Tuesday, April 26, 2005


A reader tipped me off to a very good book, “What Great Teachers Do Differently: Fourteen Things That Matter Most” (Todd Whitaker,
www.eyeoneducation.com, 2004).

It’s striking how apt his insights are, and yet how little they have to do with what the Education Establishment thinks is important in assuring teacher quality. You know: teacher “credentialing” such as an education degree, state certification, national board certification, inservices, out-of-town conferences, master’s degrees, competency testing, student teaching, mentoring and endorsements.

Difference-makers in teaching are so much less complicated and expensive than those things.

I don’t want to give away the author’s 14 secrets, but here are just a few:

Great teachers never forget that it is people, not programs, that determine the quality of a school.
Great teachers establish clear expectations at the start of the year and follow them consistently as the year progresses.
When a student misbehaves, great teachers have one goal: to keep that behavior from happening again.

Another one should be taken to heart by school boards, principals and teachers before making any decision or change. They should ask themselves, “What will the best people think?” The best teachers, the best students, the best parents . . . will they like and support what you’re thinking of doing? If not, don’t do it.

Recently, in response to her request, I sent an educator a ream of material about the discredited mathematics curriculum, “Everyday Mathematics.” Her district is considering switching to it. (Search for it on
www.mathematicallycorrect.com for criticism of its over-reliance on calculators even in the early grades, lack of challenge for strong students, and lack of overall depth and breadth.) She had a vague idea that it had been controversial here and there, but had no data or input from anybody without an ax to grind or a product to sell.

Now, I’ve done a lot of research on math curricula because it’s interesting to me, and math is important in our family: our two older daughters got “5’s” on the Advanced Placement Calculus test, and the third child scored in the 99th percentile on a standardized math test in eighth grade. One even got 790 out of 800 on the math portion of the SAT. So it’s not really bragging to say that these students are among the “best.”

Will it make a difference that the mother of students like these recommends against switching to Everyday Mathematics, or will the district just purchase it, anyway, because it seems to be “popular” around the country?

It will be interesting to see. I certainly hope they ask around a little bit more – seeking input from the people they serve who might be the best qualified to render an objective opinion.

That’s the way it is with everything in teaching. If schools and educrats had just asked the cream of the crop BEFORE they “deformed” education, we’d have never had federal micromanaging in K-12 education . . . no dumbing-down outcomes and standards . . . no union control over how much anybody gets paid . . . no whole language . . . no whole math . . . nowhere near 80% of the kids in special education simply because they were not taught to read properly . . . none of this “no child left behind, but no child gets ahead, either” baloney.

So much of what has gone wrong with K-12 education – from systemic misspelling, to politicized curriculum, to students’ disregard for authority – stems from the failure of educational leaders to ask that one simple question of the “best” of their patrons.

I hope they’ll get this book . . . start living by it . . . and quit “majoring in the minors” when it comes to matters of teacher credentialing and bureaucratic minutia. Instead, they should do the things that cost nothing . . . but are extremely valuable.

We could add a 15th “thing that matters most” – and that is, “put top priority on what parents and taxpayers really want from schools, and do everything in your power, every day, to deliver it.”

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