Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Teacher Educators at CUNY: Why You Failed To Convince Me

Dear CUNY Teacher Educators:

I just saw your letter in support of edTPA on Diane Ravitch's blog. As will become obvious, I am not an academic. I'm a classroom teacher with thirty-some years of experience; I've also served as co-operating teacher for ten or so student teachers. Let me tell you why your letter did not convince me that edTPA is a great, good, or even okay program.

You characterize edTPA as "a performance assessment of teaching developed by hundreds of teachers and teacher educators across the country, in a process led by Stanford University’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), with support from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)." This does not even match edTPA's own description of the process, found on their website-- "Stanford University faculty and staff at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) developed edTPA. They received substantive advice and feedback from teachers and teacher educators..." Giving advice and feedback is not "developing." It does not really address the frequent criticism that Pearson was in on the development, and I remain skeptical-- it is hard to imagine how Pearson could end up managing the complex on-line system of the evaluation without having had a voice in developing it, even to say "We can do X for you, but probably not Y."

But that's beside the point. Many of Alan Singer's most damning criticisms go unanswered in your letter.

I agree with you when you say that a teacher must be able to articulate what she is doing and why. But what edTPA requires goes far beyond that. It's one thing to be able to stand in front of a co-operating teacher (or a class) and explain the why's and wherefor's of a lesson. It's quite another to have to prepare a full-on dog and pony show to fit one's answer into program specifications. Or as Singer says, "Student teaching is about learning to be an effective and creative teacher. edTPA is about following directions." 

I can agree that teachers need to be able to articulate what they're doing. But that's not the question-- the question is Why have them do it in the manner proscribed by edTPA? What about the edTPA project requirements marks these requirements as the very best way to demonstrate these skills? Nowhere in your letter (or, really, in edTPA/Pearson's website) is there a real answer for that. Singer asked directly what the research basis was for the validity of the program, and received a homina-homina-homina non-answer.

You say, "Furthermore, we do not agree with the claim that the edTPA demands only one way to demonstrate what is good teaching." But that's not the criticism. I am reminded of a student I watched working on Study Island, a computerized tutoring program. I was covering a math class and watching a student struggle. "I know the answer," he said. "I just have to figure out how the program wants me to say it." That is edTPA's problem. You can come up with any answer you want, but you have to put it all in the right package. edTPA's one useful strength is that it prepares future teachers to deal with pointless inflexible useless bureaucratic baloney; its corresponding weakness is that it fosters the notion that teaching is like a big final project for a college class.

You also attempt to address the question of who scores the project. You and the edTPA talking points paper agree: the projects are scored by trained educators with background in teacher training. I believe that, because a while back I followed a recruiting link for that very work. It took me directly to Pearson. I fared somewhat better than colleagues who have received invitations to be scorers for disciplines which they do not teach.  And while Singer's charge that edTPA will be scored by Pearson-hired temps may be incorrect, let's be honest-- it doesn't matter. What really matters is who will select and train those evaluators. What matters is who writes the rubric and enforces its interpretation. What are the odds that Pearson, holder of the big fat contract to oversee and administer edTPA, is doing that job?

You wrap up with some pretty words that boil down to, "Well, it's better than a damn standardized test like the Praxis," and I agree. edTPA is a better than Praxis in the same way that being punched in the face is better than being punched in the throat. And while edTPA doesn't use student test scores yet, Mercedes Schneider reported almost a year ago that AACTE has embraced the VAM-loving folks at CAEP, who think VAM would go great with  edTPA.

You cite some weak research that 96% of students reported a "positive influence" for edTPA. I read that to mean that a large number of students checked some version of "Well, it didn't make me teach any worse." This is not a ringing endorsement, and it speaks to the biggest unanswered question about edTPA.

Why do we need it?

Seriously. I'm an old fart, so I went to teacher school and my department trained me and then said, "We believe you're ready. Here's a diploma and a teaching certificate. Get to work." And I've been doing okay ever since. I have to ask (and I asked the same thing about the Praxis)-- did college education departments get stupider after I graduated?

Are you seriously telling me that as the CUNY teacher education department, when you are done teaching a student and mentoring him through student teaching, when you have put him through all the paces that your department has designed, you have to turn to the world, shrug and say, "I dunno. maybe he's ready; maybe he isn't. I mean, we gave him a diploma and all, but that was just a formality. We have no idea whether we have actually prepared him to be a teacher or not. We'd better hire somebody else to figure it out."

It's not that I don't think there are college ed departments in serious, serious trouble. Inadequate prep with barely drive-by supervision during student teaching, checking nothing except the student's ability to pay-- there are college departments that need to be revamped or terminated. edTPA, with its serious of narrow-scoped color-by-numbers is not the answer. A highly artificial five-day "project" is a supremely inauthentic and unhelpful command performance. A college teacher training program that thinks it's a great idea is probably one of the departments that needs to be dismantled.

But then, it looks like you need to have this conversation with your own colleagues.

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