Proposed Regulations Bad for Kids, Teachers, and Schools

by Anne Elrod Whitney, Ph.D.

Report cards may sound simple and harmless. But the “report cards” for teacher education programs that were recently proposed by the U.S. Department of Education are a bad idea. They, and the proposed new federal rules of which they are a part, could do tremendous damage to schools, to colleges, to teachers, and to children.

The U.S. Department of Education has proposed new regulations for university teacher education programs. If enacted, they would undermine college and school partnerships that prepare excellent new teachers and support current teachers in improving. The regulations would hinder existing good work and would force changes in programs, ultimately diminishing the teaching force as a whole. At the same time, the regulations would extend the reach of the already-excessive testing system forced upon schools.

Flawed Methods with Serious Consequences

The thrust of the proposed regulations is to subject college and university teacher education programs to a system of so-called “value-added measurement” (VAM). Children’s scores–on controversial tests that are still in early stages of development–would be linked back to individual teachers, teacher candidates, and (by extension) specific university programs through statistical procedures that have been discredited by scholars in both statistics and education. These calculations would then be used to create report cards comparing teacher preparation programs in a state. Though the report cards might appear “simple,” they would be used for deciding some of the most weighty matters in education: accreditation and funding. The regulations would require states to use the report card comparisons in accrediting programs; the results would further be tied to higher education funding (using the federal TEACH grants as a lever ).

These regulations are both dangerous and irresponsible. Here are some of the reasons why:

  • Testing for these purposes is bad for children. Reliance on testing for “accountability” shapes teaching and curriculum in ways that narrow the scope and diminish the quality of students’ experiences in school. As the focus on external assessments increases, students do more and more “test-like” activities and practice runs instead of authentic and meaningful projects. These negative effects most impact students who are poor and those with the greatest challenges to learning, such as those with disabilities or those learning English. These issues have been addressed by the National Research Council and by the nonprofit organization Fairtest, among others.
  • Government should not overreach into what goes on in specific college programs and courses. Politicians are not professors. Faculty who do research in a field of study should decide what a student in that field should learn to get a degree at a college or university. The biologists should design the biology program; the engineers should design the engineering program. Scholars in a field know what experiences students should have to become expert in that field; remote politicians, political appointees, and staffers in Washington do not. The same is true for teacher education.
  • Money, time, and energy that could be used on successful programs would instead be used for an expensive system built on flawed methods.The costs of implementing the proposed regulations would be substantial and would draw both fiscal and human resources away from the actual work of teacher preparation and research. We already have stellar teacher education programs like this one at Penn State that are threatened by these proposed regulations. Recordkeeping should never take over to the point where it impedes teaching and learning.
  • A reductive “report card” ignores the unique advantages of individual college and university programs. Students aren’t cardboard cutouts, and college programs shouldn’t be, either. We are fortunate to have a wide range of public and private institutions of higher education to serve the broad array of higher education needs in the United States. If you have sent a child of your own to college, you know that deciding where to pursue higher education involves a complex array of characteristics, both of your child and of the institution. Each college is in a different place, with a different history, different students, and different faculty, focusing on different things with different goals. Comparing institutions on a limited number of insensitive measures ignores these differences in mission and character, forcing nonsensical comparisons. No one approach fits all contexts.

These are just a few of the largest problems with the Department of Education’s plan. The proposed plan is the latest step in the disastrous series of decisions in education policy emanating first from the Bush administration and now from the Obama administration–decisions which have resulted in a staggering amount of high-stakes testing for kids and an unprecedented level of interference from government in the experiences our teachers and kids have in school. Neither our children nor our teachers are served well by this clumsy, one-size-fits-all approach to education.

I urge all readers, both educators and neighbors, to respond promptly and strongly. Once in place, the proposed regulations would be tied to state and federal administrative infrastructure in ways that would make them extremely difficult to extricate.

People wait in line to speak at a microphone, most are holding laptops

Image from Flikr, DAL3983 Creative Commons License

Some simple things we can do:

  • Talk with our neighbors about these issues, including parents, teachers, parent-teacher associations, administrators, and school boards. The regulations were announced during a busy holiday, and the comment period will coincide with another. It helps to draw people’s attention to what is going on. Consider sharing this post via social media. Invite a conversation over coffee.
  • Make a comment on the regulations at this site during the 60-day public comment window that will end February 2, 2015. Encourage your network to do the same.
  • Educate our elected representatives about the danger these proposed regulations pose to colleges and universities in their constituencies—and to children in schools. While these regulations are from the Department of Education and not subject to legislative approval, pressure from Congress can be very persuasive. Take a moment now to contact your congressional leaders.

 

Too often we fail to act, realizing only after a plan has been implemented that it is hurtful and then finding that it is too deeply embedded to root out. This time we can do better. Let’s step in before any further damage is done.

 

Anne Elrod Whitney is Associate Professor of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. She is also a proud public school parent.

 To comment on the proposed regulations for teacher preparation, click here.

 

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6 thoughts on “Proposed Regulations Bad for Kids, Teachers, and Schools

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with what Dr. Whitney states in this post. Where does it end?! How can anyone think it makes sense to try to measure the productive work life of a human being in this manner? What is worth more for the teacher – the A on the standardized test or the time it took to help a student struggling to read finally make the connections among the letters make meaning. Does it matter more that they scored high on a math test or that they were inspired by their Algebra teacher to choose a career in a STEM field? How about the essential time spent by our teachers on social/emotional development? How will we measure that? How can we possibly account for all the moving parts that go into making a life? Do we need to implement best practices, as based on educational research, at all of our schools of education – yes, we certainly do!

    But, to think that it is so simple as to measure and grade a human being’s potential from college to career, with all that that entails, is simply absurd. I believe that anyone who has actually worked with new teachers knows how essential their first few years in a school district are for mentoring and professional development as they find their style, voice, strengths and challenges. The growth in a new teacher when he or she is out of college and in place in a classroom is just enormous – that being said, it also works in the reverse. Many new teachers may have a great deal of potential leaving college, but simply never realize it due to a disconnect between their college experience and the reality of today’s classrooms. This can be a function of a myriad of factors not at all related to their college experience. So, how can we place full blame or give full credit to schools of education when so much of becoming a teacher takes place when school is out and teachers are in the field? I just don’t see how those direct correlations are possible. Sadly, I believe the effect of this legislation, if passed, will simply be to diminish our profession even further and send out best and brightest running for another profession where they are respected, rewarded and appreciated for their work. There is no greater gift than to live a life full or purpose as a teacher – it is my dearest hope that young people today will still see this gift as one they want to receive.

  2. Keep the faith and continue the struggle– at the bottom of it all is that we have to see ALL people’s kids as just as valuable and fragile and rich in potential as our own. Then we go about making a world in which those kids– who can’t advocate for themselves– are treated like the masterpieces that they are. That we all are.

  3. Pingback: Music = ax2 + bx + c. Huh? - Music Matters

  4. Pingback: Time to Invoke Reagan Directive: “And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education” | the becoming radical

  5. Pingback: Urgent: Send an Email Protesting VAM for Teacher Education | Diane Ravitch's blog

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