October 28, 2009

Murray on Curriculum

[I]t’s time for me to get in touch with my inner optimist. We can’t make our kids much smarter than they are naturally, but we can do a hugely better job of teaching them stuff. If you get away from the worst schools in the big cities, I think the central problem with the public schools is not poor teachers, but the curriculum teachers are given to teach, especially in elementary and middle school.

- Charles Murray

Murray goes on to tout the Core Knowledge sequence, as he did in his last book, Real Education.

I'd say the second biggest obstacle is teacher preparation and training.  Teachers largely do not have the necessary skills to effectively teach the most effective curricula.  They have difficulty teaching from a scripted curriculum in the absence of a considerable amount of training.  Needless to say, they aren't getting this training in Ed school.


Kathy said...

Just visit any kindergarten or first grade classroom and look at the terrible worksheets and other paper work from any large reading textbook company. You will want to cry. Kids waste so much time in kdg and first grade doing useless worksheets or workbooks that teach nothing. Teachers willingly follow the manuals from these series whether they like them or not. Teachers always do as they are told by the Admins.

And scripted reading programs, sorry, Ken, are a nightmare. If I had to teach Corrective Reading or Reading Mastery I would have to quit. I know they get good results and can overcome SES but yikes, after observing the new CR and RM remediation going on in my school, I don't know how teachers do it. The clicking alone in CR would drive me nuts. I would need tranquilizers to get through the lesson.

From what I see handing teachers scripted reading programs with no real understanding of the alphabetic code and how it relates to reading is worse than not using them at all. They have no clue as to why they are doing anything. They just follow along with no real thinking.

I would like to see teachers trained in synthetic phonics so they then understand how to teach a child to read using sounds to read unknown words. Teachers with this training can then evaluate reading programs.

Until teachers get past seeing reading as a bunch of activities we will get nowhere.

And I was in a school that used Core Knowledge. All teachers were trained and had attended the national conference. We had all the supplies you could buy. Even had expensive art reprints covering the school walls.

Our state test scores are actually higher under the new mandated curriculum and pacing guides. So who knows what is best to do.

There is no easy solution to the school crisis.

Programs will not do the trick.

We need to revamp our colleges and universities. That is where you start. Retraining teachers once they graduate is a huge expense and does not work. I see it everyday in the schools I have worked in.

I want to work with teachers who can think and like to think, not teachers trained to follow scripts or manuals. They are useless to their colleagues and to the students.

KDeRosa said...

Kathy, I agree with many of your points, but I don't see a feasible way to improve education colleges at this time.

The DI scripts are a way to compensate for this problem. They are not ideal, but there is no other way to get large numbers of teachers up to speed and trained to use the program.

I've used the DI scripts in a one-one-way situation for a few years now and I find them much easier and far less work than making up my own lesson plans from scratch. And, by using the scripts, I've learned a lot about how to actually teach a student.

Also, I don't have th pesonality to be able to teach basic skills year in and year out like most teachers do, with or without, a script. The wnole enterprise to me is dreadfully boring which is why I'm not a teacher.

Anonymous said...

Aside from the pervasive 'dumbing-down' of education in general, I am concerned about the development of a 'separate & unequal' educational track for SPED students.

Dick Schutz said...

Murray is no smarter about "curriculum" than he is about contending We can’t make our kids much smarter than they are naturally

Crystallized intelligence can of course be increased with instruction. But there is a big difference between curriculum and instruction. Yada yada-ing about curricululum is just that without the product/protocol=program to reliably deliver the aspirations reflected in the yada yada-ing.

The Core Knowledge sequence is one such. I happen to think other sequences that have more to offer, but these matters don't receive much attention.

DI is also one legitimate instructional architecture. I happen to think that alternative orientations have more to offer, but again these matters don't receive much attention.

There is methodology for probing each of these considerations, but again there is little current interest.

Teachers do have difficulty teaching scripted instruction. But they are fully qualified to effectively teach using alternative product/protocols.

Revamping college and university teacher training is a bootless and unnecessary task. Info tech is moving so fast that it will inexorably overtake any teacher-ed "reform" efforts.