The Mirage: Are We Flailing?

Mike Lee Education, Education Policy

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My last post discussed the Mirage Report and the subsequent fallout.  This one is not about the report, but it is about the fallout.  

Which, I suppose, still makes it about the report.  But stay with me.

As I’ve discussed the study over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the similar looks of shock and awe on most of the faces with whom I was speaking.  It’s as if every professional development session they ever attended or conducted flashed in front of their eyes, as they sought examples of how wrong the conclusions were.  I recognized this line of thinking, because I did the same thing.

“But, Kagan training changed how I taught!  I was never the same!  The researchers must be wrong.”

But then I remembered a pretty strong parallel.  The retention argument.  You know the one.  Even though research overwhelmingly condemns the practice as not having a long-term impact if coming after the very early grades, everyone remembers “That One Kid” who was retained and was successful.

We know, however, that “That One Kid” likely would have made it, anyway.

What the Mirage Report is suggesting is reminiscent of this correlation versus causality argument.  It points to the strong likelihood that “That Rock Star Teacher” would have become a rock star teacher, anyway.  With our without that training.  

She just has no way of knowing it because, well, she doesn’t have a DeLorean and 1.21 Gigawatts.

The researchers also indicate that many other teachers have been through that training, yet are not showing causal gains in student achievement.  In other words, there is something else going on that we have not yet figured out driving teacher growth.  They propose that we would be better able to spend professional development money in a way that directly translates to teacher behavior and student learning, if only we could discover those drivers.

It is important to note that the Mirage Report is not saying that there are not quality trainings, important learning opportunities, or that professional development is not important.  What they are saying, however, is that we have been flailing with our spending.

You know, spending money on “This” and “That.”  And, if it were working the way we’d like, it wouldn’t be so easy to think of the same “Rock Star Teacher,” singular.

Because we could replace “That” with “Those,” and “Teacher” with “Teachers.”


Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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Comments 1

  1. Karl Ochsner

    Nice article Mike. Working at a parochial school we are called to be good stewards of the money we are investing in the school that will impact our students. We shouldn’t be throwing money to pendulum swings because of “new” data. We need to look at the students needs and have our professional teachers,administrators and parents be part of the process and use common sense. Take for example…The pendulum of the week…Blended learning. While the idea sounds great…getting data, more teacher involvement on a smaller scale, and more collaboration with each other. The data right now shows no improvement over regular instruction or project based learning. The programs that claim they integrate blended learning and we all need it…have giganormous amount of per pupil cost…and need giganormous amounts of technology to use it and test with it. Students will be so busy using these learn/practice/test on the technology…there is not time for them to Create with the technology. Project based learning doesn’t fit that model. Creativity doesn’t fit the model…hmmm wait a minute… You can’t build a time machine made out of a Delorean without creativity…

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