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March 16, 2010 2 min read
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WALT GARDNER’S REALITY CHECK

The Most Misunderstood Strategy in Education

Repeating something often enough does not make it true. This axiom has particular relevance in the debate over how to improve test scores in today’s accountability movement. In this context, no phrase is as overused and misunderstood as “teaching to the test.” Let’s suppose English teachers want their students to be able to write a persuasive essay in which they provide evidence to support a thesis. It behooves teachers to provide their students with practice doing precisely that. That’s sound pedagogy. Yet technically, it is also teaching to the test.

The reason teaching to the test has gotten such a well-deserved nefarious reputation is that too many teachers have essentially provided their students with an advance copy of the test. That practice is a stain on the teaching profession. —Walt Gardner

INSIDE SCHOOL RESEARCH

A Little Advice, Here?

A national survey released earlier this month targets a subject that doesn’t get talked about in education nearly enough: high school guidance counseling. Across the nation, a typical counselor is responsible for setting 265 students on the right path for life beyond high school. But in some states, such as California, the student-to-counselor ratio can be three times as high.

The Public Agenda research group talked to a nationally representative group of more than 600 adults in their early 20s who had at least some college experience. More than 60 percent said their counselors had done a “fair” or “poor” job of helping them select the right college or career. The survey also showed that the young people who got bad advice in high school were less likely to receive financial aid and less likely to be happy with their college choice. Among those badly advised students, nearly a quarter ended up delaying going to college. This study strikes a chord in me because, 30 or so years ago, I was one of those students with no college-experienced adults to advise me. —Debra Viadero

LEADERTALK

Making Better Teachers

I have had friends ask me what I think of our neighborhood school, and my answer is quite simple. I tell them, “The school is only as good as the teacher your child has that year.” Parents don’t need a Ph.D. from an Ivy League school to figure out why their children’s educational experiences are discrepant. Obviously this is the result of the quality of the teacher they have each year. Analyze all the data you want, throw a bunch of acronyms at people, and race to the top of wherever you want. Yet everything boils down to good teaching in the classroom. —Dave Sherman

A version of this article appeared in the March 17, 2010 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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