Education Letter to the Editor

‘Best Practices': The Two Worst Words in Reform

April 20, 2010 1 min read
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Gisèle Huff
San Francisco, Calif.

The two worst words in the English language when it comes to the necessary transformation of education in this country are “best practices.” As they apply to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s substantial investment in trying to quantify what makes a great teacher, they are especially objectionable (“Attention, Gates Foundation,” Commentary, Feb. 3, 2010).

Here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, busily analyzing (at considerable cost) what worked in the 20th. What is needed is a complete re-examination and redefinition of the role of the teacher in an era when learning is much more important than teaching, and the child, rather than the adult, must become the center of the enterprise.

At a time of instantaneous and unlimited access to information, requiring a human being as the purveyor of facts is nonsensical. Information should be provided online through learning-management systems that include assessments, instant feedback, interventions, testing, and tracking. Teachers should be facilitators who guide students and train them to find the information they need, analyze and evaluate it, apply it to the problem at hand, and find the solution. That is what critical thinking is, and that is what children need in the 21st century.

If we break up the task as described above, we may be looking for a different type of person trained in a different way. So finding out what makes an effective teacher in the context of how people have been taught since the advent of formal education is a losing proposition. We learn by doing, and it is only now, through the power of technology, that we can educate children the way human beings actually learn.

Gisèle Huff

San Francisco, Calif.

A version of this article appeared in the April 21, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘Best Practices': The Two Worst Words in Reform


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