We've already discussed who and what the new #TeachStrong campaign might be. But I still think it's only fair to look at their nine points, their nine steps to building a better teacher, and consider their validity.
Yes, it starts with the premise that teaching needs to be modernized and elevated. Teachers have certainly been beaten down over the 1.5 decades. But modernized? A bad sign that once again, some policymaker is operating under the assumption that schools haven't changed since before they were in one. There's not any real evidence for that, but let's ignore it for the moment so we can move on to our nine steps on the pathway to awesome!
Identify and recruit more diverse teacher candidates with great potential to succeed, with a deliberate emphasis on diversifying the teacher workforce.
Diversity in the teacher workforce is a critical need, although the research tends to suggest that the problem is less about recruitment and more about retention (of course the general tanking of college teacher programs means we have recruitment issues across the board). But teacher diversity is a critical problem. The racial makeup of the teacher pool is wildly out of whack with that of the student pool. So, yes-- this is a critical need, though the devil is absolutely in the details, and in the recognition of the retention issue.
2. Teacher Prep
Reimagine teacher preparation to make it more rooted in classroom practice and a professional knowledge base, with universal high standards for all candidates.
Again, what details? Universal standards is probably a dumb idea-- exactly which universal standards would fit both a high school biology teacher and a first grade teacher? Just how vague and meaningless would standards have to be in order to cover both?
Also, "more rooted in classroom practice" than what? Here the group of TeachStrong partners starts to color my perception because I know, for instance, that when it comes to teacher preparation, neither NCTQ nor TFA know what the hell they're talking about. Classroom practice and professional knowledge base are absolutely essential, it's true-- but if you believe, as some of the partner groups do, that Common Core represents a critical piece of professional knowledge, then you are chock full of baloney.
So here the details make all the difference between a useful piece of teacher building and an utter waste of time.
Raise the bar for licensure so it is a meaningful measure of readiness to teach.
Sure. How about we start by declaring that people with five weeks of training, no meaningful classroom practice, and no background in the professional knowledge base be allowed to set foot in a classroom? Because I like that idea, but I'm betting partner groups TFA and TNTP would not support it.
Exactly how will we raise the bar. Because if we're talking about something like edTPA, a high-cost profit-generating "exam" process operated by non-teaching corporate stooges, that's not raising the bar-- it's taking the bar and bludgeoning future teachers about the head and shoulders with it. Here's the problem with this idea-- nobody at all knows what a meaningful measure of readiness to teach looks like, exactly, so anybody who says they do is selling snake oil.
I have heard the claim that lawyers and doctors have to pass licensure exams, and I see a slight bit of value in that-- if such exams were developed and administered by working teachers, selected by other working teachers and not policy makers or bureaucrats or corporate lobbyists. In fact, let's have an accrediting board for college teacher programs also run by teachers without any input at all from policy makers and bureaucrats or corporations. Do I think that's what TeachStrong has in mind? No, I do not.
4. More Pay
Increase compensation in order to attract and reward teachers as professionals.
Oh, that word "reward." I'm dubious, because I know many of the partner groups like the idea of scrapping the traditional teacher pay ladder and replacing it with a system that only gives you a raise when they decide you've earned it. That way they can still fund schools cheaply by giving big pay to some few teachers and tiny, little pay for the rest. Again, I would be more impressed if we were talking about retention or supporting the idea of teachers who are supported in a lifelong dedication to a teaching career. But there is no language like that anywhere in TeachStrong.
5. Support for Newbies
Provide support for new teachers through induction or residency programs.
Almost spot on. The great missing link in the teaching profession is some sort of support, development, and mentorship for beginning teachers. That said, "residency" in reformsterspeak means, again, low paid positions that help offset the better-paid master teacher spots. The concept directly contradicts the idea of better pay for recruiting, but hey-- I didn't write it.
Also, this would be a good place to step up and say something like, "Judging a new teacher or 'resident' based on high-stakes assessment would be silly, so let's make sure that such nonsense is not part of the program." And who wants to take a newby under your wing when your wings depend on test scores to keep you from getting plucked? The use of test scores to evaluate teachers poisons everything it touches, but arguably nothing is more poisoned then beginning stages of teaching careers.
If TeachStrong isn't prepared to call for the end of all evaluation-by-student-scores, then all nine points are hollow vessels filed with stale, hot air.
