Does Class Size Matter?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Tyler B., Jun 29, 2016.

  1. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    Yeah, I see what your saying, class size in isolation is not as effective as most of us teachers think it is, it is other factors that seem to have more of an impact.
     
  2. TamiJ

    TamiJ Virtuoso

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    That sums it up nicely. :)
     
  3. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Here is a link to the book I own from 2008 and below it a link to a newer one that is suppose to better for teachers.
    https://www.amazon.com/Visible-Lear...d=1467402857&sr=1-3&keywords=visible+learning

    https://www.amazon.com/Visible-Lear...d=1467403096&sr=1-1&keywords=visible+learning

    What Hattie's research found is that that while classroom size does make some difference, the difference isn't that large. What the research found is that many teachers (not all) don't change how they teach when given a class of fewer students.
     
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  4. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    As long as policy is made by politicians schools are screwed. Their agendas are contrary to helping kids and more about being re-elected. And now days worse because public ed. is the football they kick around all the time. In Fla. they have micromanaged teachers to the point all they do is teach for tests and to generate data for some bean counter to parade around as gospel about kids and their learning deficits, styles and/or gains. Class size? Of course it makes a difference. And with the kids teacherguy mentioned it gets worse. You put 3-5 wackadoodle kids in a class with 20 others and it like 30+ or more. Elementary demands smaller classes for teachers to be really effective. Someone mentioned % of time you can spend with kids in a class of 25 as opposed to 20. That is not a real indication. Each class will have kids that can almost learn on their own. Many that need some attention and some that almost need one on one all day. If you have a smaller classes those that need you more will have more of you. If you have a class of gifted kids you become a facilitator and inspirational leader. But most of us have kids all over the place. Discipline is a huge reason many kids can disrupt classes over and over. The do not get it at home and the schools hands are tied by "new age best practices". To heck with the other 95% of the kids that could actually learn in a normal classroom setting. I feel so bad for great teachers I see constantly bombarded with the new assessments, new tests, new guidelines, new lesson plan templates, new curriculum, new TGPs etc etc etc. For God sake let them teach children and let them teach what is appropriate for that grade level.
     
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  5. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    This sounds like you had a pretty lousy experience. I've also done plenty of research and can attest that not all research is like this. Plenty of us have spent many hours in classrooms, do not fudge our data, and don't proceed with a biased agenda (beyond what may be considered normal bias, which we all have).
     
  6. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    I might interject that one reason you'll see a wide variation in what "class size" can do is that it may be necessary, but not sufficient, to producing change. In other words, just because you have low class size doesn't mean a teacher will still take advantage of lower numbers and provide more differentiated and individualized (or small group instruction). This gets back to an age old mistake when interpreting educational research, which is that someone finds a study that suggests that a particular strategy, program, policy, etc. doesn't single-handedly solve all educational problems, so we therefore dismiss it as irrelevant.

    I love medical analogies, so consider the "triple cocktail" of HIV/AIDS medication - one of the drugs by itself didn't produce change (or as much change), but taken together there was an effect. Almost every thing is like this - classrooms are complicated, so interjecting an isolated variable (e.g., class size), but changing nothing else in the educational environment, may have no impact. But that does not mean that class size couldn't lead to a huge educational change/benefit if combined with other things.
     
  7. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    The interesting thing about Florida is that they have class size caps, so they have MUCH smaller classes than many areas (especially CA), but so many FL teachers seem to be truly miserable for other reasons. The testing insanity in FL is something I would never want to deal with. I'd rather have my 10 extra students (I have 32 and have been told that upper elementary in FL has about 22) and not have testing pressure and have total freedom in how I teach. Not everyone in CA has that, but I do where I am. However, the testing pressure seems to be much worse in FL across the board than it is in CA, especially since test scores aren't tied to evals in CA.

    Actually, I have a coworker who is a former FL teacher. She mentioned how she had 14 year olds in 5th grade because of the mandatory retention in 3rd based on test results. I'd MUCH rather have my 32 ten year olds than have even 15 kids that range in age from 10-14. Good grief. Way too big of a difference in that age range.

    Is class size important? Sure. I highly doubt a small class size would negatively affect students. But other things are more important, IMO.
     
