Ending the Tyranny of the Lecture

Today I read two articles in the same email newsletter.  They were “hot”!  In this blog, I’ll discuss the first article – Ending the ‘tyranny of the lecture’.

It features Harvard University physics professor Eric Mazur who thinks that “lecturing is an outdated—and largely ineffective—strategy for imparting knowledge.”  The article said that he asked his audience to think of a skill they were good at, then tell how they got good at it.  Not surprising, the lecture method never came up.

He thinks that we need to get past the transfer of information, and that students actually have “to do something with this information to make it stick…to actually assimilate it and take ownership of it, so they can apply this knowledge in a different context. If students can’t do that, he said, then they haven’t really learned anything.”

Hmm…this must sound familiar to anyone familiar with the Delphian School program.  I love that others are catching on.  This is very exciting.  

Professor Mazur points out that schools and colleges focus on information transfer, “while leaving the critical second step—assimilation—to students outside of class”.  As you read in an earlier blog about the Khan Academy, the flipped classroom is one approach being tried by many teachers, led by Salman Khan.

Of course, we build the application into each step of the study process.  That is the only way that makes sense.  

Mazur correctly notes that when we didn’t have the printing press making books widely available, “lecturing was an effective way to impart information to many people simultaneously.”  But those days are over because books are readily available, and we have all kinds of new media such as Khan Academy.  Now Mazur says that data transfer can occur at home and the classroom time can be used to “ensure that students understand the material and can apply it in various contexts.”  

Although he doesn’t have all of the educational tools and approach we use here, based on the works of L. Ron Hubbard, he is reporting good results by just focusing on giving questions in class that forces the students to think with the material and “apply it in a whole new way.”  This is followed by a class discussion, and more questions.  The article gives much more information about his work.

But the important take-away – the thing to remember – is that there are others who agree with us that we must end the tyranny of the lecture!

Posted by marks on Friday July 29, 2011 at 04:07PM

The Atlanta school test scandal is hot news, but some parts are hotter than others! You can read all about it in the news, and it is constantly unfolding, but here is the heart of the story and why you should care (even if you don’t live in Atlanta).

On July 5, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal released an outline of findings from the state’s investigation into the 2009 administration of the Atlanta Public Schools [APS] CRCT [Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests].

The findings included the following:

  • “Thousands of children were harmed by the 2009 CRCT cheating by being denied remedial education because of their inflated CRCT scores.
  • We found cheating in 44 of the 56 schools we examined (78.6%). There were 38 principals of those 56 schools (67.9%) found to be responsible for, or directly involved in, cheating.
  • “We determined that 178 teachers and principals in the Atlanta Public Schools System cheated. Of the 178, 82 confessed to this misconduct. Six principals refused to answer our questions, and pled the Fifth Amendment, which, under civil law is an implied admission of wrongdoing. These principals, and 32 more, either were involved with, or should have known that, there was test cheating in their schools.
  • “We empathize with those educators who felt they were pressured to cheat and commend those who were willing to tell us the truth regarding their misconduct. However, this report is not meant to excuse their ethical failings, or exonerate them from their wrongdoings.
  • “Cheating occurred as early as 2001.
  • “There were warnings of cheating on CRCT as early as December 2005/January 2006. The warnings were significant and clear and were ignored.
  • “There was a major failure of leadership throughout APS with regard to the ethical administration of the 2009 CRCT.
  • “A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in APS, which created a conspiracy of silence and deniability with respect to standardized test misconduct.
  • “In addition to the 2009 CRCT cheating, we found other improper conduct: several open record act violations; instances of false statements; and instances of document destruction.

The Governor wrote:  “Nothing is more important to the future of our state than ensuring that today’s students receive a first-class education and integrity in testing is a necessary piece of the equation…When test results are falsified and students who have not mastered the necessary material are promoted, our students are harmed, parents lose sight of their child’s true progress, and taxpayers are cheated.”

I agree with the Governor. How can we allow districts, administrators and staff to receive praise (and sometimes bonuses) by misleading the children, parents and community they served?

This testing scandal isn’t about students who cheated the system. This scandal is about 178 teachers who cheated the students. Now both teachers and students are in serious trouble. The new superintendent said that “none of those educators will work in an Atlanta classroom again” and the district will “require ethics training for all employees”, probably online training.

