As the video opens, Klein announces, “This CD will walk you through the research upon which we based our decisions regarding our program choices.” The implication is that the city’s search for the “best practices” was intellectually serious. Not so. Otherwise, this instructional guide would not be dominated by the pedagogical principles of a radical education guru from Australia named Brian Cambourne, who believes that teachers ought to encourage their students to achieve a “literacy for social equity and social justice.”Educationists pay lip service to "critical thinking" but any critical thought gets you denounced:
Professor Cambourne says he came to his theories when he discovered that many of his poorly performing students were actually quite bright. To his surprise, almost all demonstrated competence at challenging tasks in the real adult world, including poker. This led to the brainstorm that children learn better in natural settings with a minimum amount of adult help. So important does Joel Klein’s education department deem Cambourne’s theories to be that it instructs all city teachers to go through a checklist to make sure their classroom practices meet the down-under education professor’s “Conditions for Learning.” Which of four scenarios most accurately describes how your classroom is set up? teachers are asked. If the teacher can claim “a variety of center-based activities, for purposeful learning using different strategies, and for students to flow as needed,” she can pat herself on the back. But if her classroom is set up “for lecture with rows facing forward,” she must immediately change her practice.
You might ask whether there’s any evidence for such pedagogy. It’s “weak to nonexistent,” according to Reid Lyon, former head of all reading research at the National Institutes of Health. “The philosophical and romantic notion that children learn to read naturally and through incidental exposure to print and literature has no scientific merit whatsoever.”
That hasn’t deterred Chancellor Klein in the least. Constructivist pedagogical guidelines are forced on classroom teachers in weekly “professional development” sessions that are closer to a military boot camp than any serious inquiry into the best classroom practices. No dissent is allowed. Teachers are given lists of “nonnegotiables,” a strange and embarrassing concept for any education enterprise. Thus students must not be sitting in rows. Teachers are forbidden to stand at the head of the class and do “chalk and talk” at the blackboard. There must be a “workshop” (students working in groups) in every single reading period. Teachers are also provided with classroom maps indicating the exact location of the teacher’s desk, the students’ writing stations, and exactly how much of the wall space should be set aside for posting student work. Also nonnegotiable is that every elementary school classroom must have a rug.
Is it surprising then that Chancellor Klein is facing a revolt from teachers like 13-year veteran Jackie Bennett, from a Staten Island high school? Ms. Bennett’s problem is that she believes it’s not a sin to bring her knowledge of great literature to her students, even if she occasionally lectures. After all, Bennett has a master’s in English literature from Columbia University, exactly the kind of academic attainment we supposedly want more of from our teachers.
“DOE administrators talk about balance,” Ms. Bennett recently wrote in an unpublished letter to the New York Times.
"What they really want is all-group, all the time. What’s more, the message is clear: when we visit your classes and the kids are not in groups, you have one strike against you.
My recent experience at staff development is illustrative of just how clear that message is intended to be. After spending the morning working with my colleagues on a small group activity that entailed busywork that did nothing to further our development as teachers, we returned to a whole-class discussion to briefly assess what we had learned. I raised my hand and asked if there was any research tying group work to better test scores. The answer was no.
My behavior was reported to the Local Instructional Superintendent, and two days later, my assistant principal asked me to forgo attendance at the remaining meetings. I had, it seems, been kicked out of staff development. Had I made a ruckus? No. But I had asked uncomfortable questions. I had thought critically. Though the City’s Department of Education gives lip service to teaching kids to think critically, it is clear they want those critical thinking skills taught by drones."