When it comes to bogus reformy crap, it is hard to beat Education Reform Now, a group of self-described progressives which serves as a mirror organization for Democrats for Education Reform, proving that you can throw the words "progressive" and "democrat" around all you want and nobody will stop you.
ERN is not a fan of public education. They want charter schools, and they'd like to eliminate teacher job protections. (With DFER, they also present the annually hilariously horrifying Camp Philos.) So when they release a "report" about how to fix teacher certification, I get that shudder of someone walking over my profession's grave.
"New Colleges of Education-- A Path for Going from Concept To Reality" is sixteen pages of existential teacher terror from David Bergeron and Michael Dannenberg. Bergeron was at the Department of Education from 2009 to 2013 under Arne Duncan, and then he graduated to the Center for American Progress, the thinky tank that was supposed to cough up the working cogs of the Hillary Clinton administration. Sorry, guys. Dannenberg was with the New America Foundation, the USED (also under Duncan), and the Education Trust before joining ERN. So we've met the first requirement for one of these education policy papers in that it involves nobody with actual education experience-- just lots of government/advocacy/lobbying/thinky tank time.
Maybe I've had it up on my screen too long, but I love this stock photo so much, and I'm going to waste a moment of all our time to look at it. You can skip ahead if you like-- I won't be offended.
Never mind our blurry teacher who is apparently telling a hilarious joke. It's the three kids behind him. Blond Girl is looking directly into the camera with a smile that says, "I am going to raise my hand like a boss, and then blow this popsicle stand because this whole scene is just ridiculous, amiright? Also, I double dare you to tell anyone what I did just before you snapped this pic" Next to her, another child points into the corner of their eye with an expression that says, "Do you see any speck of give-a-shit in here at all?" And our last child is thoughtfully alarmed. Blond Girl is clearly the star. We will hear more from her some day.
Okay, we can move on now.
The Premise and the Problem
Teachers unions and progressives can agree, the paper says, that schools are underfunded and teacher education sucks, thereby suggesting that progressives and unions are natural enemies, which may come as news to some folks, but there you have it. Starting from those two points, they y go on to suggest that underfunding and crappy prep mean that the most needy students at under-resourced schools will have "a string" of bad teachers. And "teacher quality is the number one in-school influence on student achievement" (and student achievement will now and for the next sixteen pages mean nothing more that "test scores on a single narrow bad Big Standardized Tests") so let's not address anything in the world except teacher quality.
They will even go on to throw in the bogus "a bad teacher will reduce lifetime earnings by a quarter million dollars" baloney.
All of this is the same old crap, a replay of Reform's Greatest Hits. But here comes a new twist:
Because political leaders have not wanted the U.S. Department of Education to determine which higher education programs, including teacher preparation programs, are of sufficient quality to warrant taxpayer support, the task of teacher preparation program quality control has been outsourced in large part to accrediting agencies.
The weak link is not (just) crappy teacher prep programs or gummint unwillingness to spank those programs-- it's the accrediting agencies that certify these programs in the first place. They have too many rea$on$ to like the programs they are accrediting. Boo!
The Solution (Part I)
So what do we do about these lousy accreditors like the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP), child of NCATE? Or the equally-inadequate TEAC?
In our view, for teacher preparation accreditation to be effective, dependence on schools of education as guardians of teacher preparation quality must end. Because the current teacher education accreditor has shown it cannot and will not reform itself, a new type of accreditor, not dependent on schools of education and their personnel, but instead on the employers of graduates from schools of education and teacher preparation programs, should be created. State and local superintendents of schools and charter school leaders in particular should band together to form an accreditor focused on the learning gains of elementary and secondary school students taught by the graduates of teacher preparation programs seeking accreditation and the assessments of employers of whether the graduates of teacher preparation programs are adequately prepared for classroom service.
And, they add, they're pretty sure this can be done cheaply!
Let's Sneak Up On This Again
The paper backs up for a look at the history of these august organizations that have been "consecrated" (a word that crops up, oddly, more than once) to certify programs that certify teachers. The paper suggests that these agencies have leaders who have serious doubts about how well these agencies work. And they tell the story of CAEP tried to make things better by recommending, that the evaluation of teacher prep programs include a sort of feedback loop that rests on student BS Test results.
Which is what we're really yearning for here-- a system in which college teacher prep programs are judged on how well the students of the graduates of those programs do on the BS Test. In other words, Pat takes the PARCC. Pat's teacher Mrs. Sneezely gets an evaluation based on Pat's PARCC score, and so does Mrs. Sneezely's alma mater.
Education leaders from NEA President Dennis "Wrong About So Many Things" Van Roekel to Teach for America's Wendy "This Should Be Easy To Game" Kopp thought this sounded swell. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education thought this idea was dumb. CAEP fired the Executive Director who took them down this dumb road and shifted the agency's attention back toward not-dumb things.
