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Friday, March 31, 2006

The End of Best Practices in Education

It appears that folks are sick of “best practices”. Garr Reynold’s has taken it on at Presentation Zen and Steve Mykolyn even argues that there is no such thing as a best practice. These guys inhabit the private sector, but their critiques ring true in education. Educators need to banish best practices from their vocabularies and get down to the business of big ideas.

Early in my career, education was in the throws of the best practice movement. Best practices were everywhere. They were a convenient, marketable; one size fits all solution to teaching and learning.

I still get queasy when at the memory of rayon clad women preaching best practices and higher order thinking skills (H.O.T.S.). “Best practices have the H.O.T.S., got it? They have the H.O.T.S.! What do best practices have? I can’t hear you? That’s better. One more time, what do best practices have? Wonderful, orchids to you! Orchids to you!”

Despite the unbridled enthusiasm, it always appeared that the proponents of best practices where up to something. Some claimed that their best practices were “scientifically proven”. If you know anything about educational research, these claims are dubious at best and often verge on the fraudulent. According to proponents, best practices failed only if they were poorly implemented. This logic gave best practice advocates an out when it came to accountability. We hear this excuse today from school based test prep companies. “The kids didn’t improve because you failed to implement the program correctly.” Blame the school leadership, blame the teachers, but never blame the product.

School administrators often complained that teachers were resisting to best practices because they were resistant to change. The irony is that best practices kill change because they, by definition, discourage innovation. After all, it is impossible to improve on what is a deemed to be the best.

It’s time to kill off best practices in education.

Feel better?

Now that best practices are gone, it is time to work the big ideas that have the potential to transform teaching and learning.

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