Performance-based Teacher Education:

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Charlotte Thomson IserbytDay 23: SKINNER HORROR FILES

Teach­ing the way it used to be
before per­for­mance-based out­comes on a predi­gest­ed learn­ing tools

Over the years one has seen the depar­ture of many tal­ent­ed teach­ers who have left the pro­fes­sion due to Skin­ner­ian Per­for­mance-based Teacher Edu­ca­tion. Teach­ing used to be a joy­ful job in a cre­ative envi­ron­ment where stu­dents thrived on learn­ing and apply­ing that knowl­edge to real life sit­u­a­tions. B.F. Skin­ner stole that joy.  In per­for­manace-based instruc­tion, there is a nar­row script­ed learn­ing process with behav­ioral out­comes that have been pre­de­ter­mined. Below is an indi­ca­tion of why so many teach­ers felt they need­ed to leave the pro­fes­sion. 

The fol­low­ing quotes are excerpt­ed from Appen­dix VII in my book the delib­er­ate dumb­ing down of amer­i­ca. This comes from a vin­tage 1971 report that spells out in alarm­ing detail the per­va­sive influ­ence of Skin­ner. Not only stu­dents would be required to be “per­for­mance-based,” but also the teach­ers. The title of the report says it all — Per­for­mance-based Teacher Edu­ca­tion: What Is the State of the Art?, Stan­ley Elam, Ed. (Phi Delta Kap­pan Pub­li­ca­tions: Wash­ing­ton, D.C., 1971).*

The Asso­ci­a­tion is pleased to offer to the teacher edu­ca­tion com­mu­ni­ty the  Committee’s first state-of-the-art paper. In per­for­mance-based pro­grams per­for­mance goals are spec­i­fied, and agreed to, in rig­or­ous detail in advance of instruc­tion. The stu­dent must either be able to demon­strate his abil­i­ty to pro­mote desir­able learn­ing or exhib­it behav­ior known to pro­mote it. He isheld account­able, not for pass­ing grades, but for attain­ing a gen­er­al lev­el of com­pe­ten­cy in per­form­ing the essen­tial tasks of teach­ing…. Empha­sis is on demon­strat­ed prod­uct or out­put. Accep­tance of this basic prin­ci­ple has pro­gram impli­ca­tions that are tru­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary.…

[T]he student’s rate of progress through the pro­gram is deter­mined bydemon­strat­ed com­pe­ten­cyrather than by time or course com­ple­tion.… Instruc­tion is indi­vid­u­al­ized and per­son­al­ized.… Because time is a vari­able, not a con­stant, and because stu­dents may enter with wide­ly dif­fer­ing back­grounds and pur­pos­es, instruc­tion is like­ly to be high­ly per­so­nand sit­u­a­tion-spe­cif­ic.… The learn­ing expe­ri­ence of the indi­vid­u­als is guid­ed by feed­back.…

[T]eaching com­pe­ten­cies to be demon­strat­ed are role-derived, spec­i­fied inbehav­ioral terms, and made pub­lic; assess­ment cri­te­ria are com­pe­ten­cy-based, spec­i­fy mas­tery lev­els, and made pub­lic; assess­ment requires per­for­mance as prime evi­dence, takes stu­dent knowl­edge into account; student’s progress rate depends on demon­strat­ed com­pe­ten­cy; instruc­tion­al pro­gram facil­i­tates devel­op­ment and eval­u­a­tion of spe­cif­ic com­pe­ten­cies.…

The appli­ca­tion of such a sys­tem­at­ic strat­e­gy to any human process is called the sys­tems approach.… We can­not be sure that mea­sure­ment tech­niques essen­tial both to objec­tiv­i­ty and to valid assess­ment of affec­tive and com­plex cog­ni­tive objec­tives will be devel­oped rapid­ly enough for the new exit require­ments to be any bet­ter than the con­ven­tion­al let­ter grades of the past. Unless hero­ic efforts are made on both the knowl­edge and mea­sure­ment fronts, then PBTE may well have a stunt­ed growth.…

To reca­pit­u­late, the promise of per­for­mance-based teacher edu­ca­tion lies pri­mar­i­ly in:

