MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVI No. 2
November / December 2013
Preserve MIT's Campus Through Long-Range Planning: Support Establishment
of a Campus Planning Committee
Vote for New FNL Board Members
MIT's Responsibility to Provide Additional Affordable Housing for Grad Students, Postdoctoral Fellows, and Staff
The Status of MIT's Postdoctoral Researchers
Proposal to Establish a Campus Planning Committee
EECS Undergraduates: SuperUROP, EECSCon, and USAGE
Three Suggestions
Should MIT Create A School of Education?: A Response
Doctoral Education Outcomes and Impact
The Alumni Class Funds Seeks Proposals
for Teaching and Education Enhancement
The MIT Giving Tree
An MIT School of Education . . . and More
UROP Student Participation
By Graduating Class
Campus Research Expenditures
By Major Sponsor
Printable Version

Should MIT Create a School of Education?: A Response

Garo Saraydarian

The idea of a School of Education at MIT is timely. In our global knowledge- based economy how we educate our children and ourselves is one of the most important topics our society will need to consider. However, if such a School is to truly have a powerful and purposeful impact on the way we think about, organize, and discuss public education, it must avoid misconceptions that unfortunately distort public discussion and policy decisions.

Too often educational policy is dictated by rapid swings of the pendulum that are based on hysterical “reports” and/or studies by ideologically driven think tanks. Much of the evidence used to drive the dialogue of education reform is based on generalizations and lack of empirical evidence that would be deemed substandard and unscholarly in any other content area that is taught at the Institute. These misconceptions are derived from poor research techniques, insufficient data, hearsay, political agendas, and anecdotal personal experience (or lack thereof). If a School of Education at MIT is not to become one more clone of blind a priori thinking to poison and muddy the waters, it must stay clear of these all too common assumptions.


The statement that “many parents have lost confidence in the K-12 public schools” is an example of the overgeneralized statements that a School of Education at MIT should not only avoid, but actively seek to erase. What research has shown is that there is a wide spectrum of student achievement and inequity in the quality of public schools, with a very high correlation with the socio-economic status of the local community.

To stereotype a public school system that is so decentralized and diverse as ours as failing is grossly inaccurate. Ironically, while many people decry the straitjacket of “standardized testing” those same tests are often used as the sole proof that our public schools are “failing.”

Further, there is no long-term research that provides data that charter schools are more successful than their traditional counterparts. In fact, the few research studies that do exist suggest that charter schools perform no better and sometimes perform worse than traditional public schools.

The assumption that public school classrooms are uniform and standardized reflects a lack of experience in most contemporary classrooms. The concept of “differentiated instruction” in which student learning is driven by taking into account individual students’ learning styles, interests, and readiness was actually developed and conceived by public school educators. The use of differentiated instruction in teaching and organizing the classroom is currently required as part of the certification, tenure, and ongoing evaluation process of every educator in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Many public schools are also on the forefront of technology in the classroom through interactive whiteboards, projectors, Web apps, and iPads. In fact, my elementary classroom is more technologically equipped for learning than many classrooms I have observed or taught in while at MIT.

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Conceptions: How MIT can be Different

• The starting point of any discussion on education must begin with an emphasis on valid and reliable research that describes actual situations in American public schools. This would include long-term physical observation of a wide range of schools and communities that generates significant qualitative data, not merely quantitative analysis of testing.

  •  Informed discussion of what we as a democratic society want our children to know and be able to do: Is our emphasis on science education (the so-called STEM subjects) or do we believe in a skill and knowledge base that includes humanistic and kinesthetic studies? What can research tell us about the best mix and balance of subject matter and instruction in a curriculum so that different knowledge acquisitions and skill sets empower and connect with each other? Who is to determine what kind of knowledge and skill set defines being an educated person: corporations, entrepreneurs, academics, educators?
  • Development of assessments based on the consensus of skills and knowledge that research and democratic discussion has determined is essential to a student’s general and subject-specific education. These assessments should guide teaching and develop best practices rather than be distorted into high-stakes punitive tests. What blend of qualitative and quantitative assessments (both informal and formal) will give educators the most complete picture of student achievement and mastery? What are we identifying as being assessed? How can these assessments be differentiated to accommodate students with special needs? And if these assessments are used to compare student achievement both within and without the United States are these comparisons using valid and reliable methodologies, especially in terms of population sampling?
  • As many community health centers are discovering, there is a high correlation between poorly performing public institutions, such as certain public schools, and the local economy, social fragmentation, and personal/family health. Any solution must take into account the thick context of all these factors and seek to understand their interaction.
  • Generate and lead public inquiry and discussion that is transparent and involves all stakeholders: students, parents, teachers, administrators, academics, researchers, unions, private organizations, and government.

MIT is perfectly poised to create a School of Education. Not only does the Institute have the obvious strength and experience of scientific research and technological development, it has the unique asset of a strong synergy with the humanities, providing a deep toolbox in which to tackle the complex idea of human education. If such a School were to be created, and if it remained faithful to this core identity, it could meet an opportunity to nudge the landscape of public education in a more positive and intelligent direction.

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