To the Editor:
Joseph Murphy is correct that teachers’ experience is a valuable element of efficacy and shouldn’t be dismissed (“Stop Devaluing the Wisdom of Teachers. Researchers Don’t Have a Monopoly on Evidence,” Oct. 30, 2019). However, the scientific evidence backing effective practices is an essential element that also can’t be undervalued, so I’m compelled to enter this perspective into the conversation.
Murphy’s commentary argues that, “Scientific evidence is not the only source of knowledge nor is it the source of knowledge that always holds high ground in decisionmaking.” In reading instruction, in particular, we have found that craft knowledge acquired through individual experience and preparation does not have equal standing to the science. Despite more than a decade of education policy stipulating that all children must be taught by highly qualified teachers, shortcomings unfortunately remain in many teacher-preparation programs, perpetuating the disconnect between the preparation teachers need to be successful and what they receive in preservice and graduate education courses.
Year after year, the National Council on Teacher Quality criticizes colleges and universities for their substandard preparation of teachers. In 2012, researcher Mark S. Seidenberg noted that prospective teachers are rarely exposed to up-to-date, valid research and are “unprepared to critically assess scientific claims, leaving them vulnerable to fads and fallacies.” Early-career teachers haven’t yet attained substantial experience to offset substandard preparation, and even those with experience but without the right training may not have turned experience into expertise in teaching the domains of reading. Thus, we need to rely on the science.
Dedicated, conscientious teachers can mitigate deficiencies in their preparation through professional development, but only if we provide more rigorous and better quality professional development than the undergraduate and graduate programs that are responsible for the deficits in the first place. Until that happens, teachers’ craft knowledge cannot be equated with teaching practices that have been scientifically validated.
John J. Russell
The Windward Institute
White Plains, N.Y.
A version of this article appeared in the November 27, 2019 edition of Education Week as Evidence Over Experience