Why did the teachers and administrators do this? The CRCT is designed to measure how well students acquire the skills and knowledge described in the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS), the high stakes annual testing done to show yearly progress. These tests are used to see if schools and districts meet No Child Left Behind requirements, because improved schools can receive federal money for their improvements. Schools receive praise, and bonus often follow.  Students in need of help were allowed to advance even though they were struggling.  The teacher cheating meant that students who needed help didn’t get it because of their (false) scores.

Schools with poor test scores come under scrutiny as low performing schools, and schools that get good scores get awards and acknowledgement. Schools should be working to educate their students, and passing the test would reflect academic progress.  But some teachers are forced to teach to the test at all cost. Some schools want certain students to stay home so those students don’t bring down the averages. That’s the story Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers told about her first-year teaching experience, when my students and I heard hear speak at the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast in May.

USA Today says that’s not the last we’ll hear about teacher cheating. “USA TODAY last March examined standardized test scores at District of Columbia schools and found 103 public schools with high erasure rates on penciled-in answer sheets. An investigation is underway. “USA TODAY also found evidence of test tampering in six states besides Georgia and Maryland, including California, Florida and Ohio.”

This scandal came to light when the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “reported that some scores were statistically improbable.” After the story was published, “the state investigation was launched last August by then-Gov. Sonny Perdue who was upset over what he called a “woefully inadequate” probe by the district.” More cheating!

The real scandal is that the teachers cheated their students forever. Life for the students  changed forever, and it won’t be the life that could have been if the system was properly informed of the student’s’ current education level. Imagine being a student (or parent of a student) who is being moved ahead in the system because test scores incorrectly show the student is making adequate educational progress. But the student hasn’t got it and isn’t making adequate progress. The student is behind and needs help. Moving this student far ahead of his or her actual skills and abilities is a formula for student failure – big time!

This practice has been occurring in Atlanta since 2001, so many of the students affected are no longer in the system, and most of those that didn’t drop out can’t be doing well. The school system didn’t know they needed help. This teacher cheating robbed us of their greatness and of the student potential they thwarted. For the students who were forced to drop out of the system, the teachers robbed them of bright futures, and in some case inflicted on society the cost of dropping out.

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education ” if the students who dropped out of the class of 2007 [in the US] had graduated, the nation’s economy would have benefited from an additional $329 billion in income over their lifetimes”. Our economy could sure use that help. On the darker side, the CBS Evening News reports: “Dropouts cost taxpayers more than $8 billion annually in public assistance programs like food stamps. High school dropouts earn about $10 thousand less a year than workers with diplomas. That’s $300 billion in lost earnings every year. They’re more likely to be unemployed: 15 percent are out of work versus a national average of 9.4 percent. They also are more likely to be incarcerated. Almost 60 percent of federal inmates are high school dropouts. “

Ethics scandals aren’t new. Students sometimes laugh at the Teapot Dome Scandal and the other scandals they study throughout history.  They weren’t around during the Watergate Scandal.  We were all supposed to learn from these scandals.  Didn’t happen here!  Requiring online ethics training doesn’t make sense because these teachers knew they were cheating. Changing wrong answers to right answers for a student is cheating. My guess that these teachers would be very upset about student cheating in their classes, or if someone robbed them of their income-earning potential or of their ability to achieve their dreams..

If they don’t get it, have them watch Freedom Writers or read Erin Gruwell’s interview. Here are three important questions and Erin’s answers that all teachers should study.

“What is the best lesson you have learned and from whom?

“The best lesson I ever learned was from Miep Gies, the humble and courageous woman who hid Anne Frank for two years, who told my students, “I simply did what I had to do, because it was the right thing to do.” It is my hope that in the face of adversity that I can simply ‘do what I had to do, because it was the right thing to do.’

“What is the best advice you can give a teacher?

“My best advice was given to me from a Holocaust survivor who became my teacher. After surviving Auschwitz and living to tell her story, Renee Firestone challenged my students that: “Evil prevails when good people do nothing.” Therefore, as good people, we are compelled to do something.

“What do you think should change in the educational system?

I believe that teachers should teach to a kid and not to a test.”