  8. Nab

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    This is very interesting stuff. I'm in Louisiana, and in the school districts around me, it is often reported (on educational websites or information websites) that the class sizes are 14:1 or 20:1. Having observed classes from K-12, having interned in two high schools, and having interviewed in three school districts - I find that really misleading. The private schools can have up to 25-30 students in a class and most public schools have 30-36 students in a class. Some more rural schools and some schools that are failing may have 14 students in a class. . . but, those students usually have severe learning disabilities and behavioral/emotional disabilities/issues.. . so, it feels like double or triple that number.

    Ideally, I do think a class size of 15-25 would work best for students and teachers. But, that would require more teachers and supplies for students. Interestingly, people in the general public don't seem to get that there are classes that can have 40 students in a class. My parents were shocked when I told them that my smallest class, at my first internship school, was 29 students. (Four had been expelled before I got there)
     
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  9. a2z

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    It is misleading, isn't it. I think all schools report this way. They average the number of teaching staff to the number of students whether or not the class sizes are really that low.

    Then you have a lot of classes with a support teacher in it which can then be claimed as a smaller class size. 36 kids can turn into a ratio of 18:1, but it doesn't function like a room of 18 students.
     
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  10. yellowdaisies

    yellowdaisies Fanatic

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    Yep. Our ratio is 24:1 because we have an art teacher and a spanish teacher. Meanwhile, 4th and 5th grades have 32:1...
     
  11. sharan singh

    sharan singh Rookie

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    size matter much more, lot of students means teacher's attention is also distract .Concrete on less student is easy for teacher.
     
  12. otterpop

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    I imagine this is a ratio between all students to all teachers? So, specials teachers and special ed teachers would count too, I think.
     
  13. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Absolutely.
     
  14. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    EdEd,
    Great comment. I would also agree that it's possible some teachers would not have sufficient training to take advantage of a small class. Where I would disagree is that a smaller class should not be split up into smaller groups. This, in my experience, is less effective than keeping a central theme, like a class novel, and boosting the weaker students so they can learn and participate as well as challenge the strongest students. This is much easier to do with a small class. There's more than one way to provide differentiated instruction and meet individual needs.
     
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2016
  15. blazer

    blazer Connoisseur

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    Class size must matter otherwise the rich wouldn't pay to send their offspring to schools where the class size is less than half of a state (public) school!
     
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  16. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    I don't think that is why rich people send their kids to private schools;)
     
  17. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I don't think so because many wealthy parents send their kids to Catholic schools where I live because there aren't many exclusive private schools around. The Catholic schools tend to have class sizes higher than the public schools. For those that don't you don't want to send your kid there because there is a reason that people aren't flocking to that Catholic school.
     
  18. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    Blazer is right. If you look at the websites for the super pricey private schools, they brag about their student-teacher ratio.
     
  19. otterpop

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    I'm sure there are a variety of reasons parents choose private schools. Prices can range from around $5000 to $25000+ a year, so I'd imagine tuition can impact class sizes a lot. I did some research on the private Christian school near me... It's in a corrugated metal building, no frills, and tuition is around $5000 a year and average class size is 16. From their website, it also sounds like most of the teachers are not certified (they do an in-depth training for the A Beka curriculum instead).
     
  20. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Class size often is smaller in private schools, but not always. Some private schools in AZ have over 30 students per class and have waiting lists.

    Blazer does have one point correct though. Parents do care about class size. While the research may vary about how much class size matters, every large survey I've seen of parents of K-8 students say that class size matters a lot to them. If there are surveys that show that parents don't care about class size, I've never seen it.
     
  21. otterpop

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    There are also unmeasurable benefits of lower class sizes. For example, many parents would want a teacher who cared about their child as an individual and got to know their unique strengths and weaknesses. This is undoubtedly easier in a smaller class.
     
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  22. blazer

    blazer Connoisseur

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    I don't think you do this in the US (or not in the schools I have visited). I believe you call it tracking. We call it setting by ability. So in my school there may be 120 kids in a year group. we would divide them into 5 groups based on ability. The highest ability kids (who tend to have the least behaviour problems or special needs) would be in a class of 32. As you go down the ability the classes get smaller until the lowest ability kids may be in a class of 15 with another adult in support of the teacher. The kids that require the most support have a better chance of getting it. Those that are self motivated and able to work with less supervision or input do so.
     
  23. teacherquestions

    teacherquestions Rookie

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    I've had a class of 16, and another of 36 at a different school. They both have their pros and cons! i found that the smaller class was really quiet and boring and moved too quickly. With the larger classes they were a little more difficult to control and plan hands-on activities for.
     
