Category Archives: Updates

If not me, who? If not now, When?

We are 55 days from election day, and phone banking begins tonight!

Last year DCF members participated in more than 35 phone banks and we made over 30,000 calls to Douglas County voters.

This year there are 9 nights of phone banking scheduled – please don’t wait to get involved! 

Sign up today, and ask your colleagues to join you!

DCF Fall 2018 Events Calendar – with link 9.11

To learn more about Colorado’s 2018  state-wide school funding Amendment #73 or to volunteer to support  Amendment #73 please click here:


Professional Development for Teachers of Students with Disabilities

Nationally, 13 percent of all public school students receive some type of special education services.[1] Douglas County schools fall just below the national average, with approximately 7,000 of its 60,000 students receiving special education services.[2] There is a dearth of well-trained special education teachers in our country, and while research is limited in this area, it suggests a need for better preparation, professional development, and in-school supports.

McLeskey & Billingsley suggest that effective, research-based practices for teaching in special education exist but that there is little evidence that those practices are widely used. [3] One reason may be the lack of pre-service preparation and in-service professional development around special education practice. Another reason is the challenge facing many districts of keeping well-qualified special education teachers on staff. Research indicates instability in the special education teaching profession, with one in four special education teachers leaving his or her position each year. They also found evidence that poor working conditions such as heavy caseloads and lack of administrative support make it challenging for special education teachers to use evidence-based practices but that more research needed to be done to better understand how working conditions impact those teachers.

Mader reviewed several studies that showed how poorly teacher education programs prepared many teachers for supporting special education students.[4] General education teachers only took an average of 1.5 courses on inclusion or special education, and many teachers did not feel adequately prepared to implement individualized instruction. Inclusion has a demonstrated benefit to special education students, but teachers need time, support, and training to ensure that inclusion is effective. While change is needed in preparation programs to include more special education training, it is incumbent upon schools and districts to compensate for inadequate training through ongoing professional development.

A report by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Center on Learning Disabilities suggests that learning to meet the instructional needs of students with disabilities should begin in initial teacher preparation programs.[5] For all teachers already in the profession, states and districts should implement programs to ensure that all teachers are skilled in instructing diverse students. Too frequently, teacher preparation and licensure limits teachers to working with certain populations, and those teachers perceive themselves (or are perceived) as only being able to work with certain students. This can limit the number of teachers who feel qualified to work with students with disabilities, challenging a school’s ability to provide the least restrictive environment to those students. By ensuring that all teachers are equipped to teach a broader range of students, schools can better support those students and create stronger classroom communities for all learners.

Nearly all states have a shortage of special education teachers.[6] Too often, special education vacancies are filled with underprepared teachers. Carver-Thomas suggests strategies to build a pipeline of special education teachers to help fill shortages. One way is to offer scholarships or forgivable loans to teachers who earn special education certifications and a commitment to teaching in that field for a minimum number of years. Another strategy is to support “Grow Your Own” programs to recruit not only high school students but also community members and paraprofessionals into teaching. Teacher residencies can offer teacher training with a commitment to teach in high-needs schools and subject areas. States and districts can also offer incentives to help attract and retain experienced special education teachers.




[3] McLeskey, J., & Billingsley, B.S. (2008). How does the quality and stability of the teaching force influence the research-to-practice gap? Remedial and Special Education, 29(5), 293-305.

[4] Mader, J. (2017). How teacher training hinders special-needs students. The Atlantic,

[5] Blanton, Mugach, & Florian.

[6] Carver-Thomas, D. (2017). The special education teacher crisis: Who’s teaching our most vulnerable students? Learning Policy Institute,

Impact of Funding on Public Schools

In 1966, the Coleman Report found that there was no connection between per-pupil funding in schools and test performance.[1] Recent research, however, looks beyond standardized test results and finds that increasing school spending does have a positive outcome on students.