The Washington Post carried an article by US Secretary of Education about this scandal. He wrote, “cheating reflects a willingness to lie at children’s expense to avoid accountability” He also noted that “several states, including my home state of Illinois, simply lowered their standards to claim “better” test scores as success—essentially lying to children and parents.”

Teaching is a profession, and we expect high ethical standards in their professional behavior. Instead of caring about their students, the teachers and administrators involved in this scandal had other fish to fry and other agendas, including self-preservation and promotion.

Cheating never makes sense.   Let’s not try to make sense of it here.  Just say no (cheating)!  

Posted by marks on Monday July 25, 2011 at 12:45PM

The July 10 headline in the Oregonian blared “Oregon education reform bills aim to create more flexible, individualized public schools”.

The front-page article notes “In the typical Oregon public school classroom, students of the same age work at achievement levels that often vary by two or three grades, sometimes more…” The Oregon legislature adopted a “bill pushed by Kitzhaber to create paths from pre-school through college on which students advance at their own paces.” “Kitzhaber envisions … using financial incentives to shift the focus of public education from what he calls “seat time” to learning.” “This shift would make public schools”.. a place “where students advance based on what they know and can do rather than on how much time they spend in school.”

“A more individualized approach to education would be more efficient by allowing some students to advance faster while reducing needs for remediation, said Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council who is helping Kitzhaber design a budget based on outcomes. It also fits the growing diversity of Oregon’s school population and suits learning for the 21st Century better than the current system rooted in the 19th Century, he said.”

Hmmm…this is a great new idea!  Wished I’d thought of it……(smile)…..

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday July 20, 2011 at 09:10AM

Sal Khan (and Bill Gates) get it. Lecturing classrooms of students from the front of the room is “old school” in every sense of the word! Students getting grades is “old school”, and “C’s” are unacceptable. You can learn about Khan’s exciting work at www.khanacademy.org. I suggest starting with his March 2011 talk at ted.com (where you will also find a transcript). You won’t be sorry!


You will find some parallels to the Delphian School program. Khan understands one basic of our program — you don’t go past a step until you’ve mastered it and you fully understand it. He doesn’t mention the importance of mastering the meanings of words in what you read or hear, or the other elements of our approach, but it would certainly aid him in reaching and helping more students.  He too objects to the current system of grades that leaves its students with an education filled with holes like Swiss cheese.


He advocates “removing the one-size-fits-all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home”. Students return to the classroom to do their work, with the teacher’s help as needed, which is called “flipping” (doing your homework at school).  He describes using technology to humanize the classroom, and actually having students interacting with each other. An environment familiar to Delphian students and parents, he describes a classroom where “every kid works at their own pace.” He says, “When you talk about self-paced learning, it makes sense for everyone.”


Khan’s students repeat a lecture until they get it, and redrill problems until mastered. He doesn’t address the power of words and the effects of going past misunderstood words, nor the power of demonstrating what you study as you go along (not just after every 10 minute lecture).  To his credit, he is doing fantastic things to help improve the education of the children of the world.  Khan has great examples of illogical parts of the current system – such as going from bicycle riding to unicycle riding with a “C” in bicycle riding, and the system producing an education filled with holes like Swiss cheese.


I heartily agree with the his viewpoint on the problems students and families face, and I happily share the news of his success in overcoming some of these problems.

Are you flipped?

Posted by marks on Thursday July 14, 2011 at 10:13AM

The headline in the June 23 issue of eSchoolNews reads: ” ‘Instructional rounds’ approach flips classroom evaluations: New method from Harvard researchers analyzes school-wide trends by looking at how instruction is being received”.  WOW – that a great idea!!!  I wish I’d thought of it….(smile)!


The story explains that “a new way of evaluating instruction—one that shifts the focus from the teacher to the students—is emerging.  Called “instructional rounds,” the practice is based on the way doctors make their rounds in a teaching hospital, using facts rather than value judgments to determine the effectiveness of instruction.”  This approach “looks at how well kids are learning rather than how well the teacher is teaching”, and it focuses on how teaching is received. Teachers like this approach.


