Saturday, September 18, 2010

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Debates

Ok, I started watching this debate with some bias. The Republican candidate is John Huppenthal who has spent the last 17 years in the state legislature, a lot of that working in education committees. So, I probably dismissed his qualifications a bit. If you google his name on the web, top on the list is the link to his interview with the Corono High School student. According to wikipedia:

"As Wagner continued questioning him, Huppenthal stood up and left the room to retrieve more information about the vote, eventually returning to the interview. A video of the interview which was edited to exclude Huppenthal's return received wide circulation on the internet."

So, even the interview wasn't quite as bad as it appears, although he should have been much better prepared than he was.

Having said that, Penny Kotterman, is the superior candidate. While Huppenthal has been in the state legislature, Kotterman has been in the classroom since 1978, working as an educator at every level.

This difference in experience shows in the debate. Huppenthal takes the more Republican ideological positions pretty consistently. For example, with school reform, his focus is on high stakes testing and "accountability" and keeps referencing data from the most recent research. He talks a decent game and he makes good points, but it sounds like someone whose read a lot about education, not someone who has had first hand experience with it.

Kotterman on the other hand understands teaching from the perspective of one whose pursued it as a long term professional. Its literally been her career. An educator becomes better as they gain experience, staying abreast of the latest research, and continually improving. Diane Ravitch makes this point clearly in her book. Huppenthal seems to come from the mindset popular in today's political class today (especially among Republicans) that anybody can teach as long as they apply a kind of formulaic research based formula against it (granted this is a cynical interpretation of their viewpoint) and more people should have easy access to the profession. You see that as people from business try to use "school reform" as a way to inject business and free market principles and competition into our schools with very poor results.

I think its interesting that Mr. Huppenthal, again from a qualifications point of view, has an engineering degree and a MBA and now he considers himself an expert on schools.

The most poignant part of the debate for me was when they entered the phonics verses whole language debate. Huppenthal describes whole language as something that has been "nuclear bombed" by research. Kotterman explains that there is no one way to teach reading. A teacher uses every tool in her toolbox to teach a child.

Huppenthal's view makes sense from someone whose read about reading in a book. Kotterman's point of view comes from someone whose actually done it.

In my experience, with our kids, Kotterman's perspective is more accurate. Phonics is really important, but so is exposure to vocabulary and simply just surrounding your kids with words and with stories and with books. Ultimately they have to recognize the words on the page and get beyond working through each letter's sound, and I believe (though I'm not sure) that's basically what whole language is all about.

Personally, I think Kotterman is by far the superior candidate in this election.

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