President Obama has brushed the mothballs off one of the worst, dumbest proposals in Arne Duncan's USDOE toolbox (and that is not an easy bar to clear). As reported by Reuters, Duncan is poised to revive the plan for test-based evaluation of college teacher prep programs.
There are already many dumb plans in place, from the content specific Praxis tests (because if you can pass a computerized bubble test about your content area, clearly you can teach it) to recent suggestions that we can test prospective teachers for grit.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters
poor teacher preparation programs produce teachers "who are
under-prepared, who are ineffective and who are frustrated."
When it comes to identifying a problem, the feds have actually done pretty well. There are some truly execrable teacher training programs out there. I know that because, like most teachers, I have dealt with some of their products as either student teachers or colleagues, and it is hard not to conclude that the application for some teacher programs consists of a simple question:
Will you give us this large sum of money if we let you take teacher classes from us?
One can easily identify at least one source of the problem. There are simple too few 18-to-22-year-olds to go around these days. Being picky is an expensive set of principles for a college to embrace. So I think most teachers have to admit that what Arne has to say about some teacher prep programs isn't any harsher than some of the things we've said in our own teacher lounges about certain programs. (We might also point out that Arne has offered, all on his own, an excellent reason to shut down TFA, but let's move on.)
So in the face of a real issue-- subpar teacher prep at a few colleges and universities-- what does Arne have to offer? Nothing less than one of the dumbest ideas ever in the history of bad, dumb, dumbly bad ideas ever. Duncan wants to track student back through their teachers all the way back to the teachers' college of origin. Yes, an eight-year-old's low reading score will be used to help shut down Wassamatta U's art education program. Because, data.
It's hard to really convey how terrible this idea is. It's cliche at this point to observe vis-a-vis Testing that you do not make a pig grow fatter by weighing it. But even that metaphor is inadequate, as putting a pig on a scale will actually tell you how much it weighs.
No, Duncan's college program data scoring program would work more like this: Shave a strip of hair of the back of the pig, then weigh that hair and, using a special proprietary formula, calculate the weight of the pig. then use the pig's weight to determine how healthy the pig is. Then use the pig's health index to calculate the health index for the whole barn full of pigs. Then use that data to calculate a rating for the quality of the barn. Then use the barn's rating to work out the quality of the lumber used to build the barn. Then use the lumber unit ranking to score the mill from which the lumber came, which in turn can be used to rank the equipment used to cut down the trees that were turned into lumber. And from there we can arrive at a quality rating for the gloves worn by the guy who operated the equipment used to cut down the trees that were turned into lumber that was built into the barn where we raised the pig that grew the hair that we shaved off his back. Easy peasy, and all done with numbers and formulas, so you know that it's just loaded with science and data and stuff.
The US DOE proposes to start with tests that measure, at best, a small sliver of student learning which will be used to evaluate teachers, who only affect a small sliver of that learning, and then use that rating to rank the college of origin (which only affected a small sliver of that teacher's professional skills).
The US DOE proposes to take a sliver of a sliver of a sliver of slice of pie, and given just how bad the CCSS tests are, it proposes to have all the sliver slicing done by a blind one-armed guy using a chainsaw.
This proposal rests on two favorite administration assumptions:
1) Standardized tests, particularly those produced by large corporations, are flawless measures of a child's education.
2) Everyone who works in public education is too stupid to figure out anything at all without corporate-backed feds to tell them.
Do I know a better way to fix teacher education? You know I do (who would become a blogger if he didn't have an answer for everything). But I'm going to save that for another day, because I don't want anything to distract us from the sheer awesome mountainous screamingly foolish heap of dumb that is this new proposal. It is the Grand Canyon of dumb, and it deserves to be viewed quietly, with awe and respect, before we start telling our state legislators that there's one more dumb idea from DC that we need them to ignore.