But that's not satisfactory. "Since CAEP cannot or will not reform itself," the writers suggest some sort of coup. Administrators and charter operators should form their own accreditation agency that will include test scores in program evaluations (and if that happens to favor charter in house faux techer prep programs that focus strictly on test prep strategies, well, then, so be it).
But how could such a thing be done? Turns out the writers have some ideas.
Three Ways To Take Over
The "report" will offer three approaches to a take over of the accreditation system, only one of which they really mean to propose. Let's take a look.
Method One: Whole New Agency
You'd have to form the agency, staff it, talk to colleges of education, develop your standards, figure out how to measure against them, and then start accrediting places. This would be time consuming and expensive. The writers, based on who-knows-what, estimate 4 years and $12 million.
Method Two: New Agency with Help
Find an agency that already does college accreditation in a general sort of way and convince them to start a teacher prep accreditation division while also convincing them to do it your way (though the writers don't seem to anticipate any problem with that part). The writers throw the dice and come up with 2 years and $5 million to do this one.
Boy, those just seem so long and expensive. Is there an option that would be swifter and cheaper?
Method Three: Hostile Takeover
This is really quite extraordinary.
The writers note that several federally-approved accreditation agencies are in financial trouble. The American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) has been playing close to the financial edge for several years. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission has been slowly bleeding out funds. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has also been financially stressed. And these guys have collected some figures.
If a group composed of school districts, states, and teachers came together with sufficient resources, perhaps backed by philanthropy, to retire the outstanding debts or otherwise improve the financial health of one of these financially challenged non-profit organizations – likely just a couple of hundred thousand dollars – that operate a U.S. Department of Education approved accrediting commission, it could obtain sufficient seats on the organization’s board to take control.
Once the board was subdued and couped, the bylaws and charter could be rewritten, and the agency could be rebuilt to suit the new owners. Then this repurposed agency could draft the necessary standards-- hell, they could use the ones that ousted CAEP leaders came up with (that shortcut could be applied in all three methods, but the writers only mention it here for their recommended approach).
But really-- what a perfect neo-liberal reformy solution to a problem. If something stands in your way, just buy it, and bend it to your will.
Enter the Golden Era
Once the New Reformster Accreditation Board was open for business, reformsters could put their stamp of approval on any number of bogus "Schools of Educaytion." In fact, the paper notes happily, ESSA opens wide the door for all manner of "alternative providers of teacher preparation" as long as they can have their results validated by a USED-recognized authority, which-- hey , we just made one of those a few paragraphs ago!! Yes, there's some pesky law from 1965, but the Secretary can waive (aka "ignore") that if she's a mind to.
The writers characterize the old system as the fox guarding the henhouse; they would like to replace the old foix with their own brand new reformy charter-loving test-driven fox. They are also fond of the same language used by choicesters to attack the public ed system-- the current teacher prep system is a "cartel" that needs to be broken up, because these new guys want to cash in, too, and it's not fair that they have to play by rules that they don't like. Let a hundred sad versions of Relay GSE bloom. Let charter operators crank out fake teachers from "fully accreditated" fake teacher factories.
And most of all, let's base the entire structure of BS Test scores, one more terrible idea that refuses to die.
It is the last building block in the grand design for a parallel school system, where schools are staffed by substandard teachers trained in only test prep, and therefor providing a substandard education, cranked out by substandard teacher prep programs set up to prove to a substandard accreditation board that they meet the substandard standards.
Look, I am one of the last people to defend the current system of teacher prep. My solution is simple-- replace every single person in the accrediting agency with a classroom teacher. My solution is certainly not to stage a coup to impose a ridiculous standard by which college programs are judged by second-hand results on a third-rate test.
In the end, I can't decide if these guys are cynical, arrogant, greedy, or dumb. I mean, it takes some balls to say, "The whole foundation of the teaching profession is wrong. We should rip it out and replace with our own unverified untested unproven results-- by force if necessary." It takes some serious greed to say, "If we just gutted and upended the system, we could redirect so many public tax dollars to private corporate pockets." It takes huge cynicism to think either, or both, and just not care about the consequences. At this point, it just takes plain old boneheadedness to think that PARCC and its ilk can be used as a measure of educational success. But then, I'm cranky today. These guys have been around several blocks, have done respectable work in other areas. I'm honestly confused-- how do people end up pushing such terrible ideas?
The only good news I see here is that this is not a plan Betsy DeVos is likely to jump on. It comes from so-called progressives, and it involves more structures and institutions and rules. While I suspect that DeVos sees the same problem ("People have to jump through all these stupid hoops to become a teacher and all these dumb rules to run a teacher prep program"), I suspect her solution is much simpler ("No more rules for anyone! You can call yourself a teacher training program, and you can call yourself a teacher training program, and you can call yourself a teacher training program, and anyone can operate a so-called school and hire anyone they want and we'll shovel money at all of them!")
So call it one more reminder that "progressive" doesn't equal "friend of public ed" as well as a reminder that there are no limits to the huge badness of some reformster ideas.