Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Charterista Faux Teacher Programs Make ESSA Demands of Feds

The damndest things turn up on Twitter some days. Take this document. 

Entitled "Joint Statement Calling for Transparency of Outcomes to Improve Teacher Preparation and Better Serve Students and Districts," this is a fairly transparent demand by several "alternative path" teaching programs that new regulations give them a better advantage in the Brave New ESSA World.

Urban Teachers—along with Aspire Public Schools, Blue Engine, Boston Teacher Residency, Match Teacher Residency, National Center for Teacher Residencies, Relay Graduate School of Education, Teach For America and TNTP—join together to request the Department of Education and Congress create clear guidance for state education agencies as they attempt to act on this opportunity and improve the quality of teacher preparation at the state-level.

And by "improve" of course they mean "make more profitable for folks like us." Specifically, these folks would like the feds to "provide states with specific guidance around developing systems where all teacher preparation programs are accountable for collecting and publicly sharing outcomes data on the success of their programs, participants, and graduates."

Yes, it's one of the Top Ten Dumbest Reform Ideas Ever, back for another round of zombie policy debate. The same VAM-soaked high stakes test scores that has been debunked by everyone from principals to statisticians to teachers, the same sort of system that was called arbitrary and capricious by a New York judge, the same sort of system just thrown out by Houston-- let's use that not just to judge teachers, but to judge the colleges from which those teachers graduated.

Why would we do something so glaringly dumb? The signatores of the letter say that consumers need information.

Without the presence of concrete outcome measures, local education agencies and potential teacher candidates are hard-pressed to compare the quality of teacher preparation programs. Thus, it is a gamble for aspiring educators to select a teacher training program and a gamble for principals when hiring teachers for their schools

Yes, because everyone in the universe is dumb as a rock-- except reformsters. Just as parents and teachers will have no idea how students are doing until they see Big Standardized Test results, nobody has any idea which teaching programs are any good. Except that, of course, virtually every program for teaching (or anything else, for that matter) has a well-developed and well-known reputation among professionals in the field.

As for the "gamble" of hiring-- are these folks really suggesting that administrators can sit and interview teacher applicants, watch them teach sample lessons, and look at their work, decide that thecandidate looks really good and turn out to be wrong because they didn't have hard data about the college program. "My recommendation for the history job? Well, I don't know. She seems smart and capable, her sample lesson was engaging and exciting, and she has a kick-ass portfolio of great ideas. She seems knowledgeable and the exact sort of personality that would fit with our staff here. But I don't have any hard data about her college ed program, so I guess I'm just shooting blindly in the dark. You wanna just flip a coin?"

What sample metrics should we use for this collection of hard data that will be so much more useful than human judgment?

Sample metrics include teacher retention and attrition, principal satisfaction surveys, teacher evaluations, teacher performance on state exams and student achievement gains. 

Because whether a teacher keeps a job or stays in teaching or not is totally the fault of the college program. I don't know why we're collecting principal satisfaction data, since principals are apparently as dumb as rocks. But boy, let's just grab all that BS Test data-- in fact, let's double it up by counting it both in teacher evaluations and by itself.

Oh, but I do have to correct myself. Teacher retention can be controlled by the teacher program if the program is, like the Match system, a program that prepares faux teachers made to order for the charter system that runs the teacher prep program, or like TFA, "prepares teachers" for jobs that it has been contracted to fill. So that's a win for these guys. Remember-- select the right data, and you can always make yourself look better.

The signatores also tout the advantage of data-driven improvements to programs, because that's good for the "customer" (a word that turns up plenty in this three page letter). And of course it will also let states decide which programs to "support." Ka-ching.

Finally, this is just the first of a series of letters to the feds telling them what the people in charge of the nation's shadow network of privatized faux teacher trainers. So there's that to look forward to.

Look, it's not just that this is a terrible terrible terrible TERRIBLE system for evaluating teacher programs, or that it's a bald-faced attempt to grab money and power for this collection of education-flavored private businesses. These days, I suppose it's just good business practice to lobby the feds to write the rules that help you keep raking it in. It's that this proposal (and the other proposals like it which, sadly, often com from the USED) is about defining down what teaching even is.

