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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Posted: Aug 27, 1999 6:16 PM
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From: Learning From TIMSS - Results of the Third International Mathematics
and Science Study - A Summary of a Symposium, National Research Council,
Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997, pp.24-25.


Although discussions throughout the symposium touched on issues that
revealed potential conflicts of various sorts, two basic points of
agreement emerged clearly. Perhaps clearest was a ringing endorsement for
the idea that teachers in the United States require far more support than
they are currently getting if they are to effect the desired improvements.

Jan de Lange remarked that he had "never seen teachers working under [such]
bad conditions . . . as American teachers" and deemed it "remarkable that
we still end up in the middle" under these circumstances. He cited their
few opportunities for professional development, their low status, and the
incoherence of the system in which they function as just a few among the
many problems they face. Mary Lindquist followed up by noting that in her
experience working with teachers, what they want most is "the time to do
the things that they think they should be doing."

Atkin and Black addressed the role of teachers from a different angle. One
of the conclusions they drew from the OECD project was that the absolute
dominance that university-based scientists and mathematicians have had over
the content of K-12 instruction is declining. Teachers in particular, they
noted, are gaining new influence in determining what should be taught, at
least in some areas. However, as they put it, "change creates turbulence"
(Atkin and Black, 1997:11). For teachers to exercise this influence
comfortably, Atkin and Black explained, they need opportunities for
collaborating with their peers, and for upgrading and maintaining their own
subject knowledge. They called attention to some revealing data from TIMSS
showing that U.S. science teachers average significantly fewer hours per
week devoted to both professional reading and development and to lesson
planning than did such high-scoring countries as Japan, Hungary, and
Singapore (Atkin and Black, 1997:13).

Elmore also addressed the urgency of attending to what teachers need in
order to do their jobs well. He noted that "the work day of most teachers
is organized in a way that allows them virtually no time to engage in any
sustained learning about how to do their work differently," and that "most
professionals learn new practices by working with other professionals, in
close proximity to the details of practice, and by making their clients pay
for the surplus time required to retool and renew themselves" (Elmore,
1997:13). He views it as critical that teachers be given similar
opportunities at the same time they are required to meet new standards.

He also noted how ill-suited most existing standards documents are for
helping teachers make immediate decisions about what and how to teach. To
be useful to teachers, he argued, these documents need to take account of
the lesson time teachers actually have and to be "drastically pared,
simplified, and operationalized in the form of lesson plans, materials, and
practical ideas about teaching practice" (Elmore, 1997:12). In general,
participants and presenters clearly seemed to agree that while teachers
need to be held to high standards themselves and to significantly raise
their expectations for U.S. students, they need to be supported in doing so
with concrete and well-planned allocations of time and training.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)

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