1) the fact that its focus on objec­tives and its empha­sis upon the shar­ing process by which those objec­tives are for­mu­lat­ed in advance are made explic­it and used as the basis for eval­u­at­ing per­for­mance;

2) the fact that a large share of the respon­si­bil­i­ty for learn­ing is shift­ed from teacher to stu­dent;

3) the fact that it increas­es effi­cien­cy through sys­tem­at­ic use of feed­back, moti­vat­ing and guid­ing learn­ing efforts of prospec­tive teach­ers;

4) the fact that greater atten­tion is giv­en to vari­a­tion among indi­vid­ual abil­i­ties, needs, and inter­ests;

5) the fact that learn­ing is tied more direct­ly to the objec­tives to be achievedthan to the learn­ing resources uti­lized to attain them;

6) the fact that prospec­tive teach­ers are taught in the way they are expect­ed to teach;

7) the fact that PBTE is con­sis­tent with demo­c­ra­t­ic prin­ci­ples;

8) the fact that it is con­sis­tent with what we know about the psy­chol­o­gy of learn­ing;

9) the fact that it per­mits effec­tive inte­gra­tion of the­o­ry and prac­tice;

10) the fact that it pro­vides bet­ter bases for design­ing research aboutteach­ing per­for­mance. These advan­tages would seem suf­fi­cient to war­rant and ensure a strong and viable move­ment.

From “The Scope of PBTE”:

Among the most dif­fi­cult ques­tions asked about the via­bil­i­ty of per­for­mance-based instruc­tion as the basis for sub­stan­tial change in teacher prepara­to­ry pro­grams are these:

Will it tend to pro­duce tech­ni­cians, para­pro­fes­sion­als, teacher aides, etc., rather than pro­fes­sion­als?… These ques­tions derive from the fact that whileper­for­mance-based instruc­tion elim­i­nates waste in the learn­ing process through clar­i­ty in def­i­n­i­tion of goods, it can be applied only to learn­ing in which the objec­tives sought are sus­cep­ti­ble of def­i­n­i­tion in advance in behav­ioral terms. Thus it is dif­fi­cult to apply when the out­comes sought are com­plex and sub­tle, and par­tic­u­lar­ly when they are affec­tive or atti­tu­di­nal in char­ac­ter.

From “Philo­soph­ic Under­pin­ning”:

Some author­i­ties have expressed the fact that PBTE has an inad­e­quate philo­soph­ic base, point­ing out that any per­for­mance-based sys­tem rests on par­tic­u­lar val­ues, and the most impor­tant of which are expressed in the com­pe­ten­cies cho­sen and in the design of the learn­ing activ­i­ties.

From “Polit­i­cal and Man­age­ment Dif­fi­cul­ties”:

…4) There are polit­i­cal aspects to the ques­tion of how far the professor’s aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom and the student’s right to choose what he wish­es to learn extend in PBTE.

5) …The mere adop­tion of a PBTE pro­gram will elim­i­nate some prospec­tive stu­dents because they do not find it appeal­ing. The ques­tion remains: Will these be the stu­dents who should be elim­i­nat­ed?…

6) The PBTE move­ment could dete­ri­o­rate into a pow­er strug­gle over who con­trols what.

7) PBTE removes stu­dents reg­u­lar­ly from the cam­pus into field set­tings and empha­sizes indi­vid­ual study and progress rather than class-course orga­ni­za­tion, thus tends to iso­late the peo­ple involved. We live in a peri­od when such iso­la­tion is not a pop­u­lar social con­cept, and since many aspects of the PBTE approach could be con­ceived as Skin­ner­ian, dehu­man­iz­ing etc., it is impor­tant that pro­grams be man­aged in such a way as to min­i­mize iso­la­tion?…

9) Final­ly, there is a need to over­comethe apa­thy, threat, anx­i­ety, admin­is­tra­tiveresis­tance, and oth­er bar­ri­ers that stand in the way of mov­ing toward PBTE and towardper­for­mance-based teach­ing in the schools.

*This excerpt was refor­mat­ted and empha­sized for blog post­ing. Paper pre­pared for the Com­mit­tee on Per­for­mance-based Teacher Edu­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Col­leges for Teacher Edu­ca­tion pur­suant to a con­tract with the U.S. Office of Edu­ca­tion through the Texas Edu­ca­tion Agency, Austin, Texas.