Researchers at the Northwestern Institute for Policy Research tracked tax-based school financing systems in 28 states between 1971 and 2010.[2] They found better educational outcomes for students in places that increased spending on K-12 education over time. Those outcomes included increased graduation rates and higher adult income for districts that increased per-pupil spending by 10 percent. Students in low-income areas benefited the most from increased spending. This study showed that it is important where the money is spent, with successful districts focusing spending on instruction and support services. Overall return on investment for student earnings was 1-to-2, supporting the notion that the benefit outweighs the initial cost.

Another study by Jackson, Johnson, and Persico also finds limitations with the Coleman study and finds that school funding does matter for long-term student outcomes especially for low-income students.[3]  The study found that increasing per-pupil spending by 10 percent for all twelve years of school increases the probability of high school graduation by 10 percentage points for children from low-income families and by 2.5 percent for other children. Additionally, that same 10 percent increase in spending for children from low-income families boosts adult hourly wages by 13 percent.

During the recession of 2007-09, many states cut their education budgets, and as of 2014-15, most of those states had not yet increased their spending back to the pre-recession amounts.[4] Thirty states provided less funding per student for the 2014-15 school year than they did before 2007, with 14 of those states having cut funding by more than 10 percent. These statewide funding cuts have serious consequences for school districts that cannot replace losses in state funding with local funding. On a national level, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been cut, hurting state and local economies. Teacher quality is a known factor in student success, and education cuts often lead to a decrease in teacher quality because funding is necessary to recruit, develop, and retain high-quality teachers. Low funding also leads to larger class sizes, which can hurt student achievement especially at the lower grade levels and for lower income students.

Budget cuts also mean schools have to trim extra learning opportunities that help student achievement such as full-day kindergarten.

Because the United States’ education system is highly localized, there is a wide variance in educational opportunities across localities.[5] When looking at international benchmarks such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), the U.S. is an average performer. However, when disaggregated by socioeconomic status, performance outcomes are in line with other countries of similar backgrounds. If we just look at U.S. schools with a poverty rate of less than 10 percent, the U.S. would rank number one on PISA. Because school funding is connected to local taxes, this shows just how important school funding is to student success.


[1] Coleman, James (1966). Equality of educational Opportunity,

[2] Jackson, C. K., R. Johnson, and C. Persico. 2015. The effects of school spending on educational and economic outcomes: Evidence from school finance reforms. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 131(1): 157–218,

[3] Jackson, C. K., Johnson, R.C., & Persico, C. (2015). Boosting educational attainment and adult earnings. Education Next, 15(4),

[4] Leachman, M., & Mai, C. (2014). Most states still funding schools less than before the recession. Center on Budget and policy Priorities,

[5] American Federation of Teachers (2013). Equity in Education,

August upcoming events

Dear DCF Activists, Building Reps and All Around Rockstars,

Welcome back to school! We hope you had an amazing summer. It’s been great to hear from many of you about what you’ve been up to and what your hopes are for the upcoming year. We have a ton going on already and wanted to get you some important right away.

As we head back to school, we encourage you to connect with your colleagues, especially new educators and staff as we hope to welcome everyone into the DCF family as quickly as possible.

We are hosting our back-to-school happy hour on August 17th 2018 and everyone is welcome, member or not, so get out there and ask folks to join us!

As we are sure you have heard, increasing school funding is going to be a huge focus this fall, along with launching AFT sponsored professional development, a national teacher leader program, student debt clinics and more.

The truth is – the only hope to bring increased funding into our schools begins and ends with you. We know, without a doubt that all of the door knocking, phone banking, car painting, postcards, 10-minute meetings and more moved our community to vote last fall and in 2015 to support our students, our schools and our profession.

In the same spirit, our community needs to hear from the people who know first hand what the lack of funding does to our schools and our students. No one knows better than you.