Ensure tenure is a meaningful signal of professional accomplishment.
In other words, keep tenure, but make it harder to get. Because reasons. Seriously-- there isn't a lick of evidence to suggest that such a tough tenure system would improve anything (though it certainly would give prospective teachers one more reason to consider a different career). Of course, many of the TeachStrong partners don't see teaching as a lifelong career in the first place, so who cares about tenure?
The other red flag here is "professional accomplishment." If this is going to be more of that "you can have tenure if your student test scores look good" then you can just wrap it up in VAM rags and bury it in the backyard next to the dead turtles and the rotting leaves, because that is some anti-teacher, junk sciency baloney. The use of "accomplishment" is an oddity-- we won't give you tenure based on your quality as a teacher, but on what you accomplished. Test prep or perish, junior.
I'll say it again-- tying teacher evaluation to student assessment results is disastrous and wrong and if TeachStrong can't say so, I can't take them seriously.
7. More Time and Tools
Provide significantly more time, tools, and support for teachers to succeed, including through planning, collaboration, and development.
How, exactly? Will you create more hours in the day? Will you hire one million more teachers to reduce the workload on those that are already working? If so, how will you manage that when you can't even fill the openings you have now?
And who will decide what "succeed" looks like? And who will decide what tools and support are needed? Because the pattern so far has been for reformsters to swoop in and say, "We've decided that you need this," without listening to teachers for five seconds. Hell, many TeachStrong partners decided that one tool needed by teachers was the Common Core. This item is completely useless, pointless, and worthless without something else that is notably missing from the nine-step program-- listening to actual working teachers.
Saying "Here's the tool I think you'll need to accomplish the goals I'm setting for you in the way I want them accomplished," that is not help. It's just micromanagement.
8. Professional Development
Design professional learning to better address student and teacher needs, and to foster feedback and improvement.
Again-- who's doing the designing? The problem with PD is not the content or quality so much as it is the underlying assumption that PD is something done to teachers by people who know better than they what should be happening in their classrooms. Or that PD is an opportunity for vendors to make a case for their wares. You want to fix PD? Give us some days to ourselves, a personal PD budget, access to people who know the things we want to find out, and then leave us alone.
9. Career Pathways
Create career pathways that give teachers opportunities to lead and grow professionally.
Again, what this generally means in reformsterspeak is this:
Rather than start at the level you are currently and just staying there, what we'd like to do is dig a hole and start you at the bottom of that. Then by the time you climb up to your current level, it will feel like a real step up in the world. In the meantime, it will let us pay everyone who's starting out down in that hole much less money.
What it generally doesn't mean is that we'll give you increasing control over your professional direction, with more and more control over what goes on in your school and your classroom so that you, in fact, have less and less need to listen to what reformsters and policy makers and bureaucrats and corporate stooges tell you you must do. No, that is not what it means.
The "career pathways" shtick also often masks a belief that of course, nobody would want to be "just a teacher" for an entire career. Surely once you've put in some years as a teacher, you'd want to move on to something better. And why should I take advice about teaching from people who can't understand why I would want to spend my entire adult life in the classroom?
So What Do I Think?
Many of these are perfectly good goals. A couple are even laudable.
Because the devil is in the details, and all nine of these are items that have been used as reformster dog whistles, as ways of saying what folks will assume means one thing when the plan is something else entirely. And given that the TeachStrong partners are mostly a big pile of reformsters, I'm not inclined to trust their intentions.
So my question for the
It all sounds like more corporate reform drivel. Or the education platform of a corporate candidate. And it's as notable for what it doesn't say as for what it does.
It doesn't call for an end to the test-driven school and profession. It doesn't call for building the profession by empowering teachers. It doesn't call for investing the kind of resources needed to make all schools appealing places to teach, or for elevating community voices over outsidecontrol. It doesn't call for putting professional education under the control of people who know what they're doing. It doesn't recognize the vast pool of knowledge and expertise that exists right now among the seven million experienced teachers in this country (but instead suggests we're all behind the times). It doesn't call for listening to teachers. It doesn't call for an end to micromanagement and punitive control by bureaucrats and corporate stooges who don't know what the hell they're talking about. It doesn't call for preserving education as a public trust instead of a private investment opportunity.
Until somebody with the campaign fills in the blanks, I have to assume this is just deep-fried baloney.