"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Highly Qualified Teachers and Alternate Universes

One of the core lies undergirding NCLB is the claim that the Law will provide “highly-qualified” teachers in every classroom in America. But just as the “Clear Skies” initiative offers more latitude to the polluters and the “Healthy Forests” initiative gives great swaths of virgin timber to the logging companies, the “highly-qualified teacher” initiative inside NCLB disguises a policy designed to accomplish the exact opposite of its claim.

What the neo-cons at ED have done in terms of teacher quality since the signing of NCLB in 2002 is to, in fact, denigrate teacher education programs (or threaten to blow them up) and undercut professional accreditation efforts by NBPTS to offer a rigorous licensing procedure for teachers that has national legitimacy. ED prefers, instead, to offer to schools non-teachers with subject area degrees whose only exposure to the art and science of teaching (pedagogy) will have been through brief self-induced tutorials to conditioning techniques that are central to Ed’s preferred straight- jacketed model of teaching, Direct Instruction.

The evidence for ED’s preference for teachers who know nothing about teaching can be found in policy decisions that began in 2001 to support test-taking certification routes ($5 million to create the American Board Certification for Teacher Excellence) to meet the shortage of teachers that NCLB has since guaranteed through its requirement that all teachers have new competencies in all the subjects they teach. Crunch time is near.

Teachers must now have a degree in all the subjects they teach or demonstrate competence in those subjects by an ever-evolving set of proofs, including coursework, tests in the subjects, and logged hours in professional development. While we don’t know how many experienced, competent, and caring teachers have simply quit or retired as a result of these increased demands and new definitions of “highly-qualified,” we do know that increasing numbers are fed up with the denigration of their commitment after years of service to their communities.

Here is a link to a story on the situation in Charlotte, where at least one NBPTS-certified teacher is not happy:
A Kannapolis elementary school teacher who's been in the classroom for 29 years is considering quitting the profession because she wouldn't be considered "highly qualified" under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

She has a master's degree and National Board certification, and she has led staff development at her school.

But under the federal act, she's not considered highly qualified because she has not taken the Praxis test, Kannapolis school officials say.

With an ongoing teacher shortage, that is one of the biggest concerns about No Child Left Behind, said Kannapolis Schools spokesperson Ellen Boyd.

If these new requirements were actually intended to improve teacher quality, perhaps we could overlook some of the collateral negative effects of the law, yes? I think so. What we know, however, is that these requirements were intended to exacerbate the shortage of qualified teachers in order to introduce alternative certifications outside the normal channels of normal teacher education programs. This will, in effect, lead to the de-skilling of teaching to the point that ignorance of teaching strategies will make DI an even easier sell to a "profession" that will have been effectively Walmart-ized.

ED’s new conception of “highly-qualified” became clear early in 2003, when Sec. Paige and ED endorsed an alternative certification plan known as ABCTE. A warm endorsement was offered to ABCTE in March 2003, even though the company had not even begun to develop the test that it would eventually offer as the sole determinant for judging a candidate’s ability to teach. As noted in earlier posts here and here, Paige, the former Secretary of ED, was at the National Press Club pumping the virtues of ABCTE’s “passport to teaching” a full three months before ABCTE had even contracted with a company to create the test:

March 18, 2003. Paige promotes ABCTE at the National Press Club (3 months before they announce the development of their first credentialing tool), where he says of ABCTE, “It focuses on what teachers need to know and be able to do in order to be effective, instead of the number of credits or courses they’ve taken . . . . It demands excellence rather than exercises in filling bureaucratic requirements.”

June 4, 2003. ABCTE announces it will partner with Promissor to develop the first series of rigorous exams for its Passport to Teaching certification.

June 15, 2003. The Secretary of Education endorses ABCTE (two weeks after the announcement of work starting on the first series of tests) as an approved path to the Federal requirement for "highly-qualified" teachers. Some quotes from the US DOE document available here:

The American Board “bases its certification not on whether an applicant has come up through the traditional route, such as a college of education, but on whether that teacher knows his or her academic content and classroom management skills,” says American Board president Kathleen Madigan (2003). “That’s teacher excellence—and that’s ‘highly qualified’” (p. 26). . . . Some people will argue that this change is too radical, that it’s too risky, that we should maintain the status quo,” Secretary Paige added. “Well, I agree that it’s radical. It’s radically better than the system we have now, a system that drives thousands of talented people away from our classrooms” (p. 27).

September 25, 2003. ABCTE announces the awarding of a 35 million dollar grant from US DOE.
This $40 million dollar giveaway to insider cronies for an unproven, undeveloped, and unitiated effort to certify teachers through an Internet test would be made even more galling by the White House working overtime to eliminate all federal support to the NBPTS, the one best hope for a national licensure for teachers, one already respected by every state department of education in the country.

Now it seems that the GAO investigation of how that $40 million was spent may have lit a fire under the scammers, leading to the expulsion or resignation of several members on its Board of Directors, including the esteemed Chester Finn. (One must wonder if this distancing is an effort to swim clear of the bloody waters in Washington). There is evidence, too, of a renewed effort to push this scam in local newspapers gullible enough to publish these propaganda pieces that are likely to be popping up again like Armstrong Williams editorials just after payday. Here is one that shows the propaganda in action, this one recycled from September. Recruiting good progagandists must be getting to be hard work.

As the deadline for “highly qualified” nears, one that many states will have trouble meeting, ABCTE will be waiting to certify as many replacements as they can for the the most needy schools who will get new teachers knowing nothing more about teaching strategies than using the chain gang methods that are central to the “success” of the Direct Instruction model.

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