2011 Science Education E-Books from the Art of Teaching Science

This blog was begun in 2005 with the publication of the first edition of The Art of Teaching Science.  Six hundred or so posts later, we find ourselves in at the end of 2011.

This year, we published four eBooks based on blog posts made during 2011.  More eBooks will be published in 2012.  The eBooks that were published are free, and available by simply clicking on the links of the titles shown below.  All are in PDF format, except the Enigma of High Stakes Testing, which is in Word.

I have become increasingly concerned about the effects of the corporate reform movement not only on science education, but the whole of our public schools as we know them.  The teaching profession is weathering and eroding in the midst of the detached and impersonal reform efforts primarily being led by a group of corporate billionaires, and their minions.  For profit schools, and the fraudulent assumption that a market based solution to school choice will result in better education, higher test scores, and a robust economy is hogwash.  The high-stakes mania has driven teachers and administrators in schools throughout the country to cheat, and for state departments of education to fall into step with the corporate commanders.  There is little criticism of the present state of reform, and when teachers do raise questions, they are usually ignored, or reminded that they are simply union works looking for more.  None of this is true.

In science education, we are faced with the onset to a New Generation of Science Standards.  Last summer, the National Research Council (NRC) released A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts and Core Ideas.  The Framework is being used by Achieve, Inc., to develop the Next Generation of Science Standards for American schools.  It will be published sometime in 2012.  According to the developers, many states have joined the effort to develop the standards, and also working with Achieve is NSTA and AAAS.  There is a Website that you can visit to find out about the Next Generation Standards, but I am suspicious of all of the fanfare being given to announcements about this state and that state “joining” the effort.  Only 41 teachers have been selected to write the standards and it is not clear how this is being done.

The rationale for the new standards is based on the belief that American science education is inferior to science education in many other countries.  Too much attention is given to test scores comparing one country to another, especially when there is little basis for such comparisons.  We have been stuck in the mud with an inferiority complex which does not connect with science in American society.  We are one of the most progressive in innovation and development of new ideas, and scientists in the U.S. publish more papers than their peers from other countries.  How can our schools be so bad as to end up with a result like this?

I’ve written many blog posts on these ideas, and have put them together into four different E-Books that I hope you will download for your use.  The eBooks are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike license, so you are free to use, change, and distribute them in any manner you choose.

Here are links to download the eBooks, and brief descriptions of each.

Why Do We Teach Science?

In the new science education documents that I have referenced above, there is no discussion of the question Why do we teach science?  There is a wealth of information about what to teach, and how to teach.  But little investigation into why we teach science.  In this eBook, based on philosophical work by R. Steven Turner, and Robin Millar, four arguments are used to try and find out why we teach science.  These arguments include: The Economic Argument, The Democratic Argument, The Skills Argument, and The Cultural Argument.

Extreme Earth: The Importance of the Geosciences in Science Teaching.

Extreme Earth raises questions about the nature of science, especially as it relates to climate change and plate tectonics. Global warming has been in thepublic eye for years now, as scientific panels and independent scientific research studies have suggested that the changes in earth’s weather and climate  might, to some degree, be due to human activity, especially fossil fuel extraction and the burning of fuels resulting in a 25 – 30% increase in CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately the science of climate change has become politicized, and resulted in the what some say is a “head in the sand” approach to doing something about the changes going on all around us.

Extreme Earth is also about natural disasters, but because of the spread of human habitats into paths of hurricanes, and along well-known fault zones, millions of people experience horrendous disasters, as we have witnessed in the recent past.

Extreme Earth explores these issues, raises questions for science teachers, and points to ways to involve students in these tumultuous events.

Achieving a New Generation of Common Science Standards.

In this eBook, we will explore the science standard’s movement by presenting posts on these topics:

• The Race to the Top
• Frameworks and Standards
• Using Tests to Assess Performance
• Reform

Questions are raised about why common standards, and misconceptions surrounding the use of international and high-stakes tests continue to be connected with the reform education in the United States.

We will look at the Framework for K-12 Science Education, and discuss the underlying purpose of using common standards in American schools. We will also examine the results of international tests such as PISA and TIMSS and question the interpretation of critics that these results show that the “sky is falling” or that we have on our hands another “Sputnik moment.”