That being said – here are some important upcoming dates. Please make sure you are receiving our email and text updates, find us on facebook and twitter, schedule a back-to-school 10-minute meeting at your school and get in touch with us anytime.

We are here to support the difficult work ahead, and we know that together we can move mountains.

Click here to RSVP for these events –

Tuesday, Aug. 7th – Bright futures for Douglas County kids is looking for DCSD employees to make public comment at the BOE meeting to support our funding needs.

6:00 pm at the Wilcox building.

Friday, Aug. 17th – DCF back-to-school happy hour! 3:30 pm – 6:30 pm at Lodo’s in Highlands Ranch. Everyone is welcome, but please RSVP; we need a headcount for food. 

Tuesday, Aug. 21st - Bright Futures for Douglas County kids is asking for educators, parents, community members and more to show up in person to ask that the BOE run a bond/mlo this fall and commit to doing the work to increase funding for DCSD. They need your support.

6pm at the Wilcox building (arrive early if you want to be inside).

Thursday, September 6th - General Membership Meeting – All DCF members are welcome. Our membership meetings are held at 304 Inverness way south, in the lower level, Centennial, Co 80112.

We have ample free parking, provide dinner and kids are always welcome.

Food arrives at 4:30 pm and the meeting begins at 5pm.

Non-members are welcome to join us, but are not eligible to vote should a vote be called.

Click here to RSVP for these events –

It’s going to be a great year! We are thrilled to be here working with you, and as always let us know what you need to succeed as a member of DCF.

In solidarity,
Your DCF team


Welcome back!

Welcome to the 2018-2019 school year DCSD, and welcome to your union!

April membership mtg

We are looking forward to another exciting year, with school funding being a primary focus of the fall along with professional development and advocacy for public education, both locally and nationally.

Over the last few months we have seen educators and school district employees rising in record numbers in with a national cry of #RedForEd. Educators have taken their voice to the streets, the national media, and state capitols across the country asking that our elected officials invest in public education, invest in educators, and invest in our students.

On April 26th, 2018, Douglas County educators came together at the Colorado State Capitol, and we will continue to advocate together as #RedForEd continues. There are so many ways to get involved in this movement, be it talking to your neighbors, phone banking community members, or activating your colleagues to join us. There is a place for everyone in our DCF family.

Let us know what you would love to do –  we are always making space for new leaders and activists in our union.

As you get settled into the new year, do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions.

We know that getting the year off on the right foot sets the tone for your whole year, and we are here to support you.

Teachers everywhere are ready to take back our profession, and together we are doing that. Please encourage your colleagues to join us and become a member of the Douglas County Federation. Together we can accomplish things we could never accomplish alone. 


Superintendent Sole Finalist


It’s been a long time coming, but our board has announced the sole finalist for superintendent. Please help welcome Dr. Thomas Tucker into our school district and our community!

Dr. Tucker is the superintendent of the Princeton City School District in Ohio and has been named national superintendent of the year. Twice. He’s been a teacher, principal, and director of curriculum. He’s passed a bond and levy and understands how important properly funding public education is to the lives of our kids. Perhaps most importantly, he describes himself as a teacher first.

As Douglas County educators, we’ve been through a lot over the past nine years. We fought a politically motivated school board that selfishly severed the 50-year collaborative relationship with its educators and their union—one that fostered a once small rural school system into a large nationally recognized destination district. All to the detriment of our students’ education and learning environment. Despite the reformers best efforts, the DCF never stopped representing our members and working for what is best for students.

We fought an illegal push to take public school tax dollars and give them away to private institutions. We saw the squandering of district resources and incompetent management of our district’s budget. We suffered through the replacement of effective union-built, evidence-based, employee-led professional development with training centered around a flawed evaluation system. We railed as the district valued children differently by telling parents that they were going to pay the elementary art teacher more than the 4th grade teacher, but not as much as the 1st grade teacher.

