Myths, Lies, Research and Vested Interests

It seems that Newton’s Third Law rings true for more than just billiard balls. For every bit of research telling you ‘It’s like this’ there is an equal and opposite piece of research telling you, well, maybe it isn’t that simple.

Which suggests the question, why are certain people propagating certain messages about the nature of teaching, teachers, schools and children? What’s in it for them that the rest of the world should think like this? But that’s a whole other can of worms…

Anyhoo, here are the edited highlights (i.e. the bits that aren’t specifically US related although the myth, ‘International tests show that the United States has a second rate education system’ might ring true in the UK, Australia and everywhere else that isn’t Shanghai or Korea) from a book called the 50 Myths & Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education. It has been written by a number of US academics and is meticulously cross-referenced with the research they cite.

Together they try to address the balance regarding the ‘facts’ being used to push the state education system into private hands whilst at the same time dumbing down the teaching profession.

At least it couldn’t happen here. Oh, wait…

Myth: Private schools are better than public schools

Myth: Charter schools are better than traditional public schools

Myth: Cyber schools are an efficient, cost-saving and highly effective means of delivering education

Myth: School choice and competition work to improve all schools

Myth: Charter schools inject competition into the education system and ‘raise all boats’

Myth: Teachers are the most important influence in a child’s education

Myth: Teachers are well paid

MythMerit pay is a good way to increase the performance of teachers

Myth: Teachers should be evaluated on the basis of the performance of their students.

Myth: Rewarding and punishing schools for the performance of their students will improve our nations’ schools

Myth: Teachers in schools that serve the poor are not very talented

Myth: Teach for America (the Teach First mothership) teachers are well trained, highly qualified and get amazing results

Myth: Subject matter knowledge is the most important asset a teacher can posses

Myth: Teacher unions are responsible for much poor school performance

Myth: Class size does not matter; reducing class sizes will not result in more learning

Myth: Retaining children in grade – “flunking” them – helps struggling children catch up and promotes better classroom instruction for all

Myth: Tracking or separating slow and fast learners is an efficient and productive way to organise teaching

Myth: Gifted classes and special schools for our most talented students benefit both individuals and society

Myth: Preserving heritage language among English language learners is bad for them

Myth: Homework boosts achievement

Myth: Group work wastes children’s time and punishes the most talented

Myth: School uniforms improve achievement and attendance

Myth: Longer school days and weeks have big payoffs for achievement

Myth: If a programme works well in one school or district, it should be imported and expected to work well elsewhere

Myth: The benefits of preschool and kindergarten programs are not convincing and thus not worth investment

Myth: Character education will save our youth and strengthen the nation’s moral fiber

Myth: K-12 education is being dumbed down

Myth: Money doesn’t matter

Myth: School can teach all students to the point of mastery

Myth: The economy is suffering because our education system is not producing enough scientists, engineers and mathematicians

Myth: Exams guarantee that our students will be ‘college ready’ and prepared to succeed as workers in a global economy

Myth: University admissions are based on a student’s achievement

Myth: Education will lift the poor out of poverty and materially enrich our entire nation

Myth: IQ tests predict success in life

Myth: Schools are wasting their time trying to teach problem solving, creativity and general thinking skills; they would be better off teaching the facts students need to succeed in school and later life.

The book opens with a quote by the ever-prescient Noam Chomsky, which should help put into perspective every word uttered by the Goves and Morgans, Hunts, Duncans, Pynes etc etc of this world. 

‘Education reform is a euphemism for the destruction of public education’ – Noam Chomsky

So, now what…? 

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