Open Letter to Tex. Comm. of Education Mike Morath and the Texas State Board of Education Members

Aug 5, 2016 by


To:  Open Letter to Tex. Comm. of Education Mike Morath and the Texas State Board of Education Members

Re:  Collaboration and Project-Based Learning

From: Donna Garner

Date:  8.6.16



This is a must see — Alice Linahan’s short-but-fascinating testimony at the 8.3.16 Texas Senate Education Committee hearing — Using her own daughter’s experiences in a Texas public school classroom, Alice explains the disastrous consequences of the “21st century learning” agenda (e.g., collaboration, project-based learning, constructivism, Common Core-compliant methods).  







I actually tried cooperative learning/project-based learning (PBL) in my English I classroom for an entire year way back in the mid-90’s.


A model had come out from John Slavin of John Hopkins University (; and because I had an assistant principal who refused to support my “old fashioned,” direct instruction using my own grammar packets, I decided to use this John Slavin Method to teach my packets.


The assistant principal was very impressed and simply loved it.  (He knew almost nothing about teaching English and had been a very poor classroom teacher who went into administration to escape the problems with students in the classroom. As an assistant principal, he was even a worse disciplinarian; and the rest of the faculty had no respect for him either.)


Anyway, to get on this administrator’s good side, I had researched the Slavin Method and implemented it faithfully. I even worked with a local businessman to provide incentives to help motivate my students, and I got the news media to come to my classroom and report on what we were doing. The school administration loved this!


The result was that the Slavin Method took great amounts of class time and slowed down the learning to a snail’s pace. I was not able to cover my grammar packets as thoroughly as in past years, and we were rushed to finish them by the end of the school year.


Leading up to this (and for many years afterwards), I had chosen to make myself and my students accountable by voluntarily giving a beginning and end-of-year test over my grammar packets.  I calculated the percentage of improvement made during the year and made those scores available to my students, to their parents, and to the administrators – all the way to the superintendent.


The year I used the Slavin Method, my end-of-the-year grammar test scores showed a definite decrease. It turned out that my students’ academic proficiency had suffered because of utilizing this Slavin/PBL method.   


For the rest of my 33+ years of teaching, I went back to my previous classroom methods in which I utilized direct instruction mixed in with numerous at-risk strategies that involved much class participation and individual accountability.


My students wrote frequent compositions (including research papers) in which I gave them two number grades – one for the content and one for the grammar/usage/spelling.  Once we covered a grammar concept in my grammar packets, I held them accountable to implement those concepts correctly in their writing and speaking in all classwork.  


That Slavin Method experience taught me what I needed to know about cooperative learning, and collaboration utilizes almost the same methods. The “ed establishment” (e.g., ELAR/TEKS Review Committee) will try to tell you that collaboration is something brand new and different; but when I went to their “research” recently to produce my Collaboration Chart (posted below), the philosophy behind the two is basically the same. 


To build the argument against the Collaboration strand in the new ELAR/TEKS, I hope you will make use of the content found in my two articles (8.4.16 and 7.26.16) and that you will make particular use of my Collaboration Chart.  



8.4.16 — “Collaboration Built Into New Leander High School” — By Donna Garner – —


7.26.16 — “Texas State Board of Education Must Not Break the Law” — By Donna Garner — —






Responsibility for learning is placed on students.
Teacher becomes the learner; the student becomes the expert.
The group members must arrive at consensus rather than maintaining individual positions. They discuss their ideas with the group, form a consensus, and share the consensus with the entire class.
The group can work either face-to-face or apart from one another by way of computers/techie devices.
Little instruction is given by the teacher.
The group is loosely monitored by the teacher.
The teacher never gives the answer – only  points students to seek other sources.
Students evaluate individual and group performance; they negotiate the assessment of the group with the teacher.
Students are taught to doubt the answers and methods for arriving at answers provided by the present or previous teachers.
The teacher is available for consultation, but the group’s progress is evaluated by the group.
The final product is determined by the students.
The students have almost complete responsibility to deal with the problem posed to them.
The process is very open ended.
The group decides on the roles each will play in the final product.
The final product is not presented for teachers’ comments. 
The group itself decides on participation, performance, and conflict resolution.
The collaboration method takes the qualitative approach (subjective, uses “soft data”) rather than the quantitative approach (objective, uses “hard data”). 


*Prepared by Donna Garner on 7.26.16



To read about the fallacies of Project-Based Learning, please go to this article:


8.4.16 – “Project-Based Learning Needs More Learning” – by Gisele Huff – Education Next

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