Monday, August 6, 2012

More power for Pearson: screening out would-be teachers

I've long thought teacher certification programs over-emphasize theory at the expense of actual teaching. So how could it not be a good thing that, as the New York Times reported last week:

New York and up to 25 other states are moving toward changing the way they grant licenses to teachers, de-emphasizing tests and written essays in favor of a more demanding approach that requires aspiring teachers to prove themselves through lesson plans, homework assignments and videotaped instruction sessions.
The new assessment system replaces two of the three written exams, made up of multiple-choice questions and essays, and introduces the classroom assessment elements.
The most obvious concern is what might be lost if writing skills no longer factor into teacher certification. A much bigger concern is that current fads will dictate how those lesson plans, homework assignments, and videotaped instruction sessions are graded:
Under the system, a teacher’s daily lesson plans, handouts and assignments will be reviewed, in addition to their logs about what works, what does not and why. Videos of student teachers will be scrutinized for moments when critical topics — ratios and proportions in math, for instance — are discussed. Teachers will also be judged on their ability to deepen reasoning and problem-solving skills, to gauge how students are learning and to coax their class to cooperate in tackling learning challenges.
Here we see a few red flags of Constructivism: "deep reasoning and problem-solving," cooperative learning, and that tell-tale emphasis on assessment. And why wouldn't there be a Constructivist bias when this is the philolosophy promoted by all the powers-that-be in education, including Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues at the Stanford ed school, who developed this Teacher Performance Assessment, and by Pearson Publishing, who is training those who will evaluate the teaching videos:
The new system will require teachers to electronically submit their work, including the videos, for grading by trained evaluators who have been recruited by the education company Pearson.
As the Times notes:
Because the new assessment programs are not yet in place, data about what kind of teachers they produce is a long way from being available.
So one can only wonder what sorts of ratings will be earned by a teacher whose video shows him or her standing in front of the class directly instructing his or her students in ratios and proportions, rather than walking around "gauging how students are learning" while the students discover things about ratios and proportions while cooperating in mixed-ability groups. The Times has already published articles about certified teachers losing points for this. Now new applicants who employ non-Constructivist teaching methods may not even get certified. Principals, however non-Constructivist their philosophies, will never even have the option to hire them.

Demonstration lessons are a great idea--as part of the hiring process at specific schools. To instead make them part of the pre-hiring screening process, imposing uniform standards informed by dubious educational ideology and overseen by a private entity like Pearson that already has way too much influence on public education is totally different prospect:
“Our decisions are being outsourced,” said one faculty member at a state university in New York who supervises student teachers and asked not to be identified because she feared retribution from her employer. She said other educators in the audience that day also expressed concern that the new evaluation system would undermine their role in supervising aspiring teachers.
Some of that sentiment has been exhibited in Massachusetts, which is testing the new licensing procedure. At the University of Massachusetts, 67 of the 68 students in a program for future middle and high school teachers refused to submit two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching, as well as a 40-page take-home test. The students said that evaluators chosen by Pearson were not qualified to judge their abilities, and should not be allowed to do so over their own professors.
Ironically, if you turn to the next page in the paper edition of this edition of the Times, you'll find an article on what looks to me to be the most penetrating form of oppression by Beijing on Hong Kong to date: the introduction into Hong Kong's public schools of the Chinese national education curriculum:
The new curriculum is similar to the so-called patriotic education taught in mainland China. The materials, including a handbook titled “The China Model,” describe the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united” and criticize multiparty systems, even though Hong Kong has multiple political parties. Critics liken the curriculum to brainwashing and say that it glosses over major events like the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It will be introduced in some elementary schools in September and be mandatory for all public schools by 2016.
The U.S. is apparently not the only country experiencing the penetration into its once public, once autonomous schools of a data-resistant ideology perpetrated by unelected, unaccountable, centralized Powers that Be.

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