But the Douglas County Federation organized. Beginning in 2009, we educated each other and our colleagues, then we reached out to the community to warn them of what was looming. We made calls, held meetings, and knocked on doors. We talked to our neighbors and friends and made sure they knew not only who to vote for, but what was at stake for our kids and community. Even though we worked hard, we lost three consecutive elections, but finally, in 2015 we won every seat in the school board election and then we swept the 2017 board races. Douglas County Federation members never quit organizing! Now, with the new school board comes a new direction, a new superintendent, and a new challenge—to all of us.

What we know is that it is easy to tear something down, but takes immense work to build up something of value. So, now we get to work. Superintendent Tucker and our volunteer school board can’t do it alone. In fact, the rebuilding of our students’ education system is wholly dependent on our ability to once again work collaboratively with district leadership.

Each of us has the responsibility—even after the struggle we’ve experienced—to work harder than ever to improve the lives of our students and our profession. That begins in our schools and in our classrooms. It means volunteering to work on committees to improve what’s been short changed for so many years. It means speaking up at board meetings and with building administration to voice your concerns about what we know needs improving. It means being more engaged and moving past the fear we’ve felt for far too long.

Please join me in welcoming Superintendent Tucker to our great district. We have a lot of work ahead of us and I’m sure that he will appreciate knowing that he has DCF members eager to stand beside him. We’ve weathered the storm–thank you to all of you who have stayed and fought for our students; and thank you to those who have joined us. Now we MUST use the new rays of the rising sun to grow something bountiful.

This work starts by showing up to our general membership meeting on Thursday, and by actively working towards increased school funding–there is something you can do now! We’ll see you at the meeting.  

Career and Technical Education

Today’s students will face complex challenges when they enter the workforce. Knowing how to solve problems, work collaboratively, think critically and innovatively, and communicate effectively are essential skills.  Career and technical education (CTE – formerly known as vocational education) is proving to be one of the most effective educational approaches to ensuring that students learn these 21st century skills alongside technical skills and academics.

The economic benefits of these programs—both for individuals and society—are compelling. Students in CTE programs graduate in much higher numbers than other high school students.[i] CTE offers a lower-cost option for students to acquire the skills they will need to fill the well-paying jobs that exist in high-demand sectors of our economy. And recent studies in Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin point to a high rate of return of CTE programs to state economies in the form of annual tax revenues.

CTE programs can also help meet community needs. At Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, the city, its police and fire departments, families, school staff, and the teachers union came together to launch a public safety CTE program last year.[ii] The program, with seed money from the AFT Innovation Fund, prepares students for careers in firefighting, emergency medical services and law enforcement. Students will progress toward good, civic-minded jobs, and the program will help diversify these workforces to better reflect the communities they serve.

High-quality programs focus on the needs of high-growth industries at both the national and local level, such as healthcare and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.[iii] Healthcare occupations are expected to make up 7 of the 20 fastest growing occupations, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The STEM CTE cluster prepares students for careers in engineering and computer science – critical areas for the economic future of our country. Traditional vocational education programs have been transformed into 21st century CTE programs. For example, agriculture has diversified its offerings over time so that students can now study aquaculture and plant pathology, while those interested in the business side can pursue sales and management.

One of the reasons CTE is so successful is that it employs project-based learning (PBL) as a method of instruction.[iv]  This approach is more likely than traditional means of instruction to engage students because it gives a real-world context for learning, based on students’ own interests.  Core content is presented through rigorous, relevant, hands-on learning. Projects tend to give students more choice when it comes to demonstrating what they know but they require that students work in teams to research problems, construct their own solutions and defend their choices. All these activities engage higher-order thinking skills.



[ii] AFT Innovation Fund, Collaborating to Expand CTE Offerings,

[iii] ;

[iv] See e.g.

