Review of Hugging The Middle: How Teachers Teach In An Era Of Testing And Accountability
Hugging The Middle: How Teachers Teach
In An Era Of Testing And Accountability
by Larry Cuban
Published by Teachers College Press, December 2008,
New York. 120 pp
As someone who initially covered education at the moment when alternative assessments ( raise your hands if you remember portfolios) became popular, only to be kicked to the curb when accountability, the standards movement and “measurable outcomes” became the only game in town, Larry Cuban’s timely exploration of teachers’ roles in actually teaching students is invaluable.
For no matter how fancy the school building, or how up-to-date the smart boards in the classroom, none of that makes as much of an impact as a well-trained teacher who knows what to do to reach students. And pity the poor classroom teacher—especially the creative, slightly unconventional one, whose classroom doesn’t always conform but may leave a life-long impact on her lucky students-- who has to adjust his or her approach to accommodate the prevailing pedagogical winds
As he writes, “As important as improving boards of education, streamlining bureaucracies and getting unions to be reform-minded are in making good schools, learning still depends on what teachers do daily with students in classrooms. Inevitably, then, if critics see teachers as the problem in students’ inadequate academic performance, these decision makers also know that teachers must also be the solution.”
Not surprisingly, Cuban—perhaps obviously to those who’ve been in the educational field for some time—concludes that “good” teaching ( helping a student understand a concept or subject) and “successful” teaching ( having a child recapitulate that knowledge in a format familiar in this NCLB era) aren’t necessarily the same, although decision-makers and parents don’t always grasp that distinction.
Cuban also argues that there can’t possibly be a one-size-fits-all approach—beit from the progressive or the traditional streams of education. In his view, good teaching is critically related to the subject matter at hand: “Good teaching of content requires knowledge of the discipline and particular pedagogical moves native to the subject matter.”
The author respects and champions the ultimate pragmatism of most classroom teachers, who have to negotiate the “windblown debates over what and how schools should teach.” Instead, “teachers assemble flexible lessons and become practical decisionmakers in these uncertain and messy but demanding settings. They hug the middle of the pedagogical pendulum.”
Larry Cuban, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and the author of How Teachers Taught is a veteran educational reformer who knows his stuff.
Not only has he taught courses about the history of school reform, instruction, leadership and curriculum, but Cuban also taught high school social studies in high-poverty urban schools. He also served for several years as superintendent of public schools in Arlington, VA, so he brings more than theoretical academic expertise to the subject.
In this slim, yet important, volume, Cuban offers common sense, compelling examples and refreshing, well-grounded insights that remove the discussion from the dismaying ideological tug-of-war, returning the solution to teachers, in whom more of us should have more faith.#