This two-part series looks at what the education pendulum is and how educators might begin to counteract it and mitigate its effects.
Professional educators commonly recognize and lament the cyclical nature of education. It seems that ideas are often recycled without any modification save changing the name by which the technique or idea is identified. More importantly, these ideas often vacillate from one extreme to the other. This is what is commonly called the education pendulum.
In this model, administrators being pressured by political and social forces to raise test scores attempt to find solutions and improvements that will help student succeed in both the short term and the long term. However, this quest by administrators often leaves classroom teachers feeling they are at the mercy of an inept administration that foolishly succumbs to every wind of change. Classroom teachers can react negatively to the barrage of frequent changes and may resent the intrusion of a disconnected administration into the daily workings of the classroom. The end result is that either as a result of its own inabilities or less than enthusiastic implementation, the method fails. This sends the administration searching for the next idea - typically something totally opposite to the failed methodology. As a result, the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme, and the implementation/failure cycle continues.
How can this cycle be broken? Can it actually be broken, or are there truly no new ideas in the field of education? There appear to be two ideas central to beginning to address these questions. While neither of these taken alone will completely stop the education pendulum, taken together they might help lessen the extremes to which the pendulum swings and help education focus on what is actually important: education. Previously addressed, collaboration between administration and faculty is critical. However, the second point to address is the need to conduct significant research into the notion of the education pendulum and its effects. While it is relatively simple to locate web pages with a variety of rants, groans, and complaints about the education pendulum, it is far more difficult to locate peer reviewed research into the effects of and alternatives to the education pendulum. There is an abundance of qualitative, quantitative, and action research surrounding the implementation of particular methods and techniques. Each study somehow demonstrates that the technique or method used improves student learning. However, as is characteristic of the education pendulum, the idea may not actually be new but merely renamed for the purpose of publication. What is needed is research regarding the identification, effects, and alternatives to the extremes of the education pendulum. This may well lead to significant research into how to synthesize the ideas created over the last decades into new ideas that take the best components of each and create new knowledge leading to new techniques and methods and moving education forward rather than perpetuating the education pendulum.
This will not solve all of the issues in education, but it can be a start toward a new mindset. Coupled with the shift toward a collaborative culture, the topic of the previous installment of this series, perhaps the pendulum can be slowed and progress can be made in a forward direction.