More Isn't Always Better

01 January 2008

I was chatting with an elementary principal recently who talked about the lack of time for his teachers to teach science to their young charges. The reason provided was that many of the children were receiving two to three times as much math and/or literacy instruction as their peers in an attempt to bring them up to grade level. I remarked that quantity wasn't always the best substitute for quality. I don't doubt that there are some kids who benefit from some additional time to focus on a topic, but I still think it comes to down to how that time is used. More of the same isn't going to help.

I remembered this story when I was reading an editorial in the Tacoma News-Tribune about offering higher pay to math and science teachers. The main reason offered is that "there are more opportunities to make more money outside of public education for those with math and science skills than for those with other skills. How does public education respond? It must pay those teachers enough to keep them in the classroom, for a few years anyway."

Okay. As a science teacher, the promise of more money is appealing...as it would be for anyone (and not just teachers). But what I think the author of the editorial hasn't considered is that more pay is not going to lead to better teaching. For example, I know of a teacher in the district who is very happy at his school. He talks about teaching there until retirement...which is 25+ years away. But just because he likes picking up a paycheck there doesn't make him a good teacher, does it? Lesson plans are constructed no more than an hour in advance, and consist of lecture and bookwork. Tests a couple of hours before he gives them (and just uses a test generator to spit out something). No feedback is provided on assignments. There are few labs or cooperative activities ever done. Students in his classes consistently underperform others in the district, while he brags about how uninvolved he is in professional development and so on. Should we pay him more simply because he teaches science? More pay is not going to equal better instruction from this man. And a full generation of kids is going to suffer in the meantime.

I suppose that this post could quickly evolve into one about merit pay...but I'm not interested in going there at the moment. What I do want to think about is separating the concept of "quality" from "quantity." These are not interchangeable terms and in educational matters, we need to stop using them as such.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Michaele said...

You got me off on a rant after this post!!! :) So instead of clogging your blog with it, I just posted it on my blog.... it's titled "Merit Hiring."

2:01 PM  
Blogger The Science Goddess said...

I've done that myself a time or three. The edusphere can be inspiring in all kinds of ways. :)

2:07 PM  
Blogger Mathew said...

A lot of times principals miss the point. We teach reading for reading's sake but science gives students an authentic reason to read and write. You have to engage students with content...decoding words isn't the fun part of reading.

5:09 PM  
Blogger The Science Goddess said...

I agree that experiences with science give kids a reason to read for information---and especially to write. However, it's not always the principal's "fault" in the matter. Many times, the decision about instructional focus comes from higher up than that (at least around here). I know of many school admins who are just as frustrated as the teachers with how the minutes are supposed to be allotted. It's kinda sad.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Greg_Cruey said...

The problem is two-fold. The 3-Tiered Model is the accepted approach now to addressing reading problem in the early grades and it eats time. Additionally, IDEA 2004 has emphasized (almost mandated) response to intervention as an approach for identifying learning disabilities - and the 3-tiered model is being widely used to meet that demand. There are limited alternatives in the primary grades to meeting the law's demands.

The up side is that, more and more, social studies and science material is being used as content in reading skills blocks and companies like Scott Foresman (I don't own any stock) are integrating those sorts of materials into reading.

By the way, nice blog...

6:28 PM  
Blogger The Science Goddess said...

I find it interesting how often I now here reference to the "3-tiered model" outside of RTI situations. Seems like lots of people have latched onto the idea (including many who stand to gain financially, as you point out). Any way you slice it, teachers---especially elementary teachers---have a lot on their plates.

Glad you like the blog! Thanks for the compliment.

6:42 PM  

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