  24. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Thanks Tyler - Yes, we know we disagree on the small group thing, but I definitely see your point that if you're not going to do small groups, smaller classes would definitely make it easier to differentiate. And yes, I'd agree that there's more than one way to differentiate. Doesn't mean they're all equally effective though.
     
  25. otterpop

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    We do this at my school, but all class sizes are the same. It's rough for the teachers who have the lower classes, and great for the teachers with the high classes. Not only are the low classes low, they usually have all the behavior problems too.
     
  26. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    I think rich people send their kids to private school to have their kids surrounded by like minded rich kids more than number of kids in each class.
     
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  27. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    I read an article a few months ago about needs based students at Ivy schools and how they struggle to fit in because they don't come from the same financial class. It keeps them on the outside because they don't have the common bond of being able to do things that the wealthy students can do or have done.
     
  28. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

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    Actually this is not only true of many private schools, but also public. I know that many move to nice neighborhoods to have all rich kids at their school. The public school I taught at was nearly 100% wealthy families. The private school I now teach at has near 0 wealthy families--it is in the inner city.
     
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  29. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    My school has a huge variety of students - rich and low income (I don't think we have any living in extreme poverty). I try to be careful about posing questions about vacation experiences, because some of my kids go to Europe or Asia for vacations, while others sit at home doing nothing on their breaks. It can cause some really hurt feelings.

    Also, most of the people that I know who send their kids to private school do so because they like the religious aspect, or they say that the students are better behaved.
     
  30. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

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    Yep, yep, and more yep.
     
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2016
  31. blazer

    blazer Connoisseur

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    Agreed but at least our headbanger classes are much smaller and these kids are kept away from those that want to learn.
     
  32. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Wow, interesting quote. Seriously - I do you think have some really valid points, but I don't think you're really supporting your ultimate conclusion. I'll respond below for specifics:

    I'm with you so far.

    Well, you're right and wrong. First, to agree - yes, sometimes researchers draw arbitrarily narrow boundaries around a concept then try to argue it's something bigger. Couldn't agree more, and couldn't be more frustrated when it happens.

    That being said, memorization may not equal all learning, but it is some learning. Memorization of basic math facts? Letter-sound correspondences? Yep - learning, for sure. And hugely important.

    So, should we push for research that evaluates deeper learning, more complex skills, longer-term retention, etc.? Definitely, but that doesn't mean that research evaluating basic skills, which often need to be memorized, is not important. And it certainly doesn't undermine the very concept of research.

    You're throwing out a bunch of educational problems and lumping them under the "research sucks" umbrella. Here are a few valid points you've made:
    • Learning is not a "one-size-fits-all" thing
    • Educational videos that are corny, and therefore do not engage kids, shouldn't be used.
    • "Parroting" information - simply restating the information without any deeper, contextual, or applied understanding of it is less helpful than the opposite.
    Sure, but what do any of these have to do with research? You're really going to try to say that most research is characterized by "corny educational videos?" You really haven't read research that incorporates differentiation? I can show you a thousand studies that meet none of the "bad quality" indicators you've listed.

    Alright, I see you dropping knowledge of SPSS! ;). Seriously, though, this gets back to my first point - sure, I'm with you. Simply knowing that a statistically significant change in a very specific sub skill does NOT mean that you've found a silver bullet, or otherwise fully discovered the entire truth about teaching a particular subject. But, really - do you think that most researchers actually do this? Could you find one study that makes this claim - one study in which a researcher makes any kind of statement like, "The results of this study indicate that if you simply administer this corny video, you will have taught all of reading" - I doubt it.

    Now......that being said. Yes - I'm fully with you that there are folks out there who claim to have silver bullets - those generally are called educational consultants. I'm not going to paint all consultants with the same broad strokes you've painted researchers, but generally the folks who are guilty of silver bullet-pushing are consultants or trainers. Here are some silver bullets which some consultants or trainers push:
    • Single-gender education
    • Charter schools
    • Whole brain teaching
    Not saying none of these work, but some don't, and none are silver bullets.

    Valid point - politics & careers can get in the mix, skewing research agendas and even what is taught in grad school classes, etc. Can't deny this. But, also really can't even begin to say that this is the full motivation behind why researchers research. This would be exactly the same as saying teachers only teach for money. Sure, some do, and most care about it, but that's not their primary motivation.