Career Ladders

For several decades, school districts have made efforts to differentiate the work of teachers.[i] In the 1980s, almost all states had expressed interest in, proposed, or launched some form of career ladder system, but many were challenged in obtaining funding. Professional Learning Communities became popular in the 1990s and helped to enhance the careers of teachers. The heightened accountability reforms in the 2000s created new demands for teaching capacity increased the need to differentiate teachers. As the education landscape and the face of teaching change, it is increasingly important to identify ways for teachers to develop in their careers and expand leadership opportunities.

Career ladders provide support and incentives for teachers to develop skills and take on new roles and responsibilities.[ii] Rather than focusing simply on improving test scores, career ladders allow teacher to assume meaningful leadership roles in the district and in the profession. Teachers can be incentivized by opportunities to contribute to their school and students in new ways, based on the needs of the district. Johnson, Kraft, & Papay suggest that teachers are less motivated by pay than they are by working conditions such as school culture, strong leadership, and collegiality with other teachers.[iii]

High performing countries have comprehensive human resources systems that help create a strong teaching force through selecting, training, compensating, and developing teachers.[iv] Career development is just one aspect of this system. In Singapore, teachers are assessed annually during their first three years of practice and then placed in a career path that is best suited to their skills and interests. The three pathways in Singapore are master teachers, curriculum or research specialist, and school leader. Each pathway has its own salary scale and provides teachers with targeted training and development.

In recent years, several school districts have worked with their unions to develop strong teacher career ladder systems. Following are three examples.

  •      Austin, TX[v]: The Austin Independent School District, Education Austin, and the AFT worked together to develop a comprehensive professional pathways system that includes multiple measures. The compensation system includes years of service, leadership, and individualized professional development that is tied back to the appraisal to meet individual needs as indicated via assessments.
  •      Baltimore, MD[vi]: Baltimore Public Schools included in its 2007 teacher contract a “self-paced learning” plan where teachers earn achievement units through professional development and annual evaluations. The system is comprised of four career pathways that focus on mastery of instruction: Standard, Professional, Model and Lead. Peer reviews help to guide movement from one pathway to another.
  •      New Haven, CT[vii]: New Haven teachers agreed to a contract in 2009 that connected compensation to its teacher evaluation system. Raises can be earned through completed professional development, and teachers with higher evaluation scores will be offered leadership positions. Teachers also receive additional compensation for working in hard-to-serve schools.


[i] Natale, C., Gaddis, L., Bassett, K., & McKnight, K. (2013). Creating Sustainable Teacher Career Pathways: A 21st Century Imperative, a joint publication of Pearson & National Network of State Teachers of the Year,

[ii] American Federation of Teachers, Career Ladders,

[iii] Susan Moore Johnson, Matthew A. Kraft & John P. Papay, How Context Matters in High-Need Schools: The Effects of Teachers’ Working Conditions on Their Professional Satisfaction and Their Students’ Achievement, Teachers College Record, 2012.

[iv] OECD (2011). Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States,





Educational Excellence

Policymakers across the world have tried different approaches to achieve educational excellence. In New Zealand, for example, the structure of the education system was changed in the 1990s, using a decentralized power structure with each school having its own board, much like a charter school. They focused on reducing centralized decision making and giving schools autonomy in governance. Five years into this restructuring, one-third of the schools were failing. One policymaker admitted that he was naive to think that restructuring a system could improve the quality of the education.

There are no magic formulas, or groundbreaking ideas, only sustained commitment to a set of values and practices can lead to lasting success. A review of research by Shannon and Bylsma lists nine common characteristics that were found in high-performing schools, and most systems included at least five traits.[i] The nine traits Shannon and Bylsma list are (directly quoted):

  1.     A clear and shared focus
  2.     High standards and expectations for all students
  3.     Effective school leadership
  4.     High levels of collaboration and communication
  5.     Curriculum, instruction and assessments aligned with state standards
  6.     Frequent monitoring of learning and teaching
  7.     Focused professional development
  8.     A supportive learning environment
  9.     High levels of family and community involvement

McKinsey studied twenty-five of the world’s school systems, including ten of the top-performers, and found that high quality systems, no matter how different in structure, politics, or culture, were successful because of a strong focus on quality instruction. The three qualities that lead to system success were[ii], high quality educators, effective professional development, and, “ensuring the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.”

