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.