    Nope. Sure, there is garbage research and plenty of times when methodology is faulty. It happens more than some may care to admit, I'll give you that. It's also true that you can get garbage out of SPSS if you don't have the right inputs. However, the fact that there is some bad research doesn't mean that all is. Do you have any evidence that this happens frequently? I can show you plenty of valid studies, so the burden of proof would be on you to discredit the entirety of education research. Again, the parallel here would be you trying to say that all teachers are bad because a few are. The exceptions don't make a rule. Rules do.

    NOW you've shown your cards - you're a researcher! Ha! Yeah, the first authorship thing...yeah. You've won this point fair & square.

    There's validity here. Your main point is that there's an ivory tower disconnect. I'd probably side with you on this one, but this largely influences research agendas. It doesn't make the research that's actually done faulty. It means that what's selected to be studied may be of less relevance to the field. There are also times when, particularly in the discussion section, the researcher may suggest some things that may either be impractical or just not all that helpful.

    Well, crappy learning environments are largely the teacher, so there's that. And your point that shoddy data collection is causing learning not to happen? Really?
    ...................

    So, overall - you seem jaded, and that's too bad. I bet you were decent at what you did, when you did it. But now it seems you've taken it too far - you've decided to dismiss all of research because you saw some faults in the field. Would you be willing to do the same with teaching? Medicine? Personal relationships? How perfect does something need to be before you're willing to learn or benefit from it? How bad does it have to be before it needs to be thrown out?

    Ironically, it seems you've actually become a perpetrator of what you are arguing against - using faulty methods/logic/inputs to find a little bit of data to make sweeping generalizations about something that doesn't even begin to encapsulate it.

    I don't want to say that you don't have any good points, to dismiss your experiences, or even to say that if you started reading the Journal of Learning Science every night it would transform your career. But now that you've shut yourself off to new ideas from those sources, you're stuck. Imagine an educator saying such a daring thing in 1950. Wow, what a world s/he would have missed out on. The kids you teach are now squarely cut off from any benefit that new information from those sources may provide. Like a person going through a divorce swearing off love, you've made the decision that "they're" just not good enough for you. You're going it alone, or at least without "them." Most disappointingly, you're doing all of this in the name of protecting kids, defending teachers, and promoting "education," a field in which people who don't know everything make a lot of mistakes as they stumble toward proficiency and doing things better than they were yesterday.
     
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2016
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  33. GTB4GT

    GTB4GT Cohort

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    EdEd....a question for you regarding the research. I came into the profession later in life via an alternate route so I missed the formal training that most of my colleagues received. What little I know of research comes from reading this site. Most of the time, posters offer up conflicting data or studies (or even opinions) in some, if not all, of the threads. So my question is, where is the definitive source for educational research? How does the lay teacher "vett" the data or research? I have to admit i don't do enough reading in this area (educational research) as I should. Partly because there appears to be so much offsetting debate.
     
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  34. callmebob

    callmebob Enthusiast

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    This upcoming start of the school year looks to be the lowest roster number I have ever had, 25 students. Now that number could change between now and the start of school, but last year I was around 32 for most of the year. 5-7 students less will make a significant difference. There have been a few times where I had a roster under 30 for a while, but never an entire school year.
     
  35. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    This is a great question, and I think highlights a few of the fundamental problems with education research right now: it can be confusing, hard to read, not conclusory, conflicting, hard to access, and out of touch with the realities of the classroom. When you can actually read a study because it's not behind a paywall, the terminology and research methods used are so complicated that most folks with education degrees can't really understand them. So, we're stuck reading the discussion sections and hoping to trust that the researcher has drawn a fair conclusion and made appropriate and logical inferences based on the results.

    If we're able to make it through an article, we could read other articles that show discrepant data, possibly even reaching vastly different conclusions. With little time on our hands and armed with little knowledge of complicated statistics and research methods, how do we draw conclusions?

    I could go on!

