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Two Harvard Graduate School of Education professors were earlier this month elected as members of the National Academy of Education, a nonprofit that aims to improve education policy and practice.
Heather C. Hill, professor in Teacher Learning and Practice, and Fernando M. Reimers, professor of the practice in International Education, were selected alongside 16 other education experts to join the academy on March 10. New members are chosen for their contributions of research critical to the development of improving education in the United States and globally.
Hill, who is also the faculty co-chair of the Graduate School of Education’s Teaching and Teacher Leadership program, researches strategies to improve professional development programs for math teachers. Hill said her interest in the field began during her graduate studies at the University of Michigan.
“I remember watching some teacher professional development going on and thinking ‘Oh my heavens, this seems like a waste of teachers’ time,’” Hill said.
“The evaluations that were taking place — this was back in the mid-90s — mainly just asked teachers whether they liked it or not and looked for impacts on their teaching, didn’t look for impacts on their students,” she added.
Hill went on to develop and popularize a measure of content knowledge for math teachers.
In addition to measuring content knowledge, Hill also created a measure of teacher instruction known as the Mathematical Quality of Instruction. Hill’s recent research has shown focusing on improving instructional quality has greater impacts on student achievement than boosting teacher content knowledge alone.
Still, Hill said it is important to recognize that progress in education is often “incremental.”
“Teachers are learning if you have a new professional development program or a new curriculum that you’re using, you don’t change completely what you’re doing in a year,” Hill said. “You get better and better at it.”
Reimers, who is from Venezuela, teaches courses on education innovation and policy analysis through a comparative global lens. Reimers said his style of teaching has changed since he started as a teaching fellow at the Graduate School of Education in 1986.
“I used to teach in a much more conventional way,” Reimers said. “I was teaching my students to contemplate problems and to obsess over problems as if they were not part of the problem — as if they could view them the way you view a movie.”
“I’m done with contemplating problems and not seeing yourself as part of the solution,” he added.
Reimers said he is particularly interested in research and teaching around the use of education to build global citizens.
“We should be asking ourselves, ‘How do we get education systems that teach people the skills they need to be full humans, to be members of communities, to treat other people in a manner that is respectful, dignified, open-minded, empathetic?’” Reimers said.
Reimers said his research is aimed away from the traditional quantitative methods used in many existing research efforts.
“People are totally fixated in quantifying whether the learning loss is a third of a standard deviation or a fifth of a standard deviation or half a standard deviation — I mean really, total bullshit,” Reimers said. “What is really important in my view is to figure out, ‘What is it that students should be learning to produce a better world? What are the skills they need?'”
“The goal of education should be to prepare us to find our humanity in others, even though they may look different, they may be different,” he added.
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