Finally, in a letter to the President, I integrate the President’s personal views of education with the humanistic science paradigm as a way to reform education.

The Enigma of High-Stakes Testing in Science

The content of this eBook is based on the position that high-­stakes testing, which are used to make life-­changing decisions about students, teachers, and schools, should be banned from use in making life-changing decisions affecting students, teachers, or schools.

Research evidence is provided in 21 articles that are presented here,

and organized into five parts. The intent is to provide information that others can use to raise questions about why we continue this practice of bringing such pressure to bear on the entire education system, the collateral effects on science teaching.  As I show in the pages that follow, there is little evidence that continuing to use high-­?stakes testing will improve student achievement, or improve America’s economy.

Russian Science: From Labs in Pushchino to Protests in Moscow

There was an article in the Washington Post entitled In Russia, The Lost Generation of Science.  The article, by Will England, focuses specifically on Pushchino, a little known city south of Moscow, and the status of science in Russia generally.  Science in Russia has undergone an unfortunate transformation, first right after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and more recently with the Russian government’s intent to pour tons of money into scientific research.  But as England points out, even with more funds for research, innovation in science is losing out to exhaustion, corruption and cronyism.

The article reminded me of some of my experiences in Russia during the 1980s and 1990s as part of the Global Thinking Project. The GTP linked students and teachers from American and Russian schools in more than ten cities by means of collaboratively developed environmental science curriculum, exchanges of students and teachers, and the emergent telecommunications and Internet resources that were just beginning.

For more than 15 years, student, teacher, and researcher exchanges were fostered through the efforts of the GTP with funding (follow this link to one of the GTP’s funded proposals) from local schools, GSU, and federal programs including the Eisenhower Program, and the United States Information Agency.  These exchanges brought us into cooperative work with Russian teachers, students, educational  researchers, technology specialists, and scientists in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, and Pushchino.

When we first began our work in Russia, we worked alongside science teachers and researchers from the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, and scientists at research institutions, and the Academy of Science.  The science curriculum in Russian schools, as described by Mr. Sergey Tolstikov, is a kind of spiral curriculum, especially at the senior level beginning in level 6 and extending to level 11.  For example, in class 6, students begin their study of biology, which continues for the next five years.  Then in each of the next two years, students study first physics, and then chemistry and continue studying these subjects each year.  Students who graduated from Russian schools had a strong education in science and mathematics, and many went on into science at the university level.

Russia has a rich history in science and technology.  At present, it is the only way that American astronauts can reach the space station, yet, as we have seen in the past six months, there have been numerous engineering failures in the launch of Russian rockets.  As England points out in his article:

Science had prestige and plenty of support in the U.S.S.R. The Soviets wielded a formidable nuclear arsenal, put the first satellite into space, then the first man into space. Dedicated biologists nurtured what may have been the world’s foremost seed bank, ensuring its survival even through the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad. Nine Nobel Prizes for physics and one for chemistry acknowledged Soviet achievements.

But the last 20 years have taken its toll on the science community.  As England suggests, the last 20 years has resulted in a lost generation of scientists because of lack of support, and the financial problems that affected Russian society, especially in the 1990s.  An example of this effect is highlighted in Puschchino.


Pushchino is a small town about 100 miles south of Moscow on the bank of the Oka River.  It was founded in 1962 as home to Pushchino Biological Research Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  Up until about 1993, most the funding for the research centers came from the Russian Academy of Sciences.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the funding from the government radically diminished to about 10% – 15% of what it was.  Thus began a program of reaching out to other funding sources not in Russia (Russia Foundation for Fundamental Research), but abroad, and the development of funding proposals to secure financial support.  The various research facilities in Pushchino were able to collaborate with U.S. organizations including NATO, the European Environmental Research Organization, US State Department, as well a number of U.S. universities including the University of Tennessee and Washington State University.

Now, 15 years later, things are quite different in Pushchino.  According to Natalia Desherevskaya, a Pushchino research biologist at the Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms:

“In 20 years, all the positive things that existed in Soviet times have been destroyed, and replaced by nothing (England).”

She, like many other young researchers, say they are torn between their desire to leave Russia, and stay to continue their research.  Researchers are troubled by the conditions of their labs, access to new materials, and old technology.  Many of her friends from graduate school are abroad, and she wonders why she is still here (England).

