Friday, February 3, 2012

Daugaard's Merit Pay Plan Begins With Wrong Premise

High school debaters are frequently intelligent and logical young people.  They are also frequently myopic. I have seen scores of rounds turn into debacles because one or both of the debaters chose to focus on a single issue rather than the premises behind an opponent's case.

In some ways, those of us who oppose Governor Daugaard's merit pay and STEM uber alles proposals have done the same thing.  We have pointed to Daniel Pink or Diane Ravitch to illustrate that merit pay fails.  On the facts, we're right, but sometimes focusing solely on the facts produces a bad debate.

At the same time, it seems that no one is challenging the fact that Daugaard's plan focuses on the teacher. It strikes me that if this were a debate round,  I would want my debaters to demand that focus be put on the students or on schools' structure.

Larry Cuban looks at one element in education that seems immune to reform: the age graded school.
The age-graded school is also an institution that has plans for those who work within its confines. The organization isolates and insulates teachers from one another, perpetuates teacher-centered pedagogy,  and prevents a large fraction of students from achieving academically. It is the sea in which teachers, students, principals, and parents swim yet few contemporary reformers have questioned this one-size-fits-all organization.
Cuban concludes,
The unintended (and ironic) consequence of frequent and earnest calls for radical change in preparation of school leaders, school governance, curriculum, and instruction through non-traditional teachers and administrators, charter schools, nifty reading and math programs, iPads for kindergartners, blended learning, pay-for-performance, and other reforms  preserve the age-graded school and freeze classroom patterns that so many reformers and entrepreneurs want to alter.
Intuitively, Cuban's analysis seems to make perfect sense.  I have some successful class sections that combine sophomores and seniors.  Cuban notes that few schools have tried to alter age graded schools, but uncertainty about merit pay's efficacy did not prevent Governor Daugaard from proposing merit pay.

If there's one part of school that's as sacrosanct as grouping students by age, it's the agrarian notion that students need not be in school in the summer. At the Madville Times, Cory points out that more contact hours don't necessarily lead to positive results. I wonder, however, if shortening the school day so that teenagers could show up at 9 am or so when their brains wake up might help achievement.   I also wonder if a school year that had six week sessions followed by two week breaks might also produce better results.

I've also been intrigued by reviews of Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts.  In an interview in Scientific American, Cain contends,
In our society, the ideal self is bold, gregarious, and comfortable in the spotlight. We like to think that we value individuality, but mostly we admire the type of individual who’s comfortable “putting himself out there.” Our schools, workplaces, and religious institutions are designed for extroverts. Introverts are to extroverts what American women were to men in the 1950s -- second-class citizens with gigantic amounts of untapped talent.
Later in the interview she asserts,
Most schools and workplaces now organize workers and students into groups, believing that creativity and productivity comes from a gregarious place. This is nonsense, of course. From Darwin to Picasso to Dr. Seuss, our greatest thinkers have often worked in solitude, and in my book I examine lots of research on the pitfalls of groupwork.
Instead of accepting Daugaard's premise and arguing only that his plan is destined to fail, let's reject his premises about the nature of reform.  The past ten years have focused on teachers and best practices.  The Governor claims that those reforms have produced meager results.  Perhaps a pilot study would develop a way to modify age based schools or create curricula that helps introverts succeed in school.  Instead of focusing solely on teachers, let's focus on the institutional practices and the students as well.

[edited for grammar and completeness 10:45 am; one should never blog before coffee]


caheidelberger said...

So much to think about... let me touch on introverts for a moment. I wholly agree with the idea that some of the best work is done in quiet isolation (or isolation with the boom box cranked). I've never liked getting thrown into group learning situations: I much prefer getting my marching orders and marching on my own path toward completing the assignment. But suddenly it occurs to me that I've jumped into teaching a subject, French, where I demand extroversion and interaction for success. Can introverts succeed in learning a foreign language?

slhart said...

I was just saying this morning that I don't think the governor's plan goes far enough! Instead of going back to 1971, we should go back to 1951. I attended a one-room school for my first three grades and most of what I learned came directly from listening to the older classes in session. Maybe we should look at multi-age classrooms. (However, I would like to keep the technology!)