October 17, 2004

Coleman got it, but we missed it! Case Study of a Paradigm Shift (The Value of Focusing on Instruction) by Daniel Fallon, Chair of the Education Division, Carneige Corporation of New York looks at how the Coleman and Jencks research was read as downgrading the importance of teachers and instruction despite the fact that Coleman got it: An implicit logical conclusion of the analysis put forth by Coleman and Jencks is that, when it comes to student achievement, teaching doesn’t matter very much. "Teacher education was obviously affected, resulting, for example, in the rise of ideas about teachers as coaches or facilitators rather than instructors. The discussion did not turn on the relative value, for example, of didactic instruction by lecture versus guided individualized instruction in small groups, but rather the idea of instruction itself receded toward the periphery or disappeared altogether. Another consequence arose indirectly in that many teachers came to believe that it was not their responsibility if the children did not learn the curriculum. Surely, they reasoned, performance deficiencies were caused not by weak instruction but rather by poor nutrition, or weak family structures, or no community support for academic endeavors." Coleman, whose conscientious attention to detail led him to report everything he found, did notice a teacher effect. Because these data were relatively thin, however, and there were so many data showing the influence of other variables, his intriguing little finding was lost in the sea of social and financial inequality that led him to focus on the family. Coleman reported that the...

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