It is one more back door attempt to redefine teaching as a job with just one purpose-- get kids to score high on a narrow set of Big Standardized Tests. Ask a hundred people what they mean by "good teacher." Write down the enormous list of traits you get from "knowledgeable" to "empathetic" to "uplifts children" to "creative" and on and on and on and, now that you've got that whole list, cross out every single item on it except "has students who get good test scores."

It's the fast foodifying of education. If I redefine "beautifully cooked meal" as "two pre-made patties cooked according to instructions, dressed with prescribed condiments, and slapped on the pre-made buns" then suddenly anyone can be a "great chef" (well, almost anyone-- actual great chefs may have trouble adjusting). These are organizations that specialize in cranking out what non-teachers think teachers should be, and their thinking is neither deep nor complicated, because one of the things a teachers should be is easy to train and easy to replace.

When excellence is hard to define and difficult to achieve, just redefine excellence so that it is low bar shallow narrow mediocrity-- voila! Excellence is now easily within your grasp. Not only that, but the people who keep pursuing actual old school excellence will either knuckle under or be cast aside (silly status quo embracers). Ka-ching!

But first, be sure to write a letter to the appropriate government agency so that they can help you with your redefinition.


  1. John King proposed this when he was head of NYSEDD.

  2. Also this does not take into account recent research by Kirabo Jackson and others showing that teachers who help boost test scores do not intersect much with those who are good at nurturing non- cognitive skills like persistence or even good grades etc on the part of their students, which in the long run may be more important attribute in achieving success.

  3. Here's another of the Top Ten Dumbest Ideas.

    I guess we call the new cutting edge version of teacher training …

    “Teach like a Robot” or “Teach TO a Robot” (no connection to Doug Lemov … yet!)

    Just when you thought teacher training and licensing couldn’t get any more bat-sh#%, looney-tunes insane, this new article says that, in the future, aspiring teachers — even those who graduated from any prestigious university ed. program and passed with flying colors, high GPA, etc. — will be denied certification if they fail to pass a computerized “avatar” teacher training exam.

    What is a computerized “avatar” teacher training exam?

    It looks something like this:
    (not an actual exam, but this YouTube video shows how such an exam would look. I believe that “Relay School of Education” currently uses this to train and test teaches)

    This test is kind of like a flight simulator, except the teacher who’s being tested faces a totally computer-generated classroom with cartoon kids — all of this projected onto onto a giant life-size screen.

    The screen image shows cartoon kid “avatars” sitting in desks in a computerized re-creation of a classroom … and these Pixar-ish characters act out scenarios of misbehavior, or they ask the teacher for clarification or whatever. The teacher is then tested on how he or she responds to these cartoon characters or “avatars.”

    In the back room, there are non-teacher “avatars” — actually unemployed actors — manipulating joysticks and pressing buttons while they portray the cartoon avatar children. They talk into microphones and act out pre-set cartoon kids’ behaviors/scenarios. The teacher being tested must handle all this appropriately, under pain of not obtaining a teaching credential or license.

    This is no joke. ETS (Educational Testing Services) will administer this test, called the NOTE (“National Observational Teaching Examination”

    ARTICLE (above):

    “ 'NOTE' is a high-stakes student teacher evaluation test that requires pre-service teachers to ‘instruct’ avatars–yes, avatars!

    “And if their ‘teaching’ of these cartoon characters isn’t deemed adequate, the student teacher is denied their certification or teaching license, in spite of the fact that the student teacher in question has just completed an accredited, rigorous 4 or 5 year teacher preparation program, regardless of the student teacher’s earned GPA or demonstrated capability to teach real, live children in hundreds of hours of field experiences in local school classrooms, or the intern’s exhibited knowledge, understanding or competence in their subject area.

    “And, just to rub a little salt in the wound: the persons who are remotely-operating the avatars are not teachers themselves–they are unemployed actors who have been trained to manipulate the joy sticks and computer simulations that control the avatars’ voices and movements.

    “The designers of the avatar system found that teachers thought too much about their responses to the interns’ teaching ‘moves’– the actors didn’t concern themselves with matters like content correctness or developmentally-appropriate responses; they just followed the provided script, and efficiently completed the task at hand.”

    God save us all!

    Seriously, the “avatar” kids look like escapees from a low-budget rip-off of “TOY STORY” or “SHREK”, only much, much creepier:
    There’s a lot more of these on YouTube. (check the upcoming videos on the right-hand column.) I just imagine these out-of-work grown-up actors talking into microphones, working joysticks, and faking like they're kids again.