The Importance of Content
In all of the waves of education reform that we have experienced over the last several decades, one critical element has been absent. We have seen waves of reform that ramped up content standards for students, increased accountability for students, teachers, and administrators, shifted governance structures, and tinkered with teacher vs student centered instruction. However, we have not seen a substantive effort to increase the degree of understanding that teachers have of the content they are teaching.
The basic construct of these reform efforts is that the content is reasonably simple and teachers need better pedagogy or more “accountability” to implement pedagogy with fidelity. This model ignores the basic principle that being able to teach in a manner beyond rote replication requires an in-depth understanding of the content. Teachers have to be able to re-conceptualize content when they encounter students who are not learning the material, as hoped, after initial instruction.
It is an unpopular take, but teacher preparation programs tend to be the easiest schools at university and provide inflated grades to students in comparison to the other schools at the same universities. This dynamic pushes a mediocre learning of content and drums out very few students as ineffective. Additionally, for in service teachers, very little professional development is focused on developing knowledge of the content.
If we hope to improve the educational outcomes of our students, if we wish to improve the effectiveness of our schools, we need to make content an integral part of what we do with the educational professions in our schools. Schools are nested learning communities, with students at the center. Students will replicate the behaviors that surround them — if teachers embody a learning stance toward content, students will also embody that behavior because it is being modeled for them. Similarly, if we expect staff to take a serious stance toward learning content, we also must expect leadership to model that behavior and value it in how time and resources are spent.
Asking a school to be an institution of learning is not as simple as making sure students are learning. An institution of learning is about putting learning at the center of every person’s day. Ensuring that each and every person is engaged in learning that they find valuable and challenging is crucial to moving the entire enterprise forward.
— John F. Kennedy