We’re Doing It Wrong

Title: We’re Doing It Wrong

Author: David Michael Slater

Overview: Billed as a list of “25 ideas in Education that just don’t work – and how to fix them” this book spent a lot of time saying, “here’s a solution… but it will never work/be adopted/scale up.” There were parts that seemed to contradict earlier sections and overall, more of it seemed to be griping about the current state of public education in the US. Clearly there are problems but if you’re going to write a book, especially one that promises fixes, you really need to offer more than, “We need to make teaching a more exciting profession and pay teachers more.” Below are some of my highlights from the books and (on the second level of bullet points) questions I have about these statements.


  • reason why teachers are so disrespected in America lies beyond the scope of this book. There are many explanations, of course, but there are at least two that aren’t given enough consideration: 1) teaching is a mostly female profession in a sexist society; and 2) teachers do not produce measurable wealth in a materialistic society.
  • Most great education ideas are complex, despite the catchy, oversimplified packaging they usually get (recently: growth mindset). Teachers often don’t have enough time to learn more than a superficial version of these ideas, and so they implement them poorly.
    • If we can’t get teachers to learn complex topics that benefit their everyday teaching, how are we supposed to get students to learn topics, especially when they see most topics as completely removed from their daily experiences?
  • But here is a key element of my dream, non-age-grouped Badge system: children would be allowed to leave school at the age of sixteen.
  • the ultimate expression of de-professionalization in education is the “canned curriculum.” This is an increasingly common practice that requires educators to teach from a purchased curriculum, one containing lessons preplanned for every single day.
    • Yet that’s exactly what many teachers are asking for, so how do we convince teachers this isn’t what they should be using?
  • Merit pay would still be a disaster. What’s it for? Highest test scores? If so, few teachers will want to work with low achievers. But maybe it’s for classes that show the most improvement? If so, teachers will avoid difficult content and student populations that are notoriously hard to improve. Whatever the case, do we want teachers shopping for the most lucrative students and designing their lessons with an eye toward profitability? Do we want to deal with parents who insist their children be placed in the most “meritorious” teachers’ rooms? Do we want teachers competing with one another for the good graces of the merit pay dispenser? What will the environment be like when, inevitably, popular but undeserving teachers receive the extra pay?
    • It works in many other industries, but the key component that’s missing is how you measure teachers abilities. So far we’ve done a great job at measuring teachers abilities to do things that offer little to no value (is the classroom quiet or do the students do well on standardized tests), but these offer almost no insight into how “good” a teacher is. We must first find an effective system for evaluating teachers before we can even start to have an intelligent conversation about merit-based pay.
  • Often teachers are primarily evaluated based on standardized test scores, which means it’s not their students, colleagues, supervisors, or community assessing them, but for-profit corporations—with tools that are continually being proven unreliable.
  • Even when standardized tests are not of primary concern, teachers are frequently required to prove their worth via “drive-by” evaluation. This happens when a district official with a checklist drops in to pass judgment upon a teacher after a single forty-five-minute observation (often much shorter) and frequently based on superficial requirements
    • Ok, fine, you don’t like the current evaluation system. Evaluation is necessary, so how do you propose it’s done in a realistic manner??? We can’t just say it doesn’t work so let’s stop.
  • I realize that in this day and age the following solution will never be considered. But it’s a solution that treats teachers as the scientist-artists they are and respects that the good they do is difficult to measure both in the short and long term.
    • If it “will never be considered,” then it isn’t a solution!
  • gauging teacher effectiveness, doing so would be somebody’s job. There would be an expert in every building who does nothing but observe, critique, and mentor teachers and whose role would also include speaking with all stakeholders (students, parents, colleagues, and administrators) about each teacher so that each year the evaluator could build a complete picture to assist them in helping educators grow as professionals.
    • What are we actually measuring and are there certain minimum standards that teachers must meet? Having an expert doesn’t solve the underlying problem of what are we measuring
  • there are relentless attacks on arguably the only truly attractive perk of the career left: job security. Forget for a moment the wide range of critical benefits tenure secures, which includes, but is not limited to, protecting teachers from being fired for strictly personal, political, or budget-related reasons. If we aren’t offering teachers competitive salaries, social respect, or actual job satisfaction—and then we remove tenure—what on earth is left to tempt anyone to take this job?
