming home to roost.  And every time the eduacracy (you obviously included) ask for "more money", it gives people like me the opening to point out how awful a job our schools are doing with the money they already have.


So please - keep demanding more of our money.  It's quite fun to use that idiocy to open people's eyes

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@dcdcdc @Wascatlady Guess you haven't been in the classroom in the last 3 decades. The challenges teachers confront minute to minute are NOTHING like when you were in school.  I taught 1973-2014, and I can tell you there is virtually NO way to compare then and now, in terms of neediness of students,and the number of things schools are REQUIRED to do.  THAT explains the difference in expenditures.


Actually, schools are doing pretty danged good, especially here in Georgia where they have been systematically underfunded and starved (compared to what is needed and what is expected) for years.  You should be thanking your lucky stars for the devotion of the teachers of this state in picking up the slack created, in part, by the short-sighted and elitist views held by our "leaders."

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@dcdcdc @Wascatlady


So let's go back to how schools were run 35 years ago -


no computers

no multimedia

no internet access

no interactive style whiteboards (only chalkboards)

no xerox machines 

out of date libraries and textbooks

limited services for students with special needs

no access for handicapped students



You are right.  It will cost a lot less.  Let's see how well our children will be prepared to compete with the rest of the world.  


And education HAS improved in many ways...children who never would have been offered an education are now in school.  Students who would have dropped out are now going to college.  Things have improved for many students.  There is, absolutely, still a lot of room for improvement, but to suggest that the entire public education system is a failure is disingenuous. 


Try looking at long term trends as expressed by the data collected via the National Assessment of Educational Progress and you will see that the "Eduacracy" (as you label it in derision) has indeed improved their productivity despite the growing number of students in poverty, with disabilities and facing increasing SES pressures. There is a constant (though admittedly slight) upward trend to all the data since the testing began in the early 1990s.



Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@dcdcdc Until the legislature provides the money to provide alternative educational paths for those disruptive students, this will continue AND WORSEN!

CSpinks
CSpinks

@Quidocetdiscit @dcdcdc @Wascatlady While there has been a slight upward movement in some NAEP scores, too many of our students continue to leave GA public schools without the knowledge and skills required to succeed in a world whose demands have increased much more rapidly than their capabilities.

Another comment
Another comment

What happen when you have bored free and reduced lunch students above 20% at any school with these mindless script programs? They act out. The bully the rich white kids, they distrupt for those who actually might be able to grasp something.

I had my youngest abused at one Cobb school in 4 th. Got a transfer to a better school in 5 th. Then moved to what was suppose to be a good Fulton school. But those dang apartments can flip on a dime and your school can suddenly be overloaded with free lunchers.

I had to remove my child from the toxic environment of Public schools but don't have the $26k tuition of ITTP schools. Nor am I willing to sallow the right wing bible thumping crap of some of the other ones. I have had to piece together a couple of the hybrids that at less Christian more just school, so my child interacts with kids who want to learn a couple of days a week in a class room setting . She is now taking three classes on the Georgia Virtual school to make up the rest.

Many parents as soon as their bright and willing child hits 16 is entering them in the dual enrollment with the dual enrollment being all in college.

Sad that so many of our kids have to miss out on middle school and high school. Due to testing companies, lack of discipline, adult salaries and the mechanisms to fund them like a free lunch or ESOl kid being more valuable than a real homeowners child who owns home that cost $500k and up. Continue crapping on the homeowners and see where it gets you!

redweather
redweather

And while we're on the subject, innovation isn't all that it's made out to be.  For every corporate innovation that really works, the floor is covered with hair-brained ideas. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

And how about the business/Hitler model we were forced to use when bribed into Reading First/scripted reading?  We were ACTUALLY TO USE A DOG CLICKER TO ELICIT RESPONSES FROM THE CLASS!  I refused to do it; I also refused to stick to the script of simple-minded questions.  Instead of asking, "What color was the jacket?" <click> "Red!"  I preferred asking, "Why might he be wearing a jacket?" (no click) Then students might volunteer their own reasons, drawing on their previous experiences.


I still cannot believe our system bought into that ****, mistaking calling words fast as "reading." (DIBELS)  What an insane travesty--and it was claimed to be "research based!"  Actually it was the ADULTS who learned to salivate for the "free money" to the sound of those ****** dog clickers!

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

@Wascatlady

"I still cannot believe our system bought into that ****, "


Keywords:  YOUR  SYSTEM BOUGHT INTO THAT.  It's not like the publishers held a gun to their heads and forced them to buy the junk.

AvgGeorgian
AvgGeorgian

@Wascatlady


I have seen scripted reading (done correctly) improve reading skills for certain kids with reading deficits, but it took a skilled, experienced teacher to adjust the delivery to provide the increased performance. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@AvgGeorgian @Wascatlady It certainly does not fit the needs of all students, either.  Our county KILLED about 8 years' worth of students' reading with this "stuff."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@Lee_CPA2 @Wascatlady The siren call of many hundreds of thousands of dollars with its "miracle cure" from the federal government made it too enticing for those in charge (many of whom had never taught average kids to read!)  At least half the stuff sits, unused, at that school, while the latest **** has taken its place.


Many school systems sold their souls, agreeing to have "reading" for 2 hours and 40 minutes each day, no exceptions.  Originally, we were not allowed to have a bathroom break!  Tell THAT to a second grader!

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady @Lee_CPA2 You should read the 10th amendment to the U. S, Constitution sometime.  Then you will understand why the Feds 'Bribe" their way to power.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Wascatlady So in order to see if your students had correctly read a passage, you asked them "why might he be wearing a jacket?" rather than "what color was the jacket?"  Which question could they answer without reading the passage (or being ABLE to read the passage)?  Which question would tell you if they did (or could) read the passage?  I rest my case.  That must be "innovative" teaching?