"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Straightjacket Teaching and Chain Gang Learning

If the Reading First standardistas and the Direct Instruction thugs get their way, teacher education in this country will resemble what has already happened in Britain. What is the most effective way to brainwash children and to cognitively decapitate them? Brainwash their teachers first. From the Guardian:

October 3, 2006 03:39 PM

Particularly pertinent in light of the new anti-ageism legislation was the TES'front-page headline last week: "New staff teach best: research explodes accepted myth of experience as young teachers outperform their colleagues". But behind the Institute of Education (IoE) and Nottingham University's findings lies a rather different story.

What might instead be deduced from this research is not that entrant teachers' dynamism makes for better teaching but that the just-trained teacher knows no better or worse than New Labour's prescriptive methodologies. As a result, they are both more compliant with government tick-box diktat and less jaded by the straitjacketing. (Research carried out by Ofsted arguably substantiates this idea with recently trained teachers scoring twice as well in inspection as their older counterparts trained under a different system - Ofsted's quality criteria heavily determined by government policy). The basis of good teaching in the IoE and Nottingham's research is test scores - including the very same sats results which have been so widely discredited. No wonder then, that new teachers are "better". Driven by the government's fixation with hitting targets, one thing today's teacher training certainly seems to instil are the benefits (in target terms) of teaching-to-the-test.

Autonomy and innovation have been almost entirely squeezed out of teaching today. The optimum teacher in the current system is a sort of automaton. Heavily dictated by rules disseminated through documentation and highly hierarchical in divisions between rule-makers (policy makers) and rule-abiders (teachers), the education system now resonates strongly with social theorist Max Weber's description of the bureaucracy. Particularly resonant is Weber's argument that bureaucratic organisation necessitates the eradication of the "talented amateur" in order to ensure a general level of competence - as Anthony Gidden's put it. In Weber's bureaucracy, the talented amateur is not an asset, staff instead trained to become "experts" in the system. Recently trained teachers, it might be argued, are the "experts" of the New Labour educational bureaucracy. The old teaching workforce, therefore, as non-experts of the new system, cease to be satisfactory.

Pedagogical issues aside, stripping teachers of their professionalism has taken an enormous toll on teacher morale and therefore on teacher supply. Yet the government's strategy to solve this morale crisis has not been to address it and thereby increase retention, but a policy of incessant recruitment. Apart from the huge disruption constant teacher turnover causes for pupils' learning, the government is squandering vast investment on training teachers who leave after a very short period in the profession.

It's worth noting that this research was sponsored by the government. Another piece of research undertaken by the Institute of Education for the government told us that class size didn't matter. Are these government-commissioned studies perhaps providing too many convenient truths for New Labour?

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