In my previous blog, Two Different "Schools" of Thought, I reported that one of my fans has made it quite clear that his perspective on the purpose of schooling, the responsibilities of educators, and the indicators of a quality school are very different than those I espouse. How might we explore those differences?
I could suggest that we work together to create ways to determine if some teachers in the school have discovered strategies that are more effective in helping all students learn so that teachers could learn from one another. He dismisses this idea by insisting, "There is no such thing as best practice." Apparently, all practice is of equal value.
Perhaps we could examine the research. I have provided a comprehensive list of researchers who have endorsed each of the ideas I present. And that list is growing. Just this year, John Hattie reported the results of one of the most comprehensive syntheses or research ever conducted on factors that impact student achievement. Hattie’s synthesis considered over 800 meta-analyses and 52,000 research studies. At the conclusion of his analysis, Hattie advised that the best way to improve schools is to have teachers work in collaborative teams to clarify what students should learn, gather evidence of that learning through ongoing formative assessment processes, and use that evidence to inform and improve their practice. But our teacher rejects research supporting PLC practices as dogma rather than evidence and is "dumbfounded" by the popularity of the concept among researchers.
I could ask him to present the evidence that supports his assertions, but he does not feel compelled to submit any evidence. In fact, he admits there is no research that "well-funded think tanks, education professors, or consultants" subscribe to his view of how schools should be run. He insists that "professionals" pursue their own path. They are not required to justify their practice and are free to reject evidence and follow their own conscience.
Perhaps I could point out that virtually all of the professional organization and teacher unions in the United States have endorsed the idea that teachers should work as members of professional learning communities. Perhaps, as a high school English teacher, he can explain why the National Council of Teachers of English has created professional development kits titled, "Professional Learning Communities at Work" to "help educators zero in on the key issues confronting teachers and students in today’s English language arts classrooms." Unfortunately, this is of no consequence to him since he rejects professional organizations as part of the "educrats." He calls for teachers to "stand up to our unions" and "assert intellectual authority over the profession."
Perhaps I could point out that my passion for the PLC concept is not that of a theoretician but of someone who spent 34 years in public education where I witnessed the power of the concept in my own school and, more recently, in hundreds of other schools as well. No matter. Much of my career was in administration and administrators are not to be trusted because they only exist to saddle teachers with the latest fads.
Perhaps I could point out the hundreds of schools and districts that have demonstrated significant gains in student achievement by implementing the PLC concept. He has an answer. The improved results are based on standardized tests that have caused a "narrowed curriculum and diluted intellectual rigor." If I point to other indicators--lowered failure rates or improved graduation rates--he knows that these improvements merely reflect the lowering of standards.
Perhaps I could have him speak to teachers who have actually worked in high-performing PLCs. I have heard directly from thousands of teachers who say it has made their work more satisfying and rewarding and that they would never return to the days of working in isolation. He would dismiss them as "brainwashed" members of a "cult" who have been "willing to give up intellectual authority over their profession and allow themselves to be infantilized by condescending educrats."
I could point out the overwhelming evidence that traditional practices simply are not working for our students or our society (as I did in my November 12 blog, "Where Will You Put Your Energy?"). He argues that those results are not attributable to educators but to "funding, bad policy, bad working conditions, social and economic phenomena, and [my personal favorite] the culture of constant change, gimmickry, and fad-chasing that educational ’experts’ have been fostering in this country for decades in order to mask their own charlatanry and maintain their sham intellectual authority over teachers."
I could argue that the model of higher education where universities are able to screen and select their adult students is not a viable model for a K-12 system that is intended to meet the needs of any child who walks in the door. I might point out that the university system he holds in such high regard has a 30 percent dropout rate after one year, graduates fewer than half of its students in five years, and has one of the highest dropout rates among college students in the industrialized world. But given his position that educators have no responsibility to see to it that their students succeed, I doubt he would be troubled by any evidence suggesting that perhaps higher education is not the paragon of success that he describes.
I could refute his argument that attention to helping all students learn at high levels does not inevitably diminish the learning of high-performing students by sharing the experience of Adlai Stevenson High School. Since becoming a PLC, Stevenson has had the percentage of its graduating class participating in the rigorous Advanced Placement college-level program increase from 7 percent to 80 percent. I could point out that Stevenson students score, on average, 20 percent higher than the national averages on each AP exam despite the fact that only about 15 percent of the nation’s graduates wrote an exam in 2008. I could point out that the mode score of Stevenson students is 5, the highest possible score, that the school has produced more AP scholars than any school in Illinois, or that it has been named as one of the top Fine Arts Programs in America. I could cite the fact that the college graduation rate for Stevenson graduates has consistently been more than double the national average. Clearly this should demonstrate that the PLC concept does not foster mediocrity. He answers that other schools that have not implemented the PLC concept also perform at high levels and thus the concept has nothing to offer.
I could provide evidence from the 38 schools we feature in our latest book--schools from throughout the nation serving students of every socio-economic group--that have experienced tremendous gains in the number of students moving from "proficient" to "advanced proficient" in their state, but why bother.
This teacher has not felt the need to be consistent. He has criticized the PLC concept as a repackaging of old ideas that offer nothing new, something teachers have been doing forever. In the next breath he describes it as a dangerous new fad that will ruin the nation’s schools. He creates one false dichotomy after another. Schools must be intellectually rigorous or invested in the learning of all students. Schools must focus on gifted students or students who struggle. Teachers must be content experts or care about the success of their students. They can be creative and innovative if they work in isolation or mindless automatons if they work in collaborative teams. Schools can have "either obedient teachers or excellent ones."
He has insisted that the goal of the PLC concept is to impose conformity and mediocrity on educators by demanding that every teacher teach in the exact same way. I have written thousands of pages on the topic, but he would be unable to cite one sentence to support that assertion. The PLC concept calls for teachers to be empowered--to have a greater voice in determining what is taught, the sequencing of content, and how students are to be assessed. It does not endorse lockstep, day-by-day pacing and specifically encourages each teacher to use the instructional strategies he or she believes will lead to the best results. There is no one right way to teach a concept, but not all ways are equally effective. Teachers in PLCs work together to consider the effectiveness of their strategies on the basis of student learning, as evidenced on assessments created by the teachers themselves. The entire process is based on a belief in the internal expertise of teachers and their ability to learn from one another.
I remain passionately committed to being a proponent for the PLC process because I believe it best serves students and our profession. I am convinced that we have a moral imperative to do everything we can to promote student success rather than failure, and that our collective adult efforts can have a very powerful and positive impact on student learning. I will always, however, be willing to consider evidence that points to more effective practice. Unfortunately, this teacher has not expressed a similar openness. He has emphatically asserted that he "will never submit to your silly ideology," "I will not abide by your beliefs," and that he is among the "self-respecting teachers that aren’t buying it and we never will."
I guess it follows that teachers who embrace the PLC concept have no self-respect. I suggest that his insistence that he will do things his way regardless of what the rest of the staff elects to do and that his unwillingness to consider the point of view of others reflects the "bullying" and "dogma" he has attributed to me.
So be forewarned. If you agree with this individual that the job of teachers is merely to present content, that as professionals they should be left to work in isolation and with total autonomy, that they are not accountable for the learning of their students, that they have no obligation to work with or support their colleagues, that their schools promote excellence by doing nothing to help students avoid "the abject humiliation of failure," and that you will never consider any ideas or evidence that are contrary to your own, my books, this blog, and my ideas will only serve to annoy you.