As much as we love the touchy-feely stuff it is numbers that eventually help us move to where we need to go. It can be budgeting with money, it can be dieting with personal fitness. Almost everyone needs more than their gut and perceptions to make a result happen.
The real issue isn't can we achieve excellence because we know we can. The deeper issues are are we willing to engage in a little cultural imperialism to make it happen and when we start engaging in that, from what moral high ground do we claim the right to undertake that conquest.
Malcolm Gladwell has a nice extract from his latest book in the Guardian
and in it he talks about the 10,000 hour rule of mastery.
This idea - that excellence at a complex task requires a critical, minimum level of practice - surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.
"In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice-skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals," writes the neurologist Daniel Levitin, "this number comes up again and again. Ten thousand hours is equivalent to roughly three hours a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years... No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery."
This is the most interesting section to me....
Everyone, from all three groups, started playing at roughly the same time - around the age of five. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount - about two or three hours a week. But around the age of eight real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up as the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight by age 12, 16 a week by age 14, and up and up, until by the age of 20 they were practising well over 30 hours a week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had all totalled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. The merely good students had totalled, by contrast, 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.
The curious thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals" - musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn't have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.
Our students are currently in school for enough hours to master whatever curriculum it is that we desire for them learn. However the issues are deeper. These folks that achieve mastery, they don't just put in the time, they put the time in very specific ways. When they have studied folks in sports or music as examples, they are ridiculously meticulous by the standards of a layperson.
So the variables are effective methods, effective people and will the student put in the time. I suspect one of the reasons her reform won't work is because even when she puts in effective people and effective methods, the students themselves cannot be forced to put in the time and the real problem as Gladwell suggests is that there is no shortcut, you have to put in the time.
As a teacher one of the most frustrating things for me is that I cannot change a student's effort level. Some will choose to change them but most of the time, it really doesn't matter how many assignments I grade because the effort level and grades they earn are terrifyingly consistent. I could grade 60 or 120 assignments and that 75% - C student only ever seems to stay at 75%. Within the variables I can control I have confronted this two-fold, one I make them put in more time via recess and lunch and two, I simply cover more material since 75% of more material is still a better result. In the areas I can't control, I would love to require mastery of something or teaching how to do something with focus and precision and the student must demonstrate the ability to do that.
So take someone like Rhee, she can change the culture of a school, but cannot change the culture of a neighborhood. Say the teacher does as I do, and assigns homework where the student is to read a self selected, high interest book at a appropriate reading level for 30+ minutes a night. Some kids just won't do it. Their parents will lie about it for them. They'll sign whatever log or lie in whatever fashion is necessary. This is especially true of sports or fun activities are on the line.
So what do we do? Send people into their homes to force a book into their hands while standing over them? How do we know they are really engaged in the book as opposed to merely holding it up and looking over it, etc.?
We can take this in all the other areas again, finance, fitness, you name it.
However as Newt used to say, great countries do not give out, they give in. We're a debtor country that is either obese or becoming more so and we require more and more resources to get something done due to unproductive attitudes and habits and this is especially true in education.