These characteristics are oversimplified when connecting them to U.S. schools. Teacher recruitment looks much different in systems due to differences in history, culture, and status of teaching. Teaching is a highly desirable profession in countries like Finland and Singapore because of leadership, collaborative structures, and supportive environments. McKinsey states the obvious, but often overlooked, “the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”[iii] In America, the lack of status in the teaching profession is a particular challenge that individual districts cannot control nationwide; however, districts can put into place an internal system that mitigates the challenge.

A study in Kentucky compared characteristics of high-performing and low-performing schools in the state.[iv] The authors found common traits among the high-performing schools that differed greatly from the lower-performing, high-poverty schools, including: “a schoolwide ethic of high expectations, caring, respectful relations between stakeholders; a strong academic and instructional focus; regular assessment of individual students; collaborative decision-making structures and a non-authoritarian principal; strong faculty morale and work ethic; and coordinated staffing strategies.”

Quality teaching force, effective and sustained professional development, and targeted support so that all children can achieve high standards requires improvements be made to other parts of the system, including funding and governance. It is improbable that any reform efforts that fail to address these traits will succeed in improving the quality of education in the system.


[i] Shannon, G.S. & Bylsma, P. (2007). The Nine Characteristics of High-Performing Schools: A research-based resource for schools and districts to assist with improving student learning. (2nd Ed.). Olympia, WA: OSPI.


[iii] ibid



Personalized Learning

On a broad level, personalized learning is instruction focused on the what, how, when, and where students learn, and tailored to the student’s individual needs, skills, and interests.¹ Personalized learning instruction can be taught on an individual or small group level. The concept is to meet students where they are, motivate learning based on student interest, and prepare students to be lifelong learners. Teachers are empowered to better tailor instruction to specific student needs. As with any instructional methodology, strong implementation is the key.

In, “Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects,” one of the researchers’ key findings was that schools where personalized learning was implemented did not look as radically different from traditional schools as theory might predict.²

A key concern with personalized learning, though, is that proponents will misuse it to replace teachers or to change the role of teachers from educators to facilitators. Additionally, there is concern regarding feasibility in classrooms with a large number of students. However, research has shown that “student achievement is tied to a teacher’s capacity to carry the content to them personally through active instruction” (Brophy, 2006). Results such as this show that personalized learning tools are best used as supplements to teacher instruction.³ Anecdotes from teachers themselves reveal the value of using personalized learning systems in conjunction with holistic teaching practices.

There are also concerns with the influence of corporate and private interests on personalized learning through the technology industry. For example, the 2015 Education Plan of British Columbia utilized personalized learning as a key element. This included indirect input from OECD, Learning Frontiers, Cisco Systems Inc., Pearson Education, Promethean Ltd. The Ellen Koshland Family Fund, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through the Global Education Leaders’ Partnership and BC Ministry of Education. The British Columbia Teachers Federation is concerned that the plan increases reliance on corporate educational technology and publishing companies. In contrast, some scholars maintain that personalized learning addresses socio-economic and educational realities of the 21st century. 4


¹ Childress, S. & Benson, S. (2014). Personalized Learning for  Every Student Every Day. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 95, No. 8, 33-38.

² Pane, J.F., Steiner, E., Baird, M., Hamilton, L., Pane, J.D. (2017). Informing Progress: Insights on Personalized Learning Implementation and Effects.

³ Bulger, M. (2016). Personalized Learning: The Conversations We’re Not Having.

4 Childress, S. & Benson, S. (2014). Personalized Learning for  Every Student Every Day. The Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 95, No. 8, 33-38.