In 1993, on my first of many trips to Pushchino, I was introduced to Valentina Alexandrovna Zalim, Director of Pushchino Experimental School #2.  Zalim was an amazing administrator, and encouraged teachers to implement innovative educational methods.  The school, which was built in 1962, included two gymnasia, a stadium, an indoor swimming pool, 30 classrooms, a canteen, computer room, broadcast room, library and a school museum.

About ten of us (school and university researchers from the Atlanta area, and Georgia State University) drove to Pushchino from Moscow.  As we approached this remote town, we could see that it was built above the surrounding area on a small plateau.  Pushchino has a population of about 21,000.  It has three schools, and we were going to carry on a collaboration with Experimental School #2.  It proved to be a long term, and rich collaboration.  We collaborated with teachers from the school, as well researchers from the various institutes in Pushchino.

Location of Pushchino, Russia, about 100 miles south of Moscow

One of the first persons we met was a young man who was assigned to us as the “official” translator and interpreter for our delegation.  He was an English teacher at a small college in a nearby city.  He had never been to Pushchino.  He and many of his fellow citizens understood that Pushchino was a town for retirees.  He was shocked to find that the town of Pushchino housed several major scientific research institutes, and one of the world’s largest radio telescopes.

Known as Pushchino Research Center, it was comprised of the following:

  • The Institute of Protein Research
  • The Institute of Theoretical and Experimental Biophysics
  • The Institute of Cell Biophysics
  • The Institute of Biochemistry and Physiology of Microorganisms
  • The Institute of Soil Science and Photosynthesis
  • The branch of the Institute of Bio-organic Chemistry
  • Research Computer Center
  • Special Construction Bureau & Experimental Plant
  • Radio Astronomy Station of the P.P Lebedev Physical Institute,RAS
  • Branch of the M.V.Lomonosov Moscow State University

Nearly all of the parents of the students in Experimental School #2 worked at one of these research institutions, and because of their deep interest in their children’s education, we became very involved with the research centers over the years.  We visited a number of these research centers, including the radio astronomy station, and were very involved with their computer researchers who had established a telecommunications business in the early years of the Internet revolution.  From Pushchino, we made one of the first video conferences using the Internet in 1996.

When we first started working with colleagues in Pushchino, the various scientific research centers received their funding from the Russian Academy of Sciences.  But soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and economic perils that followed, many of the research centers suffered because of lack of funding from the Academy.

Protests on the Streets of Moscow and New York

In October young Russian scientists rallied in Moscow against the weight of the bureaucracy, and the lack of discretion grant recipients have for using their grants, especially for the purchase of new equipment and materials.  This rally preceded the December parliamentary elections and the subsequent massive protests in many Russian cities.  These two rallies/protests are part of a movement to make Russia more of a democratic state, and to move away from cronyism and corruption that is dominating much of the way business is run, including science.

The inequality between the scientists in their labs, and bureaucrats who control the money that science needs for research and development, which will lead to innovation and drive the whole enterprise, is enormous.  The protests in Russia are not unlike the the “Occupy Wall Street” protests that have spread from New York to massive marches and protests in other cities across America.  Just as scientists and citizens are protesting the Russian parliamentary elections and the present executives of the Russian government, Americans are protesting the huge inequality that exists between 1% of the population and the other 99%.

In the 1990s the Global Thinking Project received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Federal Government’s Democratization of the Former States of the Soviet Union Program which was funded by the United States Information Agency (USIA).  The idea was to help Russians understand democracy by being involved with Americans in various ways that involved people-to-people exchanges.  Over a three year period we joined 300 Russian and American families and their teachers in exchanges where students lived in each other’s homes, and were involved in collaborative environmental science research in face-to-face investigations and online collaboration.

But the situation that exists now in Russia, according to some specialists, will require a more liberal Russian society that will stimulate creative and innovative culture within a rule of law.  The massive Russian protests that we have seen underly a growing discontent that the elections were corrupt, and that authoritarian rule is still the order of the day in Moscow.  The “Occupy Wall Street” protests represent a discontent among many Americans that the inequality in income, and enormous number of people unemployed is a situation that needs to be changed.





Educational Reform: A Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

Educational reform is in need of your attention and help.  The 2012 election is only 11 months away, and I am writing this letter to you and your team for consideration as a policy statement as you outline your views on education, especially as it pertains to the educational reforms that have plagued our schools for several decades.

