Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another attack aimed at colleges of education

That great "revolutionary" thinker Arne Duncan, set the stage back in '09, when he discredited all colleges of education, labeling them as "mediocre" and calling for "revolutionary change—not evolutionary tinkering."

Now the National Council on Teacher Quality has taken Duncan's cue and has come out with what it's calling "the first comprehensive review" of university-based teacher ed programs, which it labels as "an industry of mediocrity," that churns out teachers ill-prepared to work in elementary and high-school classrooms.

But a look at who's running NCTQ should raise flags about the political intent of the study and who such degrading language really serves. A brief scan of the board of directors and advisers brings up a host of names associated with current corporate-style "reform" efforts, ownership-society politics and privately-run charter schools, with the likes of Chester Finn, Joel Klein, Wendy Kopp, Eric Hanushek, and Michael Feinberg on board. Bankrolling the study are some of the major anti-teacher, pro-privatization foundations, like the William Penn Foundation, Broad, Dell, Kaiser, Anschutz, Bradley and on and on.

If Kopp's 5-week-wonder program at Teach For America is the standard-setter, it's no wonder that 99% fail to meet it. And that's a good thing, in my book. The broad-brush debasement of nearly all of the country's colleges of education opens the door for the new cottage industry of so-called alternative certification programs like TFA and those currently  flourishing in Texas. 

It's not that I think teacher preparation in this country is all that, or that big improvements couldn't or shouldn't be made to the ones with which I'm familiar. It's just that NCTQ's study focuses mainly on written materials, like course syllabi, rather than considering what the graduates do in the classroom once they become working teachers. It rates colleges of ed with a 1-4 star system, like you might rate a movie or restaurant. The ratings are based upon a simplistic evaluation of syllabi, textbooks and other teaching materials. Only four programs, Vanderbilt, Furman, Ohio State and Lipscomb (a private Christian college in Nashville) in the entire U.S. received four stars.


The study also echoes the unsubstantiated claim that poorly-trained teachers are to blame for poor student performance and ignores the influences of poverty on measurable student achievement. Of course the study offers no explanation for how this same teaching force has produced such high results in the nation's wealthy schools.

Yes, prospective teachers need to spend more time outside the classroom and out in the field (as do all students), coupled with experienced mentors. Yes, teacher preparation programs need to recruit the best and the brightest (I would add, with special emphasis on African-American and Latino candidates). But to attract and sustain these pre-teachers, there must be stronger tuition assistance programs with emphasis on support for urban and rural teachers. Teacher programs must become more community-based (a point ignored by NCTQ). The study calls for more selectivity in admission of students to teacher training programs, and I agree. But "selectivity" now is based on ability to afford skyrocketing tuition. We don't need more of the same.

The NCTQ study, like Duncan's waving the red flag of revolution, is simply a bash job on nearly all colleges of ed. In response, officials from 35 education schools sent a letter to NCTQ prez Kate Walsh, criticizing the study's evaluation tool for some of the same reasons I listed above. Many colleges refused to cooperate with the study, which limited the number of schools the council could rank to fewer than half the roughly 1,450 institutions of higher ed that have teacher training programs.

Hopefully, the study will prompt some real discussion about how best to prepare the nation's teachers. A good start would be dumping the NCTQ study in the circular file and picking up works by Linda Darling-Hammond, Deborah Meier, Sir Ken Robinson, Bill Ayers, Dennis Littky, Elliot Washor, and Pedro Noguera, just to name a few.

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