Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wherefore and Why

For those of you just getting to know me, let me start out with a brief introduction. My name is James Koontz and I am an elementary school teacher in Fairfax County, Virginia.

I have a rather odd background for an elementary school teacher, however. In previous careers I have been an intelligence analyst, a cryptologist, and a VP in a defense firm. I also happen to have a love for science and research and have been increasingly drawn towards scientific skepticism. I love research, data, and the application of critical thinking to solving real world problems.

When I made the move into teaching, I knew I was in for a bit of a culture shock. However, I greatly underestimated just how big of a shock it would be. There will be plenty of blog entries in the future looking at important differences between the culture of schools and that of other industries and organizations. However, the one that’s important to this entry is the clear disconnect between the educators' desire to engage in evidence-based practices and their ability to really understand what makes for reliable evidence. “Research-based” is one of the most important buzzwords in educational policy and practice today, but the basic tools to really understand what makes for good research are often lacking in all levels of the education community.

Starting this blog seems like it should have been a pretty obvious thing to me. It wasn’t. I’ve been complaining about this state of affairs for the past couple years, but the answer didn’t come to me until I happened across this entry on the James Randi Educational Foundation blog by Kylie Sturgess. She summarizes the difficult state education research finds itself in, and asks the critical question:
Just how much time, money (let alone impetus!) do educators have to take a breath and look critically at programs that may be implemented and running in their schools - that is if they notice a handful of skeptical bloggers waving a red flag?

The answer, of course, is “not much.”

However, then I began to think that perhaps it would help if there actually were skeptical bloggers out there focusing on education (please leave me a note in the comments if you know of any because I haven’t found them yet). Plenty of bloggers "wave the red flag" frantically when it comes to creationists trying to challenge the teaching of evolution schools; but when it comes to the actual practice of teaching… not so much.

What does the research really say about the “flavor of the month” in literacy instruction? How reliable is that study that says the math textbook your school system is looking to adopt really increases student achievement? Those are the types of questions educators need to be able to answer. Those are the types of questions Skepducation will take on.

That is a taste of what I hope this blog can become in time. I want it to be a place for the skeptical community and the education community to come together to wave those red flags. I also hope it can be a place of learning for educators on the basic principles of evidence-based practices, research methods, and critical thinking. I want to arm teachers (and parents, principals, and all the other stakeholders in the educational system) with the tools they need to look critically at the latest fads and ideologies.

I hope you will take a moment to join in this community. Leave a comment. Send a question you’d like me to take on. Subscribe to the feed. Tell a friend about this blog.  Your participation and support make a huge difference.

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