I believe that schools pose a special problem. By and large parents and policymakers know that all is not well with pre-collegiate education. What may be less well known is that the education establishment is dominated by an education creed at odds with what many parents and policymakers expect -- a creed that disparages subject matter, explicit instruction and academic achievement in favor of some nebulous goals.
In a paper called Aligning Teacher Training with Public Policy Prof. J. E. Stone examines the divergent aims of the public and educationists.
What are the outcomes sought by the public? Parents and employers want students to have thinking skills, but they place equal or greater importance on academic fundamentals. As Different Drummers found, “Most typical Americans—along with most employers—are alarmed by the number of youngsters they see who lack even basic skills, particularly such fundamentals as spelling and grammar. But for education professors, training teachers who stress correct English usage is a distinctly low priority.” Education professors consider the public’s concerns to be “outmoded and mistaken.” In a word, professors are learner-centered but parents and employers are learning-centered.Speaking the same language about different things.
All of this is to say that the teacher education community is comfortable with weak academic standards because they believe that education cannot be judged by whether it produces recognized forms of academic achievement. Instead, they hold that the important outcomes of education are the task-specific enhancements of intellectual ability that are presumed to result from learner-centered educational experiences. The knowledge and skills valued by parents and employers are considered secondary, incidental, and dispensable.
As college presidents talk with teacher educators’ about improving educational quality, they should bear these distinctions in mind. So should policymakers and the public. When teacher educators speak of good teaching, they do not necessarily mean actions intended to bring about the acquisition of basic knowledge and skills. In the learner-centered view, such recognized educational attainments are options, not requirements.
Not only are educators and policymakers using similar terms to refer to very different ideas about education, neither side seems to understand the inconsistency. Most policymakers want schooling that produces high minimum levels of conventionally measured knowledge and skills. Their expectations include the higher-order intellectual skills but the basics are seen as indispensable. They assume that educators respect those priorities and are using the best available means of producing the desired outcomes.
Teachers are given to understand that learner-centered practices are the latest and most pedagogically sound means of producing what policymakers want—or at least what they should want. Few have a clear understanding that these so-called state-of-the-art methodologies are recycled versions of a pedagogical concept that is marginally suited to academic achievement.