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At last! The leaders of 350 teacher education programs have issued a bold statement in collaboration with the National Education Policy Center denouncing attacks on teacher education and market-based “remedies.”
The group calls itself Education Deans for Justice and Equity.
Their efforts contrast with those of a group called “Deans for Impact,” funded in 2015 by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, which supports charter schools (such as KIPP, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools), Teach for America, Educators for Excellence, New Leaders, TNTP, Conservative Leaders for Education, Teach Plus, Stand for Children, and a long list of other Corporate Reform ventures. Deans for Impact has 24 members. The founder and executive director of Deans for Impact is Benjamin Riley, former director of policy and advocacy at the NewSchools Venture Fund, which is heavily endowed by billionaire foundations to launch charter schools and promote education technology.
The statement of Education Deans for Justice and Equity criticizes such disruption agents as Teach for America (which places inexperienced, unprepared college graduates into challenging urban and rural classrooms), the National Council on Teacher Quality (which pretends to evaluate teacher education programs without having the knowledge or experience to do so and without ever setting foot in the institutions they grade), the Relay “Graduate School of Education” (a program intended to grant master’s degrees to charter teachers that lacks the necessary elements of a graduate institution, such as scholars and research), and Pearson’s EdTPA (which seeks to replace human judgement of prospective teachers with a standardized tool).
Their statement begins:
Teachers are important, as is their preparation. We, Education Deans for Justice and Equity, support efforts to improve both. But improving teaching and teacher education must be part of larger efforts to advance equity in society.
Whether crediting teachers as the single most important factor in student success or blaming and scapegoating them for failing schools that only widen social and economic dispari- ties, many of the stories that circulate about education presume that it’s all about the teacher. Concerned less with the system of education and more with the individual actor, this rhetoric tends to reduce the problem of education to the shortcomings of individuals. The solution correspondingly focuses on incentives and other market-based changes.
Without a doubt, teacher-education programs cannot and should not operate as if all is well, because it is not. Several current efforts to reform teacher education in the United States, however, are making things worse. Although stemming from a wide range of actors (includ- ing the federal government, state governments, and advocacy organizations), these trends share a fundamental flaw: They focus on “thin” equity.
In their recently published book, Reclaiming Accountability in Teacher Education,1 Marilyn Cochran-Smith and colleagues contrast two understandings of equity. “Thin” equity defines the problem as the curtailing of individual rights and liberties, and the resulting solutions focus on equal access and market-based changes. In contrast, “strong” equity defines the problem as the legacies of systemic injustices, and the resulting solutions focus on increas- ing participatory democracy. Because thin-equi ty reforms obscure the legacies of systemic injustices, and instead focus narrowly on student achievement, teacher accountability, re- wards, and punishments, improving teacher education requires moving away from these and toward strong-equity reforms.
Below, we identify seven current trends impacting teacher education (including at many of our institutions) that are grounded in thin-equity understandings. In a number of ways, these approaches lack a sound research basis, and in some instances, they have already proven to widen disparities. Following a discussion of these trends, we present our alternative vision for teacher-education reform.
First, marketizing teacher education. Most teacher education in the United States happens at universities, and with much variability. Nonetheless, the long-touted claim that higher education’s “monopoly” over teacher education results in mediocrity and complacency has resulted in increased competition by way of “alternative” routes—some that meet state stan- dards (and some that do not), and some that involve little to no formal preparation via fast- track programs. These include non-university-based programs like the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence; programs that partner with universities, like Teach For America; and programs that identify as institutions of higher education, like the Relay Grad- uate School of Education. Such faith in the market to drive improvement frames Congress’s recent rewrite of Title II of ESSA, which allows for public funds to support both non-profit and for-profit alternative certification programs and routes. The problem? Merely expand- ing competition without building the capacity of all programs to prepare teachers has led not to improvement, but to widened disparities among students and increased corporate profiteering off of education.
Second, shaming teacher education. The assumption that shaming will spur effort to com- pete is another way to place faith in the market to drive improvement. Such is the approach of the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) in its annual Teacher Prep Review, which scores (and, for the most part, gives failing grades to) teacher-education programs using an eight-dimension framework. Since its inception, the vast majority of programs nationwide have opted not to participate and share materials for review, citing NCTQ’s faulty methods of review and the lack of research basis for its framework.
Third, externally regulating teacher education at the federal level. The twice-proposed, Obama-era Teacher Preparation Regulations were never implemented, but their “value-add- ed” logic reverberates in other reforms, including NCTQ’s review and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) accreditation. Measurement experts warn that the use of value-added modeling to determine the effectiveness of teachers to raise test scores, and in turn, the effectiveness of programs to prepare teachers to do so, are neither reliable nor statistically valid.
These are three of the seven malign trends they discuss. Open the link to read the statement in full. It is short and won’t take more than five minutes of reading time.
It is very encouraging to see the leaders of teacher education stand up for professionalism and research-based practice, and to take a stand against quackery.