Turns out that this approach has actually been used but not systematically or on a wide-scale basis. But more to the point, we should all be asking why these kinds of obvious improvements aren’t more commonplace. Why is this story news?  As I continue to ask, why aren’t we doing what works and what makes sense? What are the barriers to real school improvement? Why do we keep foisting silly and unworkable new fads year after year onto our education system?

One way to find out is to visit a classroom and ask a teacher? The answers might surprise you.

Posted by marks on Wednesday July 6, 2011 at 04:15PM

My students and I were exploring ted.com during science seminar and just had to watch the “Terry Moore: How to tie your shoes” video.


We learned that most of us did not know the correct way to tie our shoes and that we had something to learn. What a great lesson – to find out that we didn’t know something. We were ignorant! Fantastic! We also figured out an even easier way to tie our shoes the right way for those of us who really learned it incorrectly. Hard to describe in writing, but I’ll be glad to share our easy solution with you if you contact me.  (And if you really want to learn something, go to YouTube and look for “How to Tie Your Shoelaces Really Fast” for even more on this important subject.)


While you may not be having shoe-tying problems, you may be like me and find out that there may be things that you don’t know or that you have wrong. Ted.com is just one place to shed your ignorance! I love it, and if you care about education, I suggest you start by watching Sir Kenneth Robinson. In Changing Education Paradigms, Sir Ken Robinson lays out the link between 3 troubling trends: rising drop-out rates, schools’ dwindling stake in the arts, and ADHD. Watching It might help you see why I am so worked up about proficiency-based education.


Terry Moore not only taught me how to tie my shoes, he said something I’d forgotten, and he said it better than I would have. He said, “sometimes a small advantage someplace in life can yield tremendous results someplace else.” What a great lesson.


Maybe Al Boliska got it right when he said “Do you realize if it weren’t for Edison we’d be watching TV by candlelight?”.

What do you think?

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Tuesday July 5, 2011 at 04:15PM

Many people ask me about the power and influence of teachers unions. My friend Ron Reynolds heads up the California Association of Private School Organizations. In this week’s Mid-Week Mailer he discussed the upcoming national six-day event – the National Education Association’s Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly. Without further comment, I quote the following from his newsletter:


“To obtain some sense of the political muscle possessed by the NEA and its state affiliates, take a quick look at this table showing revenue and staff information for 2008-09. In that year, combined revenues received by the NEA and its affiliates amounted to a staggering $1.5 billion dollars. That billion, with a “B.” NEA headquarters in Washington, DC, employed a staff of 676 people. By way of comparison, although 10 percent of all students in grades K-12 receive their education in private schools, the Council for American Private Education maintains a staff of two.


The NEA’s California state affiliate, the California Teachers Association, received nearly $179 million in dues revenue in 2008-09, and employed a staff of 597.” [The Oregon Education Association received more than $22 million in the same year.]


Find your state on the list and ask yourself the same question.

Posted by marks on Friday July 1, 2011 at 10:48AM

Recently eSchool News asked its readers, ‘What’s one question you’d like to ask U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan?’ The U.S. Department of Education asked eSchool news to choose five reader questions for Secretary Duncan to address. The first question they published today was great!


“Why do we keep trying to solve the problems of public education by continuing to do what is contradictory to what we know about how children learn? Children all develop cognitively, as well as physically, at different rates of speed. Yet, in the classroom we insist that all children of a particular age should complete and learn skills and content for a grade level within a nine-month time frame. We would never expect them to all grow at the same rate physically and weigh the same and be the same height. Why do we expect them to all grow at the same rate cognitively? This basic foundation of public education is creating the problems and producing dropouts.”


Do you have an answer?

Posted by marks on Friday July 1, 2011 at 03:48PM

Friday’s (Jan 21, 2011) MinnPost.com’s headline reads “Education Secretary Arne Duncan proves a ‘tough grader’ in assessing Minnesota’s education programs.”


Arne Duncan is the US Secretary of Education, and he came to Minnesota to speak to the state Chamber of Commerce.  The article said “he particularly criticized complacency in Minnesota and in the nation’s education system.”  Wow.  Not in the book of how to get along with others.  And he is appointed by the President of the United States, so you know his message is approved by the White House.


What did he say to these top business leaders of Minnesota?  According to the article, “Duncan chided Minnesota leaders for not exhibiting a ‘sense of urgency’ about the trouble facing education. He urged business leaders at the event to continue steady investment in education and to get involved in shaping policy.”  Wow!  That’s pretty clear language.


