Mendacious Methodology

Robert J. Marzano, the fraud behind Learning Sciences International and its teacher observation gobbledygook, is the granddaddy of gamesmanship in teacher evaluation “research” and the resultant peddling to public schools of “experimental” gimmicks. If there’s any true science in any of his work, it’s in how he convinces so many people to buy it.

As I’ve shared in previous posts, Marzano has zero contemporary teaching experience. He has spent, according to the homepage of his snake oil-vending outfit, “nearly five decades of study” centered on “effective teaching and learning practices.” You see, Marzano, who never really amounted to anything as a teacher, has instead decided to basically create the field of “learning and performance management.” I had never even heard of it until I saw it on his company logo.

Back in June of 2011, when Marzano’s lifelong dream of reducing the art of teaching to a scripted, drone-like exercise in instructional uniformity was finally starting to pay big dividends, Education Week’s Justin Baeder posted an excellent article on Marzano’s so-called “causal” evaluation system. It’s well worth reading. Baeder ripped Marzano apart quite handily for claiming that his evaluation model is “grounded on experimental/control studies that establish a direct, causal link between elements of the model and student results.” Marzano claims that his “model” is the “first of its kind.” I don’t doubt that at all. It’s probably the only one of its kind as well. If there was a flaw in Baeder’s review of Marzano’s “method,” it was only that he was too charitable to him. Baeder wrote:

Of course, poke around a bit and you can see that Marzano is simply drawing on his previous meta-analyses of teaching techniques to throw more weight behind his framework. There is no specific research validating the framework itself, much less its godlike causal power.

In his pitch, Marzano ends a paragraph containing his claim that he’s discovered the mythical direct causal connection between his model and student achievement by offering a link to “Read more.” The name, again, is worded to imply that a link between teacher evaluations and student performance actually exists. It does not. Here it is: Examining the Role of Teacher Evaluation in Student Achievement. As you’ll notice when you click the link, you wind up on a form screen that you need to fill out in order to get Marzano’s “new paper investigating links to student achievement.” Hooey. It’s a sales lead information form. Marzano wants it filled out so he can pitch his product. You’ll get a “paper,” sure, but you’ll also get the hard sell. That’s because Marzano is a peddler.

Marzano’s “Mission”

Marzano has come up with a fancy mission statement designed to make whoever is authorized to buy crap like this feel like they’re really getting in on the ground floor of a new scientific approach to teacher evaluations. The biggest hole in the whole scheme is that Marzano has no ground level knowledge of the profession he claims to be an expert at evaluating. His sterile, hyper-regimented approach to evaluations lacks any built-in accounting for human factors. It also lacks any serious substantiation by anyone other than Marzano himself. It is excruciatingly difficult to believe that my own district’s omnipotent leaders are stupid enough to spend hard-earned tax dollars on this poorly disguised evaluation alchemy. Then again…

Says smoke blower Marzano:

Learning Sciences Marzano Center promotes excellence in public education by providing and developing next-generation teacher and leadership evaluation tools and training. Built on a foundation of expert research into best practices under the direction of national researcher and author Dr. Robert Marzano, the Marzano Center identifies, develops, and disseminates cutting-edge resources in educational best practices. Our goal is to support teachers to be highly effective, lifelong learners, and in doing so, to significantly impact student growth and achievement over time.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

The True Goal of “Learning and Performance Management”

The pool of education services vendors is abounding with snake oil sellers, all taking advantage of a huge captive market at their disposal. The money involved is staggering, and most all of it is public dollars paid to these pretenders who don’t teach.

The Marzano Method is probably the most highly evolved and refined example of the pseudo-science-business model in “education consulting” that exists today. His products are expensive. Real expensive. Districts spend millions for access to his magic serum. Learning Sciences International claims to specialize in “learning and performance management.” These people are ground breakers. They are the vanguard of a huge public purse-to-private pockets revenue-vacuum industry engulfing public school districts across the country. They are especially popular with districts that lack leaders with credible backgrounds in education, because all his fancy words sound really cool to them. Entire states have even signed on to this voodoo. The only thing about Marzano’s “research” that can be independently verified is that its main purpose is to make money, and lots of it.

We mustn’t forget that, when politicians brag about how their education funding is “increasing,” or hitting “record high levels,” or make similarly fantastically false claims, they’re including funds allocated to pure out and out asininity, like buying nonsense products from hustlers like Marzano and his fellow “researchers.”

Back to Reality

Marzano’s Learning Sciences International and Marzano Center are businesses that have taken an otherwise straightforward profession and made a miserable mess of it. Their greatest contributions are in exponentially expanding the already boundless glossary of useless, unnecessarily complicated terminology that so many education “experts” love to throw around in order to lend some sort of unmerited legitimacy to their “work.”

The lexicon of the discipline of “learning and performance management” is really sophisticated. Marzano seems to have an uncanny ability to state the simple in very, very complicated terms, and to use a lot of big words and coined sham phrases along the way. It is fascinating that someone can take a true art and reduce it to binary code in so many ways. It is even more dumbfounding that so many districts led by people who profess to actually know a thing or two about education lap it up like hungry hounds.

Marzano’s books of bunk, the ones that he repackages to base his evaluation model on, are all full of redundancy and repetition, both with each other and within themselves. It’s all the same crap over and over, restated in countless different ways. A serious attempt to read any of them from cover to cover can be headache inducing. It’s as if they were all specifically designed to lack any point whatsoever, outside of sounding really complicated. It is painfully stupid material that insults the entire profession, and it’s difficult to understand how anyone could devote an entire lifetime to such an exercise in sheer imbecility.

Marzano has sold tons of his stuff to districts and states, all eager to claim they’re on the cutting edge of “education reform.” We shouldn’t wonder why so many people take a dim view of our profession.

What an utter embarrassment to us all.


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