    • You go back and forth of the value of tenure and list several things throughout the book as the “only truly attractive perk” of the career
  • If this process is too cumbersome or convoluted to ever result in the firing of incompetent teachers, then school districts and teachers’ unions must agree to improve it. In my opinion, it’s simply a matter of will. The National Bureau of Economic Research released a study by Brian A. Jacob about terminations in the Chicago Public Schools after 2004 rules gave principals the power to fire teachers essentially at will. Jacob found that “[M]any principals—including those in some of the worst performing schools in the district—did not dismiss any teachers despite how easy it was under the new policy.” He concluded that factors such as teacher supply and social norms might have been more responsible for the retention of teachers who warrant dismissal than has been previously recognized.
    • If admin can fire teachers at will and it changes nothing about their behavior, what’s the value of tenure?
  • For example, the 2014 Massachusetts Educator Evaluation Framework included student evaluations. I’ve even come across advice on how to involve students in the teacher-hiring process.
    • YES! STUDENTS SHOULD BE INVOLVED IN THE HIRING PROCESS. Why wouldn’t they be involved? They (collectively) have to interact with the teachers more than any other group. I’ve seen it work effectively and students often have more realistic expectations for teachers than admin or parents do
  • surveys like one from New Jersey ask students many questions about the influence and attitudes of teachers and peers, but none which imply that the survey subject themselves have a role in creating their school’s climate. There are no questions, for example, about whether they feel education is important, or that they are responsible for their own learning, or for respecting peers and teachers, etc. Teachers and administrators should, of course, do everything in their power to promote the success of their students, but they alone do not create a school’s climate.
  • This is a culture that raises the individual to the level of a tyrant by insisting that disruptive students have more right to remain in a class they destroy than the rest of the students have to study in a learning environment free of distractions.
    • If they lash out, there is clearly an underlying problem that needs to be addressed. Permanently removing the student does not address the issue. These are two separate issues and one should not be the reason for making changes to the other
  • Ironically, PD is typically delivered in a way completely antithetical to what teachers are taught makes for good instruction, that is, via long, lecture-style presentations. Despite the expectation that teachers differentiate their curricula for students at various skill levels, PD rarely does so for them.
    • Teachers often lead PD so we can to fix it, if we want. Lecture-style PD is often faster and easier to create which is why busy teachers often use it for PD
  • Teachers are considered notoriously rude as an audience, but I’m not sure any group of professionals has more of its time wasted.
    • “not sure any group of professionals has more of its time wasted” CITATION NEEDED!!!
  • Fortunately, researchers know what is required to make such undertakings successful: a clear purpose; shared language; teacher input; relevant, hands-on activities; accountability; and strong leadership that promotes a positive atmosphere.
  • teachers who’ve received a particular training should never be required to sit through it again.
    • Effective training never works that way. If you get CPR training or Food Safety training, you have to do it again in two years. Doctors must retrain and retest every 10 years.
  • But no teacher on earth needs to read any study to know this issue requires no studies at all. Actually, here’s the only study you need, and it’s super cheap, too: just survey your common sense on what will eventually happen if you load a teacher up with five or six classes of more than thirty-five students
    • And many things that are “common sense” are shown, through research, to be wrong… This is why we need studies!
  • Research shows that gifted students learn differently. They need a deeper, more rigorous curriculum, they need to experience it at a faster pace, and they must be given a chance to engage with it among like-minded peers.
    • Bold claim. I’ve read (small) studies that say “gifted” students are essentially no different from other but often come from privileged families. Are we certain all students wouldn’t benefit from these conditions?
  • But even if a teacher successfully promotes such a climate, it will be undone if the grading system routinely punishes risk-taking.
  • they defended the wisdom of at-risk students opting out of high-stakes tests: “We now know students cannot be tested out of poverty.”
  • the Proficiency-based model effectively addresses fundamental problems with typical grading systems: it clarifies the true purpose of coursework (practice for assessments); it emphasizes the demonstration of acquired knowledge and skills; and it refuses to misinform students about their actual level of competency.
    • So how can we promote more of this?
  • The problem with promoting an atmosphere of social inclusion is not in the intention, but rather often in the execution, which in many places is dreadful because educators may lack cultural competency