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Perils of the Pendulum Resisting Education's Fads

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Teaching to the brain?

Now, brain research is fueling a new generation of textbooks, curriculum kits, and visiting consultants. It's one of the most popular areas for in-service teacher training, experts say.

"Teachers are lapping this up like you would not believe," says Napa, Calif.-based consultant Pat Wolf, who works with schools in the United States and 35 other countries. "Brain research isn't just another fad that will pass. It gives us a scientific foundation for human learning."

But critics warn that there is very little quality control for the academic projects that many consultants are spinning out of it.

"We just don't know enough about how the brain works to make claims about brain-based curricula," says Mr. Bruer.

"Teachers and principals are interested in doing a better job for their kids, and brain research is a very seductive way to do this. But teachers and principals aren't given the training to read a research article critically," he adds.

Some practices that claim to derive from brain research are already under siege. For example, parents in California and Utah recently won lawsuits against local school districts for practicing "cranial manipulations" on children to improve reading, says Mr. Carnine.

"This practice has no basis in brain research, and can actually harm children," he notes.

Antifad tactics

Parents and teachers groups who see the costs of fads close up were among the first to develop their own standards. For example, the American Federation of Teachers, the No. 2 teachers union, started a summer institute to train teachers to identify research-grounded techniques and question fads and "quick-fix" in-service programs. Meeting in Washington July 24 to Aug. 2, many teacher-trainers had horror stories of their own encounters with educational fads.

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