By Melanie Shoffner, Rebecca Powell, Anne Elrod Whitney, and Don Zancanella
In today’s environment of school accountability and high-stakes testing, teachers are constantly labeled as uncaring, unprepared, and ineffective. Patently unqualified corporations, millionaires and profit-driven businesses are invited to “solve” educational issues, while patently qualified teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers are excluded from the discussion. Teacher preparation programs are treated as extraneous, when in fact, they prepare many, many excellent teachers every year in a climate inhospitable to public education.
The next shot in the war against teachers has been fired. On Dec. 3, 2014, the United States’ Department of Education (DOE) proposed new regulations for teacher preparation programs, citing the need for greater accountability for teacher preparation programs, as well as for the development and distribution of data focused on the quality of those programs. Although the public was invited to comment on the regulations until Feb. 2, 2015, according to a recent webinar, the Office of Management & Budget “is required to make a decision regarding the collection of information contained in the proposed regulations between 30 and 60 days after publication of the proposed regulations.” For comments to receive full consideration, they had to have been submitted by Jan. 2, 2015. However, we want to continue influencing the decision-making process, and that’s why we are now asking you to share your concerns directly with DOE officials and elected senators and representatives.
We have outlined specific points about these proposed regulations below. These regulations are based upon flawed measures and unreliable research from questionable sources. They call for increased assessment and accountability measures, despite no evidence that these measures have been beneficial as implemented in the public schools. They dismiss the solid work happening in teacher education programs every day, instead pushing an agenda that neither conforms to reality nor recognizes expertise.
Flawed Methods, Bad Measures
The regulations extend into higher education the controversial value-added measurement (VAM) and flawed standards-based models of K-12 education. Such measures have little support among those who understand the nuances of assessment, teaching, and learning.
These methods and measures are based upon simplistic notions that we know to be false: that there is one right measure of learning, that there is one right method of teaching, that there is one right type of teacher, that there is one right way to prepare teachers. In truth, teaching is a complex, complicated, challenging, and often contentious endeavor because subject matter and students are complex and complicated and challenging and, sometimes, contentious. Teacher education should continue to offer a foundation that teachers build on for the rest of their careers, rather than falsely providing a “one size fits all” approach.
Too Much Testing
Federally mandated tests for school children (which are used to create the “value-added measurements” for university programs) hinder teaching, learning, and innovation. They diminish the experience of school for teachers and children. They discourage teaching that responds to the child and encourage teaching to the test. Children are defined as data and ranked by test scores. Despite very little evidence to support its efficacy for student learning, standardized testing has claimed our classrooms. “Objective” data drives decision-making without teachers’ informed input on issues that affect the children we seek to educate.
Parents certainly do not support the current over-testing of their children. Teachers know that reliance on these high-stakes tests distorts the view of a child’s abilities. Yet rather than admit this and seek better ways to determine quality teaching, the US Department of Education now proposes use those same test scores to assess the worth of those who teach teachers. The proposed regulations formulate accountability as a statistical formula. In contrast, teacher education programs understand assessment and accountability as an ongoing, varied, and supportive effort that focuses on the child as an individual with individual needs and abilities
Federal Overreach Hampers Local Innovation
States already regulate their teacher education programs through rigorous accreditation processes. The proposed regulations transfer that power to the federal government and use the threat of eliminating TEACH grants to enforce that power. This is the definition of federal overreach.
By tying university programs to federal rules, the regulations stifle creative responses to local education needs. Innovation demands risk; regulations demand obedience. Universities, teachers, children, and parents will be tied to meeting the standards of regulation, regardless of how those regulations fit the local school context. In addition, federal rules leave university programs unable to adapt to new challenges and changing conditions.
Unfunded Mandates with Hidden Costs
The federal regulations demand data and performance from teacher education programs, but they place the costs of gathering and disseminating that data on states–and ultimately, on local taxpayers. This is another unfunded mandate from the federal government. The US DOE regulations for teacher education programs will cost states time, labor, and money – millions, in fact – to implement the required data tracking and assessment systems.
Every day, teacher educators embrace the difficult task of preparing young people to respond professionally to every possible combination of factors they will meet in their future classrooms. These bright young women and men know their choice of career is held in low regard. They understand that they will work long hours for little external reward. They realize that the public will disregard their intelligence, their ability, and their commitment in seeking to become teachers. They want to teach, however, because they want to do something meaningful, they love their content, they enjoy working with young people. At this point in our country’s history, teachers and teacher educators are doing their best with very little: little support for their work, little understanding of their professionalism, little recognition of the contributory factors to student learning. Yet teachers and teacher educators show up to their classrooms every day, focused on the students they work with rather than the misconceptions they work against.
We must state clearly and forcefully – to the DOE, as well as to US senators, state representatives, university presidents, state superintendents, school principals, teachers, students, neighbors and the public at large – that the proposed regulations will do more harm than good. Whether online, through the media or in person, we must speak against the misguided beliefs driving such regulation: that teacher performance can be equated to student performance; that standardized tests provide meaningful evidence of learning; that student learning occurs in a vacuum; that there is one set approach that works with all students.
Melanie Shoffner is Associate Professor of English Education at Purdue University and Chair of the Conference on English Education (CEE).
Rebecca Powell is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi.
Anne Elrod Whitney is Associate Professor of Education at the Pennsylvania State University.
Don Zancanella is Professor of Education and Chair of the Department of Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the University of New Mexico.
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