Richard Ullman, a 29-year veteran high school teacher in New York State, wrote an op/ed for Education Week where he made the claim that students are not proficient in reading or other essential skill areas because teachers are being told not to teach.
During my 29-year career as a high school teacher in New York state, I’ve had a front-and-center view of the almost uncontested sway that university- and district-level education experts hold over the training, certification, and—most notably—the evaluation of teachers. Often the same state-provided consultants who oversee teacher professional development also train administrators on what to look for during classroom observations.
Operating in an accountability-free safe zone, these architects of methodology seem to subscribe almost uniformly to a type of educational PC—or pedagogical correctness—that views content-focused, direct instruction by subject matter experts in a structured, disruption-free classroom as an outmoded “drill and kill” approach to which students should never be subjected.
One need look no further than the vast majority of teacher-evaluation rubrics to see how pedagogically correct theory becomes practice-transforming policy. Many of these instruments, including the widely used Danielson Framework, compel observers to assume the role of engagement watchdog. The highest ratings can only be given if the classroom is a busy, collaborative space where teachers place students almost immediately in the educational driver’s seat.
Predictably, many classrooms have become social, bustling, sometimes chaotic environments, where teachers—even masters of their craft—are relegated to facilitator status, lest they
bescolded for failing to limit teacher talk time, allowing any student to be even momentarily bored, or being too didactic in their approach.
He notes that students are in control of whether or not they learn, they have to want to learn, but that is not the same thing as teachers, as Ullman puts it, giving up control of the classroom.
Ullman also notes that many of the strategies pushed by education “experts” seek to put critical thinking and creativity before content knowledge and skill acquisition. Couple that with students guiding their learning and working collaboratively in groups and you have a recipe for a subpar education.