The article said Duncan brought a sense of urgency and harsh honesty with him from Washington, quoting Duncan as he said, “The United States has a 25% high school dropout rate…and the number of people graduating from college has floundered while other countries have increased their rates monumentally.”

The article referred to his work to “move the Education Department away from its history as a “large compliance-driven bureaucracy.”  Did he like the United States major “No Child Left Behind” reform efforts that were supported by both Democrats and Republicans when it was adopted?  Nope. According to the article, “Duncan said the current structure is too top-heavy and punitive, where it should reward excellence and innovation. He called the act “fundamentally broken” and said certain provisions are “bad for children.”


With all this criticism, was there anything useful we can take away from his talk?  “We need to get Washington out of the way,” Duncan said. The article ends with “That sentiment trickles down from the state to the district level as well. Republican lawmakers in the House support more local control for districts.”


He was also harsh in speaking about the US Department of Education which he now heads. A headline article from Ed.gov covered the Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Project Directors’ Meeting, where Secretary Duncan made a surprise address, saying, “The education sector has been slow to transform how we do education.” He discussed the Department of Education’s aspiration to be a powerful engine of innovation, rather than a compliance-driven bureaucracy.  He acknowledged that Washington “doesn’t have all of the answers, and that many of the best ideas will come from communities across the country.”


He could be right.  Private schools have to be doing something right. Parents wouldn’t spend their money to send their children to private schools if their free government schools met their needs.  School choice initiatives continue to be viable education reform efforts, and I’ll be talking more about that in the weeks to come.

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday January 26, 2011 at 02:16PM

Last Saturday’s headline reads “Oregon teacher union hosts first-ever education summit with state leaders, teachers, Gov. John Kitzhaber.”  The article said the 125 education officials, teachers, business, non-profit and legislative leaders who attended agreed that Oregon’s education system is in need of substantial change and not just more money.   


What I wanted to share was the later part of the article, which takes up the keynote presentation by Yong Zhao, University of Oregon’s College of Education new residential chair and Associate Dean for Global Education.  Dr. Zhao is a familiar name because he was the keynote speaker at the 2010 Pacific Northwest Association of Independent Schools (PNAIS) Fall Educators Conference, where he spoke about “Catching Up or Leading the Way: American Education in the Age of Globalization.”  His site bio lists his many accomplishments, including over twenty books and one hundred articles.


The article reported Dr. Zhao’s opinion that the U.S. is moving to a national system that is relying too heavily on test score comparisons to other countries to determine how U.S education should change.  He thinks that the gaps in both test scores and time spent on core subjects do not matter.  “The higher test scores represented in the other countries,” he argued, “do not correlate to increases in entrepreneurship, democracy, livability, creativity, patents or economic growth.”  


In fact, Dr. Zhao thinks our test-oriented reform efforts are heading in the wrong direction, because “other countries are shifting their focus to creating more well-rounded students, to adding more electives, to supporting more creative thinking skills.”  On his blog, he argues “when you spend all your time preparing for tests, and when students are selected based on their test-taking abilities, you get outstanding test scores.”

In his PNAIS talk he cites studies that prove there is no correlation between high test scores and improved quality of life (it actually has negative effects), and no correlation to increased national economic growth or productivity.  High test scores don’t lead to increased productivity or predict individual or national success; there is no correlation.  None.


The article concludes:


“He said U.S. education reform, and Oregon reform, needs to focus on preparing students to create jobs and to be innovators. That, he said, comes from fostering global knowledge, developing digital and technological competency and making learning more personalized, crafted to individual student needs.”


In my Business Seminars and Science Seminars I’ve been talking to my students about becoming entrepreneurs and inventors.  I’ve been writing and talking about personalization and individualization for years, and I’m not stopping.  The Delphian School is all about personalization and individualization and has been from Day One. Technology has now made this possible for all schools in ways that couldn’t be imagined just a few years ago (more on that later).  Personalization and individualization (not testing) is the key to an improved educational system, and an improved economy and standard of living.

Pass it on!

Posted by Mr. Mark Siegel on Wednesday January 19, 2011 at 10:34AM