Tag Archives: Anne Haas Dyson

Authentic Education Reform Based on Diversity Research

7 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/7/2021

“Dedicated with admiration and respect to public school teachers who opt-out of commercial standardized tests.”

These are the words of dedication for Garn Press’s new book in their “Woman Scholars Series,” Diversity Research in Action. In this book, lengthy excerpts from published research by three PhD’s in education Anne Haas Dyson, Denny Taylor and Catherine Compton-Lilly are introduced and woven together by a forth doctorate of education Bobbie Kabuto. It seems like decades since this kind of authentic thinking about how to improve education and equity in our schools has been widely shared.

On a personal note, I began my masters of education program in 2001 and found the kind of pedagogy being advocated by these women very appealing. Unfortunately, that was precisely at the time when Ted Kennedy and George Bush teamed up to smoother it. It was obvious to me that we needed to meet our students at whatever attainment level they had and begin there. Students are not standard so it made no sense to follow some standards arrangement when teaching them.

Most educators found teaching to the standards and administering testing mandated by the No Child Left Behind act – the 2002 rewrite of the US federal education law – heartbreaking. In my remedial high school algebra classes, students were learning but just not fast enough. Instead of being encouraged to continue growing, they were labeled failures.

Building Biographic Literature Profiles

At a time when the president of the United States, George H. W. Bush, and the governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton, joined with CEO’s like IBM’s Louis Gerstner to call for education standards, Denny Taylor was conducting research which showed how foolhardy they were.

Hundreds of students, dozens of teachers and administrators participated in Taylor’s “Biographic Literacy Profiles Project” from 1989 – 1991. Essentially, she turned kindergarten thru third grade teachers into ethnographers studying their students and how they made sense of literary learning. They collected into portfolios every scrap of paper available that showed how students were using symbols, drawings and invented writing methods to communicate. They added to these portfolios notes describing what the students were doing, what kind of growth they were exhibiting and how they were successful.

Taylor wrote,

“…, while I would rather have the child’s production than some simplistic (asinine is probably a better descriptor) ‘text’ copied from the board, the child’s writing without notes written by the teacher still only provides a part of the ‘picture.’ Portfolios are not enough. To understand how individual children actively engage in the reconstruction of the functions, uses, and forms of written language we need to observe them at work.” (p 117)

Taylor published the findings of the “Biographic Literature Profiles” under the title Teaching Without Testing.” The profiles show how unique each student is and therefore, how useless education standards and testing are.

“They leave teachers and administrators with no alternative but to teach to the test. Children’s lives are altered, drilled, and skilled – the natural rhythm of their learning is changed to a solemn beat.” (p 150)

One of the school principals participating in the project noted,

“Change should be teacher initiated, teacher implemented, and teacher controlled. But teachers don’t have the power.” (p 140)

Over the last thirty years this has persisted. Peter Greene a Forbes commentator and decades-long educator tweeted.

Permeable Curriculum

In introducing this section, Bobbie Kabuto states,

“Curriculum is the heart and soul of educational systems, and it is in jeopardy of a coup d’état by corporate and political forces. It has not always been this way. As a teacher in the mid 1990s, I knew a time when money was invested in the professional development of teachers rather in than in high-stakes testing.”

Here, Professor Anne Hass Dyson takes the reader through negotiating a permeable curriculum and why it is required. Often teacher world and student world require interplay between children’s language and experience and that of the teacher. The distance between the two is exacerbated by diverse sociocultural backgrounds. Teachers and students do feel disconnected. Dyson states,

“On the one hand, we must allow – indeed, support – the embedding of written language in children’s social worlds, so that they find it a useful symbolic tool (a suggestion made by educators as separated in time and space as Ashton-Warner, Freire, and Vygotsky). But, on the other hand, we must also help children expand and negotiate among the sociocultural worlds – the dialogues – in which they participate.” (p 205)

It requires the educator to deeply understand the student’s home culture and what children are currently fascinated by in order to design curriculum that meets their needs.

Habitus and Chronotype

Researcher Catherine Compton-Lilly’s research is focused on habitus and chronotype. Habitus explains the complex interactions between culture, social structures, and individual agency. In other words what are the environmental factors linking to the way a student talks, acts and believes. These are the factors crucial to the development of cultural capital. Chronotype literally means time-space. Compton-Lilly applied the chronotype motifs from literature to motifs in literacy and schooling.

Compton-Lilly observes,

“Significantly, expanded notions of time invite educators and scholars to think about inequity ‘because time is largely taken for granted and therefore invisible, the social relation of time can continue to maintain existing inequalities and create new ones in the globally constituted world.’” (p 311)

She also shared,

“As Sorokin (1943) argued ‘Observation shows that persons equally old according to the physical clock are physiologically at quite different stages of development.” Yet there are areas in educational research that attempt to normalize development, create age- and grade- level expectations, and require students to make adequate yearly progress.”

Top flight education scholars like the authors of Diversity Research in Action are why billionaires are funding non-university based teacher development programs like the academically inferior Teach For America spinoff TNTP and the late Eli Broad’s superintendents’ academy. They know that authentic professional educators oppose their uninformed theories of education and disruption of public schools.

If you are interested in a deeper perspective on teaching and learning, I recommend this book.