Arne and Barack Target Schools of Education

Alan Singer is an education blogger, social studies educator and teaches at Hofstra University. This piece first appeared at the Huffington Post.  For original see: Arne and Barack Target Schools of Education

Arne and Barack Target Schools of Education

Congress is Republican. ISIS is on the march. Common Core and high-stakes testing are under attack. The Affordable Health Care Act may be torpedoed by the Supreme Court. Arne Duncan and Barack Obama evidently need a softer opponent to pad their legacy. The hapless Knicks were probably not available for a pick-up basketball game. It looks like their choice of easy targets are American Schools of Education, evidently the “real” cause of poor student test scores, lousy teacher performance, economic stagnation, racism, poverty, police violence, environmental degradation, and everything else that may be wrong with American society.

Duncan, Obama’s education point guard, is proposing “new regulations to implement requirements for the teacher preparation program accountability system.” As with Race to the Top, federal dollars will be used to force compliance. If the changes go through the Obama Administration will withhold funding under the TEACH Grant program to students in Schools of Education that fail to meet their “quality” guidelines.

Obama and Duncan have invited interested persons to reply to their proposals on the Federal Register website by February 2, 2015. As of January 27, there were over 2,000 mostly negative comments. This is the response that I submitted.

I work in a School of Education at Hofstra University and my colleagues and I have no problem with “quality,” in fact we run a very high quality program. I think most of the local school districts that hire our graduates in the New York metropolitan area will agree. I do not like to brag, but in the Spring and Fall 2014 semesters, 100% of the secondary school student teachers that I worked with passed the new rigorous New York State teaching assessment known as edTPA.

My problem with the Duncan/Obama proposal is that it has nothing to do with building a high quality professional teaching staff for American schools and will not solve any of the other problems facing the United States in the second decade of the 21st century.

The report is based on some really bad assumptions.

1. “Thousands of new teachers enter the profession every year, and their students depend on having well-prepared teachers.”

Yes, students do need well-prepared teachers. But they need teachers who are constantly being prepared through ongoing staff development, not teachers who completed a university program years earlier and were then assumed to be finished products. Ongoing training is expensive. I started my teacher education program in the 1960s, before copying machines, computers, video-recording, Smartboards, cellphones, email, ebooks, the internet, PowerPoint, iPads and iPods, etc. I learned to use these things in the classroom over time. I could not be prepared to use them before they were invented.

In the United States our plan seems to be do everything for cheap so we can cut taxes. Inoculate teachers against all potential eventualities while they are still in college and are paying the bills themselves. New York State student teachers must take special workshops in how to prevent violence and bullying, including cyber-bullying, identifying child and substance abuse, demonstrating knowledge of fire and arson, highway and school safety procedures, and pass tests that show they can handle any eventually, which of course is impossible.

America’s students need schools that are well funded, conditions that promote teacher retention, supplies, books, technology, curriculum, decent living conditions for their family’s so they can concentrate on learning, and most importantly the prospect of jobs after graduation. These things are expensive so none of them are addressed by Obama/Duncan. It is easier to blame Schools of Education.

2. “Research from States such as Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Washington has concluded that a teacher’s preparation program significantly impacts the learning gains of a teacher’s students.”

I am not sure I would base anything on what happens in Louisiana schools. Education Week‘s annual Quality Counts report for 2014 ranked Louisiana schools 48th in the nation on what they call their student “Chance-for-Success Index” which includes “preparation in early childhood, the performance of the public schools, and educational and economic outcomes in adulthood.” Louisiana also ranked 49th on the K-12 achievement index which examined “current levels of performance (status), improvements over time (change), and achievement gaps between poor and nonpoor students (equity).” While Washington ranked in the top ten of the states on these indexes, North Carolina and Tennessee ranked in the middle of the pack.

I would also believe this statement more if it were not coming from the mis-education Race to the Top team that is promoting charter schools with high teacher turn-over and alternative teacher certification programs that recruit untrained transient teachers for urban minority schools.

3. “These proposed regulations would address shortcomings in the current system by defining the indicators of quality that States will use to assess the performance of their teacher preparation programs, including more meaningful indicators of program inputs and program outcomes, such as the ability of the program’s graduates to produce gains in student learning (understanding that not all students will learn at the same rate).”

Data, Data, Data, Data, Data. This has nothing to do with improving teacher quality or student performance. This is about using mysterious mathematical algorithms to crunch student test scores on high-stakes tests that have no established reliability and then using the results to judge teachers and by extension Schools of Education they may have attended twenty years earlier.

Much of the concern about student performance in the United States is based on international PISA (Programme for International Assessment) test scores, but the validity of these tests has been seriously challenged. A Danish study found that many countries boost student scores by cherry-picking which questions are counted in the final report. Other countries are suspected of just excluding weaker performing students from the tests. In China, which always scores high on PISA tests, a disproportionate number of the students selected to be tested are from Shanghai, a city with one of the country’s highest college enrollment rates where family incomes are double the national average. If we want to show how great United States students and teachers are, we should only have students at select high schools like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science in New York City take the tests.

A comprehensive evaluation of the Obama/Duncan plan was prepared by Kevin Kumashiro, Dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco, for the National Education Policy Center. Kumashiro identified seven major concerns with the proposal.

(1) The Obama/Duncan proposal for evaluating Schools of Education underestimates “what could be a quite high and unnecessary cost and burden.”
(2) It attributes “educational inequities to individual teachers rather than to root systemic causes.”
(3) It is based on “an improperly narrow definition of teacher classroom readiness.”
(4) The proposal relies on “scientifically discredited processes of test-based accountability and value-added measures for data analysis.”
(5) It offers an “inaccurate causal explanations that will put into place a disincentive for teachers to work in high-needs schools.”
(6) By restricting the “accessibility of federal student financial aid,” it limits “pathways into the teaching profession.”
(7) The Obama/Duncan proposal for Schools of Education is based on an “unwarranted, narrow, and harmful view of the very purposes of education.”

My opposition to the Obama/Duncan plans for teacher education in the United States is even stronger than Kumashiro’s. These proposals are onerous. They are not designed to improve teacher quality or Schools of Education. They are designed to close Schools of Education to facilitate the deprofessionalization of teaching and turn it into a low paid temporary job. They are part of the overall assault on public education that includes promoting charter schools and high-stakes testing, attacks on teacher unions, teacher tenure and seniority, and creating investment opportunities for hedge funds.

Not surprisingly, Pearson, which markets teacher certification exams and stands to benefit from these so-called reforms, has endorsed Obama/Duncan higher education initiatives. Pearson and its people have also contributed to Obama presidential campaigns, although their contributions were modest by corporate standards.

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