The Orlando Sentinel’s series on Florida’s private school scholarship programs addressed a broad range of issues, including facility safety, financial fraud and even child abuse.
But I keep coming back to this paragraph about how students are taught from the first installment of the series:
One curriculum, called Accelerated Christian Education or ACE, is popular in some private schools and requires students to sit at partitioned desks and fill out worksheets on their own for most of the day, with little instruction from teachers or interaction with classmates.
The issue is raised again in the same article in a passage about TDR Academy in Orlando:
TDR uses ACE, which includes workbooks for every subject. Students are to complete up to 70 a year. Gonzalez, the pastor’s son-in-law, said students benefit from doing ACE workbooks at their own pace.
Students learn best when they interact vigorously with each other and with a skilled teacher. Such a teacher has a deep understanding of the subject, possesses a working knowledge of the research on how students learn that subject, and has mastered the magic known as “classroom management”.
In such a learning environment, students often collaborate with each other to come up with really, really hard questions that only a teacher with strong subject knowledge has the confidence to answer well.
An administrator who lacks confidence in a teacher’s skill would arrange exactly the sort of workbooks-in-isolation learning environment that ACE markets and that TDR uses.
A person I only know on Twitter and wish I knew better (@ABartlettPear) raised the issue of teacher credentials in a tweet about the Sentinel series. The Sentinel journalists also pointed out that some of the teachers – and the TDR principal – lack college degrees.
But it seems to me that the most telling evidence that there is a teacher quality problem at many of the schools visited by Sentinel journalists is the choice of “pedagogy” – one that uses a workbook-in-isolation learning environment to shield teachers from being exposed as weak.