Sunday, October 2, 2011

"Overhauling" teacher preparation

I've said before that if we talked even half as much about making good teachers as we do about firing the bad ones, I think we could make a difference, and in the United States there is momentum for overhauling teacher education and preparation. Education Week explains a recent development:
Momentum appears to be gathering behind a U.S. Department of Education plan to hold teacher education programs accountable for the achievement of students taught by their graduates.
At an event hosted here Friday by the think tank Education Sector, a diverse group of stakeholders, including Dennis Van Roekel, the president of the National Education Association, and Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach For America, spoke in favor of the initiative, which was first outlined in the Obama administration’s fiscal 2012 budget request. ("New Rules for Ed. Prep Are Mulled," March 9, 2011.)
"It’s a really important piece to change the system and to build this profession," said Mr. Van Roekel. "We agree no student should have a teacher who is not well prepared. We agree every candidate must meet rigorous standards. We have to combine meaningful input with meaningful output [data]."
The NEA has generally been wary of value-added test score data. Mr. Van Roekel said that its use in general continues to give him pause, but it shows promise for being used in the aggregate to help teacher preparation programs improve.
Through a negotiated rulemaking process, the Education Department wants to streamline and rewrite the reporting requirements contained in Title II of the Higher Education Act. Colleges of education participating in student financial aid currently must report information on candidates’ pass rates on licensure exams and identify low-performing programs.
Among other steps, the Education Department would require education schools to report on three new measures: how much their graduates help students learn; whether teacher-candidates are placed in high-needs subjects and areas; and whether school administrators are satisfied with the quality of program graduates.
Louisiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee already link teacher education graduates to student records, while 11 states and the District of Columbia have committed to similar initiatives through the federal Race to the Top program.
I'm all for improving and overhauling teacher preparation in order to improve the teachers that work with our children so that they are experts on how children learn, but not like this. This kind of overhaul is just another way of doing more of the same -- that is, using test scores to not only track students, but now track teachers. When people say "how are we going to hold teachers accountable" what they really mean is "how are we going to punish teachers". Tracking students, and now teachers, via their test scores actually helps legitimate these punishments by offering a new way to derive them. The stick used to be hidden in the carrot, now it's hidden in the data.

Marc Tucker, the president and chief executive officer of the National Center on Education and author of Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform:
We contrast the strategies that appear to be driving the policy agendas of the most successful countries with the strategies that appear to be driving the current agenda for education reform in the United States. We conclude that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States, and, conversely, that the education strategies now most popular in the United States are conspicuous by their absence in the countries with the most successful education systems.
"Overhauling" teacher education by marrying student test scores to teacher records is being sold as a daring departure from the status quo when really it is a tactic taken from same same strategies that have been strangling the life out of classrooms for decades. The accountability mantra behind this kind of teacher preparation reform goes something like this: High test scores indicate good teaching because good teachers have high test scores.

I think Alfie Kohn summarizes this kind of teacher preparation overhaul nicely in his post What Passes for School Reform: "Value-Added" Teacher Evaluation and Other Absurdities:
A productive discussion about who's a good teacher (and why) is less likely to take place when the people with the power get to enforce what becomes the definition of quality by default: high scores on bad tests.
I don't expect the founder of a computer empire like Bill Gates, or a lawyer like Joel Klein, or a newspaper editor to understand the art of helping children to understand ideas, or of constructing tasks to assess that process. I just expect them to have the humility, the simple decency, not to impose their ignorance on the rest of us with the force of law.
To fight back, an awful lot of teachers who have been celebrated for their students' high scores -- those teachers who can't be accused of sour grapes -- will have to stand up and say, "Thanks, but let's be honest. All of us who work in schools know that you can't tell how good a teacher is on the basis of his or her kids' test results. In fact, by being forced to think about those results, my colleagues and I are held back from being as good as we can be. By singling me out for commendation -- and holding other teachers up to ridicule -- you've lowered the quality of schooling for all kids."
If you aren't disturbed enough by how data (test scores) are driving education reform and teacher evaluation, I suggest you read the dangers of building a plane in the air.


  1. Proofread your title please!

  2. It's basically another matter of passing the buck. I teach in Tennessee where punitive measures are taking hold on all teachers, not just those those who needed additional help, adding 6-8 hours to the workweek.

    The quality of the education department at my college had little to do with my growth as a teacher once I was in the classroom. At that point it was all on me. Come on.


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