Challenging school dogma pays dividends

July 21, 2005|By Thomas Sowell

THERE HAVE BEEN many bitter complaints from teachers and principals about the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind law, more specifically about having to "teach to the test" instead of doing whatever teachers and principals want to do. Now the results are in.

Not only have test scores in math and reading shown "solid gains," in the words of The New York Times, but also young black students have "significantly narrowed the gap" between themselves and white students. All this is based on official annual data from 28,000 schools across the country.

What is especially revealing is that it is the young black students who have made the largest gains while older minority students "scored as far behind whites as in previous decades."

In other words, the children whose education has taken place mostly since the No Child Left Behind law show the greatest gains, while for those whose education took place mostly under the old system, it was apparently too late to repair the damage.

Do not expect either The New York Times or the education establishment to draw these conclusions from these data. Nor are black "leaders" likely to pay much attention, since they are preoccupied with such hustles as seeking reparations for slavery.

"By their fruits ye shall know them" may be an ancient adage, but results take a back seat to dogma when it comes to the education establishment. That is why there has been so little to show for all the additional billions of dollars poured into American education during the past three decades.

Ironically, there was another report issued recently, this one giving results of opinion polls among professors of education, the people who train our public school teachers. It is also very revealing as to what has been so wrong for so long in our schools.

Take something as basic as what teachers should be doing in the classroom. Should teachers be "conveyors of knowledge who enlighten their students with what they know"? Or should teachers "see themselves as facilitators of learning who enable their students to learn on their own"?

Ninety-two percent of the professors of education said that teachers should be "facilitators" rather than engaging in "directed instruction" - what used to be called just plain teaching. The fashionable phrase among educators today is that the teacher should not be "a sage on the stage" but "a guide on the side."

Is the 92 percent vote for the guide over the sage based on any hard evidence, any actual results? No. It has remained the prevailing dogma in schools of education during all the years when our test scores stagnated and American children have been repeatedly outperformed in international tests by children from other countries.

What about discipline problems in our schools? Fewer than half of the professors of education considered discipline "absolutely essential" to the educational process. As one professor of education put it, "When you have students engaged and not vessels to receive information, you tend to have fewer discipline problems."

All the evidence points in the opposite direction. But what is mere evidence compared with education dogmas? We need more "teaching to the test" so that dogmas can be subjected to evidence.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

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