Why Our Schools Are Failing- Part 4


Will my child dropout?

Why Our Schools Are Failing- Part 4

The Solution

If school administrators at all levels really want to make our public schools work, they need to take a lesson from medicine and the ways in which medical professionals are trained. If you had appendicitis, it probably doesn’t matter which hospital you are admitted to, the procedures are likely to follow a predictable pattern. From diagnosis to treatment and through after-care, many of the procedures are standard. The reporting is also largely standard. You are probably in pretty good hands whether you are in El Paso Portland or Minneapolis. There is a certain comfort knowing that to be true.

Medical science has created and taught routines that have been proven successful to their personnel. These procedures are consistently called upon when needed and delivered in a fairly reliable and uniform manner. As a result, current medical practices have saved the lives of a very large number of people who would otherwise have died.

It was not always so in medicine. There was a time when trying to learn physiology by dissecting a human corpse was punishable by death. There were many treatments that had no positive results, such as tightly wrapping lunatics in cold, wet sheets. Sometimes medical breakthroughs resulted in the ostracization of the pioneering doctor who instituted the initial treatment.  Finding a cure for “child birth fever” (blood poisoning) by simply having staff thoroughly wash their hands between patients cost Auguste Semmelweis his position at his Vienna hospital. It ran counter to the prevailing medical culture which proposed that the best surgeons had the most blood on their smocks. In time, long after his death, Semmelweis was vindicated and “sterile practice” was specifically taught to every medical practitioner.  Given the prevalence of in-hospital infections these days, such as C-diff, it might be time to launch a remedial hand-washing program in our hospitals. Semmelweiss – Where are you when we need you?

To its peril, education has ignored science. There are no consistent strategies and procedures that are routinely taught to every beginning teacher.  I ask teachers to write down as many behaviour terms that they know as an indicator of what they have been taught about Behavior Analysis and Classroom Management. The results are deplorable. Some even reject the use of behaviour methods as “bribery” as if praising a child’s effort is somehow wrong.  When asked to write as many praise statements that they could use to reward a child’s attempts to learn, their production is almost zero.

Because they have never been taught specific strategies and procedures in classroom management skills, there are a significant number of classrooms where chaos rules, where teachers are screaming at kids, and where kids are being non-compliant and disrespectful. This is the direct result of not training our teachers in the use of behavioural principles and practices and not providing them any supervision to assist them in applying these practices. As a result, there is no data collected that could be shared and could lead to discussion that would hone the instruments to become more effective, The teacher is on his or her own. Despite more than 100,000 published studies of successfully using Behavior  Analysis in classrooms, our teachers are almost completely ignorant of the method because no one ever trained them to know, understand and use it. Without discipline in the classroom, there can be no effective instruction. Full stop.

The  complete lack of training of teachers in any proven method of instruction guarantees that the teacher will be much less effective than expected and much more frustrated by the lack of success of his or her students. Despite their best efforts, their meagre skills stand little, if any chance, of turning students lives around. They are expected to create the curriculum as well as deliver, monitor and evaluate it, without ever having been given the benefits of a single course in instructional design.

And yet for 40 years, we have had access to an instructional technology that has unequivocally delivered results when placed in the hands of a well-trained, caring teacher. The Direct Instruction model from the Follow-Through Project has been expanded and updated to teach our children all of the fundamental skills required to allow them to be highly successful at the secondary level.

For the past 35 years, my center has taken illiterate injured adults from the Worker’s Compensation Board and had them college ready within one year. We are literally collapsing 12 years of learning into one and our students have fewer dropouts than the public school’s graduating students do. School districts consistently ignore this method and every 16 seconds another child drops out of school.

As with Behavior Analysis there are thousands of research studies demonstrating the efficacy of Direct Instruction. It continues to be rejected because the educational culture of today is in the same space as the medical culture was in Semmelweiss’s day. Egos and preordained belief trump research and results. When the results are delivered, we simply kill the messenger. Some day in the far distant future, like Semmelweiss, Zig Engelmann will be recognized and honoured for his amazing contributions to effective instruction. That day will only come sooner if parents, grandparents and others spread the word and demand the change.

Can you find a public school that will provide a no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee?  Neither can I but fortunately there is still another solution that will change education drastically. I will describe it in my next blog.


Tags: , ,