Written by: Mitchell Robinson
Primary Source : Keep Talking, November 18, 2015
Careful readers have noticed a flurry of reformster activity over the past week or so, highlighted by two big announcements. First was the rollout of #TeachStrong, an education improvement scheme allegedly dedicated “to modernizing and elevating the teaching profession,” and involving a murderer’s row of reformer groups, like Teach for America, the Relay Graduate School of Education and the National Center for Teacher Quality. Never mind that none of these groups are actually interested in either modernizing or elevating anything, and are instead working to hasten the privatization of public education, and turning P-12 schools and college teacher education programs into profit centers. [As an aside, why is it that when the reformers name a new group they simply throw a bunch of words together that sound like they are good, but infuse them with the exact opposite of what those words mean (i.e., TFA is not about teaching for the good of America in any way; the RGS bears absolutely no resemblance to a real graduate school; and, the NCTQ wouldn’t recognize a quality teacher preparation program if it actually set foot on a college campus–which it doesn’t actually do in its attempts to evaluate teacher prep programs. So there’s that…).]
Announcement #2 came today with the unveiling of a massive, $34 million grant bonanza from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that is designed to…stop me if you’ve heard this one before…”improve teacher-preparation programs’ overall effectiveness.” This one looks for all the world like a college-targeted follow up to Mr. Gates’ failed efforts to improve teacher quality, which has taken over a decade and billions of dollars. You’ve got to hand it to Bill and Melinda–they are persistent. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence that their reforms have not moved the needle on teacher quality, test scores, class size, small schools or student learning, they just don’t give up.
This new project involves a rather motley crew of organizations, including TeacherSquared (which includes a slew of what are charitably referred to as “nontraditional preparation programs,” such as our old friends from the Relay Graduate School of Education), a consortium of 6 Southern universities, the Massachusetts Department of Education, and the National Center for Teacher Residencies.
But perhaps the most curious partner in the Gates-funded consortium is TeachingWorks, a think-tank out of the University of Michigan, led by Dr. Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Dean of the UM School of Education. TeachingWorks has been brought on board to serve “as a clearinghouse for the other grantees to share best practices, provide technical support to each center, and supply teacher performance assessments.” It’s the last part of that description that provides the clue as to what this flurry of activity may really be all about.
As I wrote about here, TeachingWorks has been partnering with ETS (the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, NJ) on the development of NOTE, a new competitor to edTPA, the high-stakes student teacher evaluation system from Pearson, Inc. NOTE is noteworthy (get it?) for its use of avatars and a virtual reality setting to provide an up-or-out “teacher performance assessment” for student teachers. Go back and read that last sentence again…I’ll wait…yup, you read that correctly. ETS is creating a high-stakes student teacher test that they will sell to teacher preparation programs and students that makes teacher candidates pretend to teach avatars–fake students–in order to be judged worthy of becoming teachers.
Cue background music…Narrator’s voice: “If only we could develop a system of preparing future teachers that involved prospective educators, under the supervision of actual master teachers, as they taught real, live children in real schools. And if only we could provide these young teachers with support and guidance during their internships in the schools by having college personnel observe them on a regular basis, and holding weekly student teacher seminars back on campus to help them process and make sense of their practice as novice teachers…well, wouldn’t that be a really great way to help welcome our newest colleagues to the profession in a nurturing, realistic and supportive fashion? Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it?”
Connecting the dots here, it’s becoming clear that the real goal behind all of these grants, projects and initiatives is to establish a “college to classroom” pipeline controlled, designed and delivered entirely by the reform industry…
- from teacher preparation program admission (TeachStrong’s Recruitment principle)
- to teacher preparation programs (TeachStrong’s Teacher Prep principle)
- to teacher candidate performance assessments and licensure requirements (ETS and TeachingWorks’ NOTE and TeachStrong’s Licensure principle)
- to compensation and reward structures (TeachStrong’s More Pay principle)
- to new teacher mentoring and induction (TeachStrong’s New Teacher Support principle)
- to tenure provisions (TeachStrong’s Meaningful Tenure principle)
- to professional development delivery systems (TeachStrong’s Professional Development principle)
- to graduate school programs (Relay Graduate School’s involvement in both initiatives is telling)
- to “teacher leader” ladders (TeachStrong’s Career Pathways principle).
We are finally seeing Mr. Gates’ “end game” fully fleshed out here. Not content to tinker with education as his personal plaything any longer, Mr. Gates has now turned his foundation’s full attention to how his immense wealth and power can be used to take total control over the entire enterprise of education in our country. And based on the most current policy research being done on the impact of philanthropy in education reform, we can expect that the results will not be pretty:
The pendulum of philanthropic strategy may have moved too far in response to the Annenberg Challenge. Where funders saw too much adaptation to local circumstances with Annenberg, they have responded with an overemphasis on national models and replicating a common strategy across multiple districts. Where funders saw too much geographic dispersion of resources with Annenberg, they have responded with significant coordinated investments in certain districts where Blacks and Latinos find themselves disempowered by outside interests. Where funders saw too many attempts to cooperate and collaborate with traditional school districts, they have responded with a strate- gy that financially weakens some urban districts, and may be damaging the educational services provided to children who remain in traditional public schools.
A new course correction by foundations should take seriously three major lessons of the recent period of national replication strategies and charter school expansion. First, schools are not only a service to be provided—they are community institutions. Whether charter organizations or local school boards operate them, schools are not fast food franchises that can open and close when market pressures changes, without causing substantial dis- ruptions to children, families, and neighborhoods…
Second, power matters, particularly when decision makers and funders are disconnected from the people impacted by racial, ethnic, and class divisions. When power and resources are so starkly off-balance between outside funders and local residents, funders need to check their hubris at the door—they do not have all the answers, and they do not really know the experiences of students, teachers, and parents in the district. Hiring consultants to conduct listening tours is not the answer to bridging this gap. Listening is not the same as empowering, and funders should seriously consider how they could reduce the power gap between themselves and the communities they seek to support.
Third, the public sector is faltering in many urban areas—cities and school districts face long-term structural challenges to match revenues with expenditures. Education remains an overwhelmingly public sector enterprise—the vast majority of students are served by traditional public schools, alongside the growing ranks of public charter schools. The bottom line for students in all schools is that more funds need to reach students more effectively; addressing this challenge in public school districts may help a larger share of students in the long run.
Sarah Reckhow, “Beyond Blueprints: Questioning the Replication Model in Education Philanthropy”, Symposium: The New Philanthropy: What Do We Know Now? Society, December 2015, Volume 52, Issue 6, pp. 552-558.
We have now glimpsed what Bill Gates’ envisions as the future of teacher preparation in our nation. It’s up to all of us to respond, clearly and forcefully.
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