Strength in Numbers

According to Anthony Cody, there is a powerful source of support to inspire educational reform.  That source is the more than four million teachers who know about how students learn, and what they need to do to help students learn.  If we want educational reform, then the leaders of this movement have to be teachers, and administrators who are on the ground, and know the students that they teach.  In one of his posts, Cody suggests that teachers, along with friends, families and community members could be turned into a very influential political force.

There are a number of educators who have been writing and critiquing the educational reform efforts that have been dominated by corporate billionaires, and a few private foundations.  These educators have brought to the surface the research that shows that most of the reforms being advocated do not work, and are driven by corporate interests, rather than in the genuine interests of teachers and students.  You might visit the websites of these educators: Anthony Cody, Nancy Flanagan,  P.L. Thomas, Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier, Mel Riddle, Vicki Davis, and Chris Guerrieri.

For instance, the fact that our students are required to take high-stakes tests as a measure of their learning has brought enormous pressure not only on the students, but their parents, teachers and administrators.  This pressure has led to behavior in schools systems in which a culture of fear has been perpetuated, resulting in cheating.  The educators that participated in the cheating scandal were wrong, but what is really misguided is the misconstrued notion that the only way to measure student learning is with a one-time bubble test in the spring of each year.  In the Atlanta school district, teachers were told to make sure their students passed the CRCT (Test), at any cost.

One policy recommendation that you might consider in your re-election bid is as follows:

As simple as this sounds, this one action would have significant effects on education today, and would result in real change in our schools.

Anthony Cody documented your own views on testing during a town hall meeting when  you were asked about ways to reduce the number of tests that students experience in schools today.  Actually, I am not suggesting that tests not be used, but that the use of high-stakes tests as the measure of student learning, or teaching effectiveness be banned.   Here is what Anthony Cody quoted you saying about testing that I think relates here.

So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

High-stakes testing is the cause of teaching to the test, and was the root cause of the cheating scandal in Atlanta, and in other districts around the country.  Vicki Davis, a prominent technology teacher in Georgia suggests that the use of these high-stakes and standardized tests is the equivalent of “modern bloodletting.”  Let’s get rid of this practice.

Starting Points

We know you have a lot on your plate—a re-election compaign, the effects of the Great Recession, two wars in the Middle East (one of which ended today), health care reform angst, extreme partisanship.   Yet the one area that that is essential to our well being as a nation–education–needs to become center stage. I know it is a high priority of yours, and I know when you think the time is right, you will bring it forward for open discussion. I believe that teaching is an art, and that teachers in our culture should work with their students creatively in classrooms characterized as humanistic, experiential, and constructivist.

One of the major problems facing education today is the nature of the High-Stakes Testing and Standards-Based Reform.  The reform is top-down, and is driven by several corporate billionaires, and on the surface one not-for-profit company, Achieve, Inc.  The reform has become mean spirited, casting teachers and administrators aside if they do not perform in a way dictated by the reformers.

This letter is an attempt on my part to think out loud, and share with you views held by many teachers across the nation that believe that their work is a calling, and that their work with students should be grounded in the latest research that supports an active learning environment in which students explore, innovate, and solve meaningful problems. I believe that you would share these views that are held by many of my colleagues.

Reform Needs Reform

Your beliefs and your experiences are clearly explored and described in your books, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance; and The Audacity of Hope. I read them in the order of their publication, and the books helped me understand your ideas, and it convinced me that you would be open to reforming education from a humanistic tradition.

Although you do not have a chapter in either book specifically related to “education,” your thoughts about education, your experiences with your own schooling and educational experiences, and your work in Chicago as a community organizer provide the reader with your fundamental views of education and the reform that is needed.

Those of us in the science teaching community have followed your views on science and technology in our society and in our schools, and many are more than satisfied with your appointments as members of the Science and Technology Advisory Council. I think there was much support within the community for your appointments of Dr. John Holdren as director of the Office of Science & Technology, and Dr. Stephen Chu as Secretary of the Department of Energy. Further, the stimulus package that was put into law provided an additional boost to the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Education has received nearly 100 billion dollars for America’s schools, and educational infrastructure.

