Minnesotans for Better Education, Standards and Testing

Minnbest is a non-partisan, broad based coalition of parents, educators and school advocacy groups who believe excellent public education is a foundation of democracy in America.

2/13/2004

Another Standards Committee Member Shows a Lack of Scholarship

While not as fun to read as Mr. Anderson (below), Ms. Hoerle paints all with an equally bold brush and shows her ideology, rather than her actual expertise.

Ellen Hoerle: Now schools can be held more accountable

Published February 14, 2004

StarTribune

I would like to expose several statements that Andrew P. Johnson made in his Jan. 10 Counterpoint supporting the use of cooperative learning.

Johnson claims that there is "a wealth of research dating back to the '70s that supports [cooperative learning's] use as an effective learning tool for all students."

It is a common ploy by many in the education profession, especially those in the schools of education, to use the word "research" to attach special importance to their claims. They know that to the general public the word conjures up images of organized, well-planned experiments with control groups, repeatable results, outside scrutiny and, ultimately, validation from others. When the word research is used in connection with the education profession, it means nothing of the sort.

Johnson also claims that "learning is the main purpose of schools and education." Of course it is. But what is not so obvious to most is what students are really learning in today's schools.

Emphasis has shifted from teachers being expected to pass along their knowledge to students through content-based curricula to making sure that students learn how to "manipulate concepts and ideas" (sometimes referred to as problem solving), "engage in higher level thinking" (sometimes referred to as critical thinking) and "hear a variety of perspectives and thinking styles" (used as justification for heterogeneous grouping).

Teachers are no longer responsible for, nor should they be expected to be held accountable for, teaching facts, skills or basic knowledge. Instead, they are responsible for making learning "more enjoyable" and for "increasing motivation" so that, essentially, the students will be motivated to learn on their own. It's called the contructivist approach to teaching and learning, and -- especially in math -- it is alive and well in many school districts in Minnesota.

Ultimately, the responsibility for learning can then be passed on to the student, and deflected away from the teacher. This also allows educators and administrators who promote the constructivist approach (a group I will refer to below as the education establishment) to blame the learning gap on students' socioeconomic background rather than on the poor teaching methods and curricula being used that were sold as being effective based on questionable research.

The constructivist approach also allows the teacher to remove the expectation of mastery of any specific skill, fact or knowledge, because all students are different and learn and develop at different rates, as the excuse goes.

Also, by claiming students learn "higher level thinking" skills, the educational establishment exposes its true ignorance of how children learn. "Higher level thinking" is virtually impossible without a foundation of automaticity of basic skills and knowledge. In other words, students can't do higher-level thinking unless basic-level thinking has become automatic.

Ultimately, there is a huge divide in this state and across the country between what parents expect their children to learn in school and what the education establishment wants to be given credit for teaching them.

This is the divide that Education Commissioner Cheri Pierson Yecke has tried to expose in her book, "The War Against Excellence," and through the development of new academic, content-specific standards for our state.

Andrew P. Johnson's demand that a new education commissioner be found is evidence that the educational establishment feels threatened by Yecke's presence and ideas.

Minnesota's new standards mean that schools can be more easily held accountable by the taxpayers who fund our school systems and that students might have a chance to begin to learn what parents have been expecting all along. To many in the education establishment and schools of education, those can be frightening thoughts indeed.

Ellen Hoerle, of Eden Prairie, served on the Minnesota Academics Standard Committee for math and has children in the Eden Prairie schools.