Saturday, March 5, 2005

Teacher Education--Do the Degrees Help?

This is from someone who read my anti-Dovrat pieces. One of the things that the Dovrat Commission is recommending is that teachers get higher university degrees. They think that pedagogic courses make for better teachers. As someone who began teaching without any formal training, I didn't even touch on the topic. Considering that a cousin on each side did the same (plus other relatives, including my mother), I just figured that it was genetic, one of my oddities. I did get my teaching license later, on a special program for those of us teaching without, and it was fun, and we were respected by the staff in David Yellin.

This is something I mentioned to you a while back. I said something to
the effect that someone had found out that the more educated the teacher
the worse the teacher.

More information can be found on this web site:
The Literary Council of Long Island.

Two letters were printed a while ago in the New York Sun, which I saw:

Letters to the Editor
New York Sun Staff Editorial
January 11, 2005
Ph.D. Holders Poor Teachers

Regarding Paula Sutter Fichtner's "Dressed for Success" [Opinion, January 5,
2005] on the surfeit of Ph.D.s in humanities and social sciences: Many such
doctorates are acquired in education schools whose academic standards have
been tainted by political/ideological agendas that have harmed our public
education system. I am speaking particularly of the field of
reading/literacy where our children's capabilities have been in decline for
years. A 40-year emeritus professor colleague has confided to me that, in
recent decades, any thesis favoring phonics and critical of whole-language
would be automatically rejected.

In 1999, The Literacy Council conducted a computer-driven study of factors
affecting the performances of Long Island school districts, and found
advanced teacher education to exert a strong negative effect on pupils'
Regents exam successes. A sophisticated spreadsheet program was engineered
to analyze all 98 Long Island school districts with enrollments of 100 or
more that administer Regents exams. Using data from both the Census and the
New York State Education Department's Web site, the program generated
"predictions" of district "performance," defined as their percentages of
students passing all eight Regents exams, averaged over the past 5 years.
Letting the computer repeatedly re-compute, while assigning weighting
factors to the "inputs" (class size, etc.), the program achieved an
astounding overall prediction correlation (R) of 0.977, far higher than any
known efforts heretofore - roughly equivalent to a prediction accuracy of
97%. Input data included average class size, expenditures per pupil, years
of teacher experience, etc. As the computer sought to optimize its overall
prediction "R," it computed for each input a partial correlation "r," a
number showing the strength and direction of that input's influence.
Standing out above the herd with an 'r' of +0.245 was the Census item giving
the Percentage of Adults with Bachelor's Degrees or Higher. (Though this
item may align as much with ZIP codes as with school district boundaries,
its predominance was undeniable.) The next two positive influences were
Attendance Rate at +.074, and Median Years' Experience of the Teaching Staff
at +.073. The most startling finding concerned the "Percentage of District
Staff with Doctorates or Masters-plus-30-Credits:" That item's 'r' was the
strongest school-related factor: -0.106 - but carried a negative algebraic
sign. Thus, the more graduate credits acquired by a district's teachers, the
worse its pupils scored on regents' exams
. Copies were sent to all of the
Regents, but they have gone ahead with the requirement that all teachers
acquire master's degrees nonetheless.

South Setauket, N.Y.

A slightly earlier letter went:
Letters to the Editor
New York Sun Staff Editorial
January 4, 2005


Non-Phonetic Teaching Impairs
In response to "Schools and Juvenile Detention" by Sarina Roffe [Letters,
December 23, 2004]: The arguments in support of youths getting a General
Equivalency Diploma make sense for many students, but Ms. Roffe rightly
points out that more than half of the children in detention have "some kind
of learning disability." For that substantial population, the greater good
is to teach them to read accurately.

In concert with involved Suffolk County professionals, The Literacy Council
has begun a reading project for youths on probation or community service
that not only arranges for multisensory reading tutoring, but also pre- and
post-tests, for diagnostic and progress monitoring purposes. The pre-testing
includes an assessment, which reveals whether a person was introduced to
reading by phonics or by whole-word-whole language teaching, as the latter
emplaces a disability that the assessment quantifies. We find angry,
frustrated teens with reading levels from zero to 5th grade, many receiving
no help but ours.

Scientific foundations for our work date back to the 1980s when Michael
Brunner studied educational factors affecting incarcerated juveniles for the
U.S. Department of Justice. His book "Retarding America - The Imprisonment
of Potential," found that:
-- Teaching incarcerated juveniles to read via multi-sensory phonic methods
reduced recidivism significantly;
-- Sociological background studies on persons committing violent acts showed
the strongest statistical connection to be failure to learn to read, a link
which, in the light of Pavlov's research on behaviors under sustained
frustration, Mr. Brunner believes to be causal;
-- College professors of reading hold beliefs contrary to the weight of
research, leading to inappropriately trained teachers and instruction.

The damage from whole-word teaching appears twice as severe among
Afro-American children as among Caucasians. (We don't know why, but the data
are very consistent and accounts for the disproportions in special-ed

Mr. Brunner has devised a remedy, available on our Web site:

Founder and chairman
The Literacy Council
Setauket, N.Y.

1 comment:

Cosmic X said...

I had a conversation not too long ago with a retired educator. We both agreed that the holding of an academic degree does not make one a better teacher. Not only that, but the Ministry of Educaton in Israel would benefit if those who made policy there were educators and not academics. BTW, I have a BA.