Unfortunately, The Race to the Top Fund (RTTT) does not reflect the humanistic paradigm that I am suggesting here, but instead further reinforces the top down reforms that have plagued us for decades.  For example, in the RTTT request for proposals, states were essentially required to accept the Common Core State Standards, and insure that student test scores would be the basis for teacher evaluation, and in some states tied to teacher salaries.  There is little support for this, yet the Department of Education went ahead and told states they must base teacher evaluation on student achievement test scores using the Value Added Measure, even after the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council advised against this in a letter sent to the Department of Education.

The reform of teaching that needs to be considered focuses on a paradigm shift from a traditional view to humanistic science. This paradigm centers on the way in which students and teachers interact in the classroom. The humanistic paradigm implies that teaching, at its core, is a creative and courageous profession that needs to reform itself from the bottom up—from the local school upward, not from Federal mandates downward.

I think we’ve lost our way in this regard, and I am hoping that your personal school experiences in Djakarta, Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, and Cambridge will inform you, and that the community organizing work you did in Chicago as a young man will be brought into the dialogue. Your sharing of these experiences can have a profound impact on how others view teaching, and help us chart a humanistic course.

Reflecting on Your Personal Views of Education

In Chapter 13 of your book, Dreams from My Father, you talk about your desire to become involved with the public schools in the area of Chicago that you were doing your work–on the southside.

I want to recall a section in that chapter for my readers that was very powerful, and supports the humanistic paradigm that I am proposing here. You and your colleague & friend Johnnie had decided to visit a high school, and the principal of the school introduced you to one of the school counselors, Mr. Asante Moran. He was, according to the principal, interested in establishing a mentorship program for young men in the school.

In his office, which was decorated with African themes, you discovered that Mr. Moran had visited Kenya 15 years earlier, and he indicated that it had a profound effect on him. In the course of your short meeting with Mr. Moran, he clearly told you that real education was not happening for black children, and then he offered you his view on what “real education” might be. Here is what he said on that Spring day in 1987:

Just think about what a real education for these children would involve. It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself, his world, his culture, his community. That’s the starting point of any educational process. That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his environment. But for the black child, everything’s turned upside down. From day one, what’s he learning about? Someone else’s history. Someone else’s culture. Not only that, this culture he’s supposed to learn is the same culture that’s systematically rejected him, denied his humanity (p. 158, Dreams from My Father).

Starting with the child as he or she is, and helping them connect to their environment—this is the core of humanistic teaching.  Most teachers know and try and act on this humanistic philosophy, but for many, it is an upstream battle.

The locus of control is far removed from the individual teacher’s classroom. The control is centered in state department’s of education, and the No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). And much of that control creates a conflict for innovative teachers. As responsible professional teachers, they want their students to do well on the high-stakes, end-of-year exams, yet know intuitively that this persistence on testing leaves creative teaching behind.

There is a need to shift the locus of control away from the Federal and state power centers, and move it to the vast number of communities of schools (there are about 15,000) around the nation. These 15,000 districts have a better understanding of the nature and needs of its students, and has a cadre of teachers who, I submit, are quite able to formulate curriculum, and design instruction that favors a humanistic paradigm. I am not suggesting that we erase the Standards. I am suggesting that professional teachers are able to interpret the Standards, and create educational experiences grounded in constructivist and humanistic theory, and provide in the long run, meaningful school experiences.

I believe that you understand what I am talking about. Your motivation to leave New York City and move to Chicago to become a “community organizer” was because of your belief in “grass roots change.” In fact, in your first book, here is what you said:

In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer. There wasn’t much detail to the idea; I didn’t know anyone making a living that way. When classmates in college asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn’t answer them directly. Instead, I’d pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won’t come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots (Dreams for My Father, p. 133).

Its All in the Context

Humanistic education is not a new perspective on teaching. It has had to compete with the pipeline ideology of traditional schooling, which has been ineffective for most students. Pipeline ideology is primarilly based on training for the scientific and technological world, and the organization of the curriculum tends to a strict adherance to canonical science.

A humanistic  perspective tends to be context-based, and related to the lives of students.   Instead of a concept being the starting point for learning, the humanistic  teacher starts with contexts and applications. Concepts are explored within these contexts. Humanistic teaching trives in web-based collaborative programs, environmental projects, gender projects, and culturally focused investigations.

