Teacher Education Faculty Spotlight

Spotlight on Karl Wheatley

Faculty Spotlight: Karl Wheatley

On the surface, education seems pretty simple.  Just hand out a test and gauge learning by the percentage of questions a student can answer correctly.

It’s a scenario that repeats all too often, but Dr. Karl Wheatley has one finger ready to press the stop button.

“They say that kids today are dumber, that our public schools are failing and the middle class is struggling because of a skills gap,” said Wheatley, coordinator and associate professor of early childhood teacher education at Cleveland State University.  “They say to fix our schools we need higher standards, measurable objectives, objective testing, evidence-based teaching methods, greater accountability and data-based decision-making, while increasing competition, holding teachers more accountable, and running education more like a business.”

“As a researcher, I learned all these ideas are myths,” Wheatley . “When I studied the data, I found that kids today are as smart as or smarter than ever before.  American public schools are doing pretty well at their assigned mission considering the tougher conditions they face. However, American schools are chasing test scores, which is simply the wrong mission.”

Wheatley, who has a Ph.D. in educational psychology from Michigan State University, dispels the notion that traditional schooling (i.e. age-segregated classes, little or no attention to student interests, learning to get good grades and pass tests, etc.) is the best way to educate.  He believes there’s a parallel universe of learning where children can learn by following their interests without grades or rewards hanging in the balance.

“I’ve experienced this alternative in multiple ways: as a preschool and kindergarten teacher; drama teacher and camp director; homeschooling parent and co-op teacher; and Sunday School teacher for children ages 3-11,” Wheatley noted.
“My wife, Amy, and I both have backgrounds in and couldn’t bear the unhealthy emphasis on academics or the toxic testing we saw in public schools,” Wheatley added. “Until this year, our children did a form of homeschooling called unschooling where we followed no formal curriculum and centered the entire experience on our children’s interests.  It’s amazing what kids can learn when given freedom, resources and support.”

Wheatley, who also carries a MAT in from Oakland (Mich.) University and a BA in psychology from the University of Michigan, is well-known for his research on teacher efficacy beliefs and has been published multiple times on topics from student motivation and lesson planning to reading research and the use of content standards.He’s actively debated education in the media for a decade on radio and TV as well as in the Plain Dealer and New York Times.

“Manufacturing works wonders for making cars, but kids aren’t cars and learning isn’t manufacturing,” Wheatley said.  “Bad things happen when we confuse the two.  It’s time to change the paradigm for education.  I believe American education is on the wrong track and feel a deep moral obligation to inform others and help turn American education around.”

Favorite movie:   It’s a Wonderful Life
Favorite musician:  Tie: Jimmy Buffett, Bruce Springsteen
Favorite restaurant: Café Tandoor
Favorite activity outside work: Reading, Frisbee and playing games with my family
One thing people don’t know about me is…Many people think of me as that guy who was big and got much smaller.  I’ve lost 75 pounds eating a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based and feel 20 years younger!