    Fortunately, I do think there are some tools/approaches we can use to make better sense than not of research out there:
    1. Keep reading. Things tend to make more sense over time, and you have more of a context/reference base. You may not get everything right away, but over time you'll get more. As an example, I started reading the Wall Street Journal everyday because, well, I started getting it for free, and I decided that I know woefully little about planning for retirement. I know maybe 20% of what I read right now, but I look up terms I don't know, and try to at least absorb some knowledge every time I read something. You also develop background knowledge and a research context gradually over time, so that with every new study you read, your web of connected knowledge against which to evaluate the new information becomes just a little stronger. In short, just like everything, don't expect to know or get everything right away.
    2. Look for patterns. Most research isn't completely contradictory - very rarely, when you get down to it, do studies completely conflict. The conclusions drawn might, but a lot of times you have more or less of an affect of something. When you do get conflict, most of the time it's due to a variation in what was actually researched (e.g., population/participants), research methodology (e.g., stats or assessments used), and sometimes just measurement error. With close reading, over time patterns generally emerge with important things.
    3. Read meta analyses, summaries, and books. It would be really, really hard to just read a bunch of studies by themselves and attempt to put together a cohesive picture of the research. Fortunately, there are folks who do this pretty regularly, especially with topics that are well studied. Of course, the books and meta analyses are not guaranteed to be perfect, but they offer a higher-level synthesis of what's out there, and at the very least a pretty good start toward understanding the research base. Consider these to be advance organizers of your lesson on the "research on subject X."
    4. What Works Clearinghouse. Again, not perfect, but this is a government website that indexes and catalogues interventions/curricula and relevant research. Don't accept the findings blindly, but again it's a good starting point if you have a topic you want to research, but don't know where to start.
    5. Trainings & Conferences. If you really want to know about the research in a certain area, a webinar, training, conference, etc. may be a good starting point. A lot of times, if done well, those people have a citations list, further reading list, etc. - and you can always just ask for good resources in that area.
    All of this said, I'm still one of those people that thinks that we need to use a critical eye when reading research, and I fully support the professionalism of teachers in terms of drawing independent, data-based conclusions. The danger is when we only rely on one source of information to inform our practice.
     
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  36. msz101

    msz101 Rookie

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    I am a teacher working in the Bronx. I had 28 first grade students and for September I'll have 32. Class size does really matter. It's much easier to beneficial to have a smaller class, especially when it comes to guided reading groups and differentiating the class work.
     
  37. stephenpe

    stephenpe Connoisseur

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    I heard this summer from a Brooklynite that Brooklyn now has a great school system. 32 first graders is criminal. Half that would be much more appropriate.
     
  38. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    I'm with you when you say that a lot of research is carried out problematically and doesn't necessarily translate into helpfulness. And, like you, I spent a bit of time doing research but don't actively at the moment, at least not published, formal research ;).

    In terms of education, I'm not sure I agree that it's heading in the wrong direction. On this forum and in other places, I've been an outspoken critic of education and our need for improvement. But, I feel like the last 15 years or so have seen some progress - from a structural perspective to things that happen at the building and classroom-level - everything from reading intervention to special education identification and even, yes, teacher accountability (though I disagree with how it's happened). We have a LONG way to go, but I'd actually credit an improvement in research-to-practice for the improvements in education.

    In terms of the bigger "why" we have problems in education, I don't think there's a singular answer. I think it's just tough - everything from poverty to teacher quality and everything in between. I think the one wrong answer, though, is that assuming there is one right answer.

    Ski, I guess to conclude, I'd say that I think the the "innovations" that have happened have been helpful, not hurtful. What innovations have you found to be unhelpful?
     
  39. a2z

    a2z Maven

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    Jul 20, 2016

    I agree there is faulty research out there, but is the main problem the research or how others interpret the research and misapply it? It seems many people with a superficial understanding of research (and those who want to promote themselves or sell) tend to take the conclusions out of context and misapply the conclusion. Someone puts a spin on the conclusion, then through various ways, an inaccurate or incomplete version of this spreads like wildfire through the profession. So we have people abandoning what they are doing to use this new "innovation". Look at rainbow words for spelling. Sure, it might help a student or two, but it certainly wasn't a substitute for other methods of teaching spelling. Misapplied is the idea of drawing a picture to learn how to spell a word. Um, no. A few students might benefit, but the real thing a picture does is help learn the meaning. I can't tell you how many teachers believe it helps students learn to spell the word.

    To me, this shows a general lack of critical thinking skills within the profession at all levels from educational consultants, professors, teachers, and administrators (who in most part of the country do have teaching experience so should have the education to read and understand research).
     
    PallasAthena and EdEd like this.
  40. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Jul 20, 2016

    Well said a2z
     

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