Thomas Arnett is an Education Research Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and he's written some classics in the reformster press (like this piece about why teachers shouldn't grade their own students). He has worked for Achievement First Charter and started his educationist career with TFA. So it would make sense to find some of his work on the website of the Brookings Institute, an organization that does an outstanding job of regularly publicizing how little economists understand about education.
"ESSA Unlocks Teacher Prep Innovation" wears its lack of educational understanding on its sleeve. ESSA presents an opportunity, but it's not an opportunity to improve anything about education-- instead, Arnett's understanding of the issues facing education is in this sentence:
But unfortunately, despite the fair amount of consensus regarding needed reforms, schools of education seem to have done little over the last 30 years to fundamentally change their business models to align with suggested reforms.
Yup. What teacher programs need is a new business model.
Arnett's theory is that university education programs are resistant to change because their business models discourage it. And I get that to a point-- as universities and colleges have changed to business models that are based on them acting like businesses instead of institutions of higher learning, getting warm, check-writing bodies in seats has become more of a priority. On the other hand, anyone who thinks that schools of education haven't changed anything in the last several decades simply hasn't looked. But ultimately Arnett isn't arguing a larger principle here, and he doesn't are about the content of teacher education programs-- he's arguing that teacher prep programs are refusing to adopt the policies that he thinks they should, and that's the business model he wants to fix -- the dreadful Not Listening To Reformsters business model.
Here's what Arnett wants more specifically
Although the standards set by those entities are all well intentioned, they tend to emphasize inputs (such as governance structures, credit hour requirements, and faculty credentials) rather than the quality of their outputs (effective teachers).
Well, yes. Of course, the difference between inputs and outputs like teacher effectiveness is that we have no way of measuring teacher effectiveness. So this like being put out because teacher education measures inputs instead of measuring the amount of magical fairy dust that the candidates are carrying atop their hippogryfs. Arnett wants to replace current systems with a unicorn farm.
He wants to see new schools of education built form the ground up, and he cites a list that includes the Relay Graduate School of Education, which gives you an idea just how high his standards are. He'd like to see more new business modeled schools like that, and not for the first or last time, I wonder what other profession has to put up with this. If I just rent a room or set up a website and announce that I'm now running a school of brain surgery or offering law degrees or certifying engineers, all based on my own personal ideas about how to do those things, nobody lets me get away with that baloney, and nobody argues that I ought to be able to get away with that baloney. If I'm in a terrible car accident, I don't call out, "Whatever you do, don't take me a hospital with trained doctors!"
Only in teaching do we keep having to hear allegedly serious proposals that anybody with a bright idea ought to be allowed to certify teachers. Only in teaching do we keep having to hear the suggestion that the every success in the history of American education was a fluke, because trained teachers are the last people we want in classrooms. Only in teaching do amateurs keep petitioning for the right to declare themselves experts based on nothing except a smattering of expertise in completely other fields-- and getting it!!
Arnett's "new business model" is a model built around the idea that experience and expertise in the teaching field should be thrown out. It never seems to cross his mind that old school teacher prep programs might be based on things that have an actual proven track record with actual trained practitioners of the teacher craft.
And Arnett is excited because he sees the part of ESSA that has written into law that disdain for and rejection of teaching as an actual profession. If you have the stomach for it, you can read a "case study" by Arnett from last summer in which he looks at some charter chains (including his own previous employer) that are running their own teacher prep programs. I'm not going to drag you through it now, but it worries very little about how such faux educators serve the needs of students and communities, and worries considerably more about whether they represent a "sustainable business model."
This is a manufacturing company that says, "Hey, getting certified welders is rally expensive. Why don't we just have Chris from accounting, who once watched a welder, set up our own welding certification program. It'll be faster and cheaper and the welders who come out of it will be inexpensive for us to hire." Hell, this is an urban emergency manager who says, "Yeah, we can just hook up to that other source of water over there. Should be quick and simple, and it'll be cheap! And hell-- we aren't going to drink it ourselves, so who cares."
But here's Arnett's big finish
The challenge for states will be to make sure that the policies and regulations they adopt for authorizing these new programs truly lead to the desired outcome of producing more high-quality teachers. But if the states can get these details right, the new programs that result may finally lead to the changes in teacher preparation that reformers, public officials, and education groups from across the political spectrum have anticipated for decades.
Not that we know how to identify high quality teachers, but we're sure that amateurs motivated by the chance to make money will totally crack the code of how to churn out HQT quick, cheap, and easy. (And that link to education groups that would think this is swell? TeachStrong.)
Yes, it's one more reason to keep an eye on your state during the transition to Life Under ESSA-- among the many stupid ideas that the law holds the door open for is the stupid idea of deprofessionalizing teaching, to turn teachers into cheaply produced, easily replaced, undertrained widgets cranked out by amateur "businesses." Arnett and other reformsters think this is all good news. It's up to the rest of us to work to make sure it's never news, never happens, at all.