Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Teacher education reform: solving another problem we don't have

I don't often blog about issues that directly affect Delaware State University, and before I begin I need to make the point that the opinions expressed here are mine alone, and not those of either DSU or the American Association of University Professors.

That said ...

Senate Bill 51 [to which I would link if it were up on bill tracking yet] is an absolutely ridiculous extension of state power at the behest of Governor Jack Markell to waste time and money solving a problem that simply does not exist.

Here's the lead-in from today's WNJ:

Aspiring public school teachers in Delaware will face new academic challenges if legislation proposed Thursday is successful. 
The bill is meant to improve the quality of educators in the state’s school system. It would set higher standards for being admitted to teacher-education programs within Delaware and introduce tests thatgraduates must pass to prove they are ready to teach. 
The changes would, for the first time, set a minimum grade point average requirement for those who wish to study education at a Delaware college, according to the governor’s office. It would also create a new test – similar to the bar exam for lawyers – that teachers must pass to become certified.
The first thing you need to know is that the Delaware Department of Education effectively punted its certification of teacher education programs to an outside group--NCATE--many years ago.  That's OK, frankly, because NCATE has higher standards and more stringent documentation standards than DEDOE ever thought about applying (I know this personally, having taken programs through to successful accreditation under both agencies).

NCATE sets and monitors curriculum standards within programs (to include requiring the universities to upload and maintain online student work in all required courses so that they can be monitored on an ongoing basis; sets standards for the qualifications of instructors; sets standards for entering programs; sets standards for the amount of time students must spend in classrooms observing and teaching before student teaching; requires passage of the very difficult Praxis II test before students enter the classroom to student teach; and much more).

Admission standards at UD and DSU are already high.  UD recently reported that less than half the students applying for entrance to its teacher education program make the grade.  At DSU the stats are similar.  Students must pass Praxis 1, receive positive recommendations from three professors, undergo an entrance interview, maintain/present a portfolio of work, and show that they have a 2.5 GPA.

It is that GPA that supposedly needs fixing, according to the Markell administration, because apparently good grades in your first three semesters of college (roughly when you apply for admission) are the primary determinant of whether or not you will make a good teacher.  What utter horsecrap.

In reality the state's universities, including Wilmington University [which technically has an "open" admissions policy for the teacher education program] have multiple gateways before students graduate.

First, they must gain entry to the teacher education program.

Second, they must pass both the Praxis I and (much, much tougher) Praxis II content area test (both are nationally recognized tests, and even "A" students often require several attempts to pass Praxis II).

Third, as sophomores and juniors, students must conduct hundreds of hours (usually 20+ hours per Education class) of observations in the schools.

Fourth, during the same period, students are required to teach as many as four lessons in the public schools per Education class.  (Thus most students have taught more than 20-30 lessons to real students in real classrooms before they ever enter student teaching.  This is a dramatically higher number of hours than even ten years ago.)

Fifth, students are rated against NCATE-approved detailed rubrics for every single Education class they take, and if they fail to meet the standards must repeat them until they do.

Sixth, students must develop and maintain a portfolio of work that is examined by university faculty and cooperating teachers in the public schools.

Seventh, students must pass licensure in the form of student teaching that requires BOTH a university supervisor and an experienced master teacher to sign off that they are competent in the classroom, something that happens only after hundreds of hours of teaching.  (And lest you doubt:  yes, there are regular occasions in which student teaching is NOT successfully completed, and the would-be teacher is diverted into other programs.)

Match these gateways against one other reality that the Markell administration and its Rodel allies would like to brush aside:  there is ABSOLUTELY NO RESEARCH to suggest that new teachers being graduated by our state universities are either (A) unqualified or (B) have worse results in the classrooms than their peers.

Part of this is because such new teachers usually come into the classroom with several major advantages:  (1) they are generally far more tech-savvy than their older peers, and (2) they grew up in a "high-stakes" testing environment and understand its demands far better than many of our "veteran" teachers.

You will, however, see not only the "usual suspects" lining up to support this bill, but also the universities themselves.

Ask yourself, what choice do they have?  Budgets are coming up for review, and at both UD and DSU, guess what?  State education budgets have been cut, consistently, for the past ten years.  There is no choice there but for the state universities to support this bill because Governor Markell has the whip hand over them.

Rodel supports this bill because it provides yet another distraction from the grim reality that Vision 2015 will soon become Vision 2020 because "top-down" education "reform" is not delivering in Delaware.

Frederika Jenner has also provided the DSEA endorsement for the idea.  Great--the organization that signed off on Race to the Top has just signed off on another deal to make it more difficult for young people to enter the profession.  There is little indication that the rank and file among DSEA's membership actually supports this bill.

Our state universities are already providing quality entry-level teachers, and they are doing under the rigorous supervision of a national accrediting agency.

SB 51 is bad law, concocted for pure political show, and determined to solve a problem that does not exist in order to distract everyone from examining the real flaws in the system.


Anonymous said...

and a tacit acknowledgement, in a different silo, that component V is a legitimate measure, when its not.

Anonymous said...

This is so sad. It is as if those who authored the bill did not do their homework. Can someone please stop the madness? Too many mistakes. Setbacks causing years of recovery vs. annual progress.

Anonymous said...

I would rather see them bring back graduate school tuition reimburesement for teachers looking to get their masters/doctorate.

Anonymous said...

Steve you are full of shit.

Steven H. Newton said...

Thanks, Jim, for that well-considered analysis.

Would I be full of fecal material just because I'm me, or do you actually have anything beyond a one syllable word to say about the subject?

Anonymous said...

I agree that Steve is full of shit.