These experiences shed light on social content for students, and often focus on the affective outcomes of learning, how students feel about learning, how it impacts their lives, and what they can do to solve real life problems. Many teachers know from experience that projects like these help students see themselves as problem solvers.

Recent results on The Nation’s Report Card show that there has been little change in 17 year old’s performance in math and reading from 2008 to 2004, and 1973. Although there were slight gains in achievement among all students, the achievement gap between white students and black & hispanic students has not changed. And the NCLB act was intended to close the gap. Your Education Secretary,  Mr. Arne Duncan has said that he wants “real and meaningful change” in the nation’s schools. Real and meaningful change can not be more of the same—longer school days, the same curriculum and standards.

I suggest that for meaninful reform in teaching, there needs to be an openness to new ideas, and there needs to a very strong involvement of grass-roots teachers for this kind of reform. Teachers and students should not be on the receiving end of decisions made by academic vice-presidents, governors, and commisioners of state departments’ of education. These constituencies are important, but the reform must be grounded in practice & related education research; refom needs to be on the hands of professional teachers.

Well, there you have it. Am I totally off-base here? Can meaninful reform be a grass-roots effort? What are your thoughts? I hope you will be willing to share them.

Resources: Grounding Humanistic Education in Research—Starting Places:

Sir Isaac Newton’s Notebooks and Papers

Trinity College Notebook by Isaac Newton

At Cambridge University you can access original copies of Sir Isaac Newton’s works including his college notebook (1664 – 1665), Early Papers, Notebook on Hydrostatics, Optics, Sound and Heat (1672 – 1706), his own copy of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687).

Although not all of Newton’s papers are housed at Cambridge University, the collection there is important.  Newton was a student at Cambridge from 1661 – 1665, and held the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics from 1669 – 1701.

Here are images and links to some of his notebooks, papers and books.

Early Papers, Isaac Newton
Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica by Isaac Newton

Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Enhances Student Achievement

In an important article in Education Week, Willis D. Hawley and Jacqueline Jordan Irvine, explain why students’ cultural identities are integral to “measuring” teacher effectiveness.

As it stands now, student achievement test scores are being used as the measure of teacher effectiveness in terms of the value added measure (VAM).  VAM is a data driven measurement that is totally based on changes in test scores from one year to the next for an individual teacher.  Critics of VAM have noted that research studies show that VAM scores are very inconsistent.  Furthermore, the Board on Testing and Assessment (BOTA) of The National Academies issued a letter to the Department of Education on the Race to the Top Fund (RTTT).  The essence of the letter was a critique of the RTTT Fund’s insistence on linking student test scores to teacher effectiveness.  In the letter, the BOTA had this to say:

The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches, which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students’ performance, to reward or punish teachers.

Drs. Hawley and Irvine  believe that the practices that teachers use should be part of any teacher assessment system.  Teaching practices, to be used in teacher assessment, need to be observed, or need to be described by teachers themselves.  In particular, the authors suggest that there are teaching practices that are called “culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP), and that these need to be included in any “high-stakes teaching evaluation.”

As Hawley and Irvine point out, culturally response teachers,

  • understand that all students, regardless of race or ethnicity, bring their culturally influenced cognition, behavior, and dispositions to school.
  • understand how semantics, accents, dialect, and discussion modes affect face-to-face interactions.
  • know how to adapt and employ multiple representations of subject-matter knowledge using students’ everyday lived experiences.

Hawley and Irvine identify six examples of CRP that taken individually can make a huge difference in embodying the racial and ethnical effects on student learning.  These practices are not new, but they reflect a more indirect approach to teaching and learning, and in all cases, the nature of the students is seen as fundamental in teaching.  Highly effective teachers use practices such as these, and they should be an integral part of the assessment of teachers.

  • Learning from family and community engagement
  • Developing caring relationships with students
  • Engaging and motivating students
  • Assessing student performance
  • Grouping students for instruction
  • Selecting and effectively using learning resources

As you look back at this list (see their article for details on each), these practices ought to be used as measures of culturally responsive teaching, and as the authors point out “these describe the practice of all effective teachers, regardless of the characteristics of their students.  By making sure that teaching practices such as these become part of the evaluation of process, we make assessment more closely aligned to what teachers are really doing in their classrooms, rather than simply depending on an average test score that students score during a one-two hour period in the spring.