Shared Accountability and Teacher Retention

Over the past several decades, educational accountability in the United States has been based on a test-and-punish approach where teachers and schools are valued, in large part, on student standardized assessment performance. The OECD refers to this practice as “vertical accountability,” where student performance each group is only accountable to those above them, and teachers, schools, and districts are rewarded or punished based on test scores. The OECD, however, suggests that to attract and retain high performers into teaching, the U.S. needs to shift to a system of more horizontal (or professional) accountability, where teachers are held accountable to their fellow teachers and principals as well as to parents. This type of system allows teachers to feel more ownership of their jobs and to be treated as professionals, which is critical to their (and their students’) success. Top-performing countries such as Japan and Finland place a great emphasis on this professional accountability, and teachers have time to collaborate, observe each other, and work together to improve their practice.¹

In its review of schools across the world, the OECD also suggests that schools and districts are increasingly more effective when leadership is distributed among various individuals or groups rather than when it comes from the top down. School leadership teams can play a vital role in school development, and having a more dispersed or shared leadership system can help to improve overall instructional practice. Research supports the idea that distributed leadership can improve school outcomes. This will look different based on the circumstances of each school or district, but can mean reexamining roles for teachers, leadership teams, principals, and school boards and cover responsibilities such as human resources, curriculum, and student policies.²

Top-down accountability comes from a business approach to running schools, with quick results that give schools data of how students are performing. Hargreaves and Fullan suggest that focusing more on professional capital will provide a greater influence on school improvement and student outcomes. Professional capital assumes that teaching is difficult and requires technical knowledge, practice, and continuous improvement. A focus on social capital can look different in different places, but all show a shift in accountability. For instance, in Finland, curriculum is developed locally to allow the teachers and leaders in schools to determine the needs for their students. In Singapore and Japan, teachers have the opportunity to collaborate and share ideas with each other on an ongoing basis.³


Direct Instruction and Constructivism

The OECD describes direct instruction as where “a teacher’s role is to communicate knowledge in a clear and structured way, to explain correct solutions, to give students clear and resolvable problems, and to ensure calm and concentration in the classroom.”¹ Constructivism, on the other hand, “focuses on students not as passive recipients but as active participants in the process of acquiring knowledge,” and gives “students the chance to develop solutions to problems on their own, and allow[s] students to play active role in instructional activities.”² There is debate on which strategy is best for student learning and teachers vary in their approaches. 

Wiggins and McTighe state that content and thinking are inseparable, that a person cannot think about nothing and conceptual understand requires cognitive skills.³ This statement acknowledges that direct instruction and constructivism must go hand in hand, that there is actually a continuum of learning rather than simply an either/or for how to teach and learn. The OECD found that direct instruction has a positive impact on student achievement, but that the teacher must provide learning opportunities that are recognized and utilized by the student in order to be effective.

Noddings advocates interdisciplinary lessons that engage students to examine how the material in their curricula relates to their own lives. 4 He believes that standardized tests are not bad because of the facts that are taught and tested, but because there needs to be more of a critical thinking piece for students to connect with the material. This combination of direct instruction and constructivism is vital to student success.

Neuman maintains that background knowledge is crucial to a child’s academic success.5 Her focus on early childhood finds that many students, especially from low-income families, come to school with a knowledge deficiency that later impacts their comprehension and skill development. For these students, thinking critically and developing solutions are a challenge because they are “information have-nots.” Teachers must help students develop understanding of knowledge and concepts as a foundation for later learning. “We must develop pedagogy that is both sensitive to children’s development and representative of conceptual knowledge that has sufficient coherence and depth.” Direct instruction is a necessary base for constructivist teaching, and the two methods are inseparable for true knowledge building.



3. Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design .Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

4.  Noddings, N. Critical Lessons: What Our Schools Should Teach. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

5. Neuman, S. (2006). “How We Neglect Knowledge and Why.” American Educator,