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Myth-o-Mania of Teaching: 5 Lies That Kill Education

We cling to our lies for normalcy. 

After a while, some of what we tell ourselves so convincingly becomes the truths we adhere to and so corrode the delicate balance of reality.

Education is a unique ecosystem of human resources, both primary and secondary, coupled with technologies and forming minds and bodies. Many cooks in the kitchen, as cliché as it is.

From the inside, education is already complicated, but from the outside it's like a foreign language movie without subtitles on display for the whole world to participate in and judge.

Given the current educational climate, we must acknowledge the myths that the media and society have grabbed onto, making educational professionals seeming enemies of the children. School communities are invested in what's best for kids, but that isn't what often is relayed.

Here are some myths to consider:

  1. The Common Core State Standards are bad for children: The Common Core on its own is a list of standards that help schools and students understand the skills needed for mastery for career and college readiness. They aren't content specific and therefore can be used across content seamlessly. Unfortunately, many companies, including Pearson, have taken the CCSS and hitched the standards to testing and pre-made curriculum packages to make the implementation "easier." The standards are NOT the problem - the big data interest looking to capitalize on them is. Many teachers are more aligned to the standards than they realize; it's just a matter of really evaluating the skills being taught at different levels in education.

  2. Grades are important: Kids need grades, right? Wrong. The traditional system has used grades as a common language to communicate learning between stakeholders in education (teachers and students, teachers and parents, parents, and students), so in theory they would appear to be essential. What they are trying to communicate is extremely necessary, but they don't do what they are promising. Most grades value compliance and behavior and points over actual conversations about learning and mastery. We need to refocus the conversation and develop a loop of discussion around mastery and student achievement. The learning is what is essential, NOT the grade. The actual letter or number doesn't say much. Too much subjectivity waters down their meaning and dilutes the truth of student knowing. We shouldn't be grading effort as it doesn't adequately express learning.

  3. Tests assess student growth: Summative learning experiences don't do enough to show what kids know and can do. Lots of students don't perform well in a single sitting in any given subject and therefore fail to do what they are supposed to. Why not allow students to develop a portfolio and continue to work on learning over time and assess a product when a student feels it is complete? Start a feedback look where there is a conversation about learning happening and then growth will be evident through the progression of each project or task. Students can also spend time reflecting on the learning against standards at the completion of the assignment when it is placed in the portfolio. Tests can't be the only way we look at what students know because, like grades, they aren't an adequate dipstick.

  4. Teachers should be evaluated based on student growth: Student test scores are not an accurate means of assessment. Kids don't always adequately show what they know and there are so many factors involved with student learning that making a teacher's evaluation wholly reliant on how well a child performs is undue stress and pressure on both parties. Teachers need to be assessed authentically, just like students, with a portfolio and on-going feedback against an agreed-upon set of standards. In this way, teachers know what mastery looks like and can seek to achieve it. Accountability can be longitudinal and when students complete a year, the amount of growth from the beginning benchmark until end portfolio can be a component, but not the sole factor of evaluation.

  5. BYOD distracts students and erodes learning: Kids carry cellphones and they are powerful tools that can be harnessed in our classrooms. Distractions happen, but they have nothing to do with cellphones. Poor, teacher-centered pedagogy breeds distracted students who are more likely to doodle, pass notes, or text if technology is present. Just because students use phones doesn't mean they know or understand the academic possibilities; we need to show them. Technology can really support learning if we know how to use it appropriately. The real challenge is helping teachers learn to choose the best tech and allow the tools to support learning, not impede it.

Rebranding education to truly represent the positive growth must be a necessary mission for those currently in it. The first step in changing the perception is exposing the misconceptions that exist. Don't allow the lies or exceptions to label our noble profession.

How can we work together to change the current educational narrative? Please share.

This post originally ran on my Ed Week Teacher blog in May 2015

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