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

Friday, April 27, 2007

NCATE: An Early Study in Accreditation and Appeasement

There is post by Dan Butin at Education Policy Blog that takes issue with the ongoing right-wing war against the educational goals of social justice and participatory democracy. Here is a clip:
A recent article in Education Next continues the attack on “social justice” in schools of education. Laurie Moses Hines, an assistant professor of education at Kent State University, Trumbull (in Cultural Foundations, of all areas, for goodness sake), published “Return of the Thought Police” that made the basic argument that “The screening of prospective teachers for maladjustment 50 years ago and the dispositions assessments going on today have remarkable similarities.” Both, she argues, are useless and politically regressive.

Oh, it is just all too easy to pick on teacher education programs and dispositions. Us, bad, bad, indoctrinators.

I am not going to argue about the historical data; for all I know she is right. What I deeply, deeply reject and resent is that she takes a situation of dire educational consequence—the drastic education gap across racial, ethnic, SES, and immigrant status categories—and slams the easy targets of educators trying to figure out how best to solve the dilemma. Moreover, she does this in an extremely sloppy manner—full of errors and misunderstandings—all, it appears, to get embraced by the right type of crowd.

Let me throw out the most blatant problems.

The first is that she just cherry picks the easy fruit, the issues that have gotten oh so much attention:
1. A prospective teacher expelled because he advocated corporal punishment (such as spanking) in his philosophy of education paper
2. Incidents at Brooklyn College, which included being shown Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 and an occasion where students in a class on language and literacy development told to accept that “white English” is the “oppressors’ language”
3. A prospective teacher asked to attend a “sensitivity training” session because he wrote, among other things, that there was no such thing as “male privilege”

None of these occurrences, I should be clear, are defensible on the part of the faculty. Students should not be graded on whether they correctly parrot back the professors’ ideology.

But exactly because she picks the easy fruit allows her to glide over the big picture, which is that there is no data that such occurrences actually happen on any scale in higher education. Pennsylvania was the only state that actually held hearings on Horowitz’s claims of students being indoctrinated. The panel, after a year, concluded that there was absolutely no basis upon which to make such egregious claims. As the Chronicle reported, “While the draft report says the panel was urged to endorse a statewide policy guaranteeing students' rights, it says the committee felt such a step was "unnecessary" because violations of students' academic freedom "are rare."”

The second, related to the first, is that in her haste to grab the easy fruit, she misses the issue. Her use of NCATE as an example is telling. She states that “social justice” was “Within the list of [NCATE] dispositions” and then takes a swipe at Arthur Wise by stating that “he maintains that social justice was never a required disposition.”

Oh, if only she would read. NCATE mentioned social justice as one example among many in the glossary section that defines terminology. Social justice was never, ever, ever, a disposition that NCATE “tested” for.
Dan's use of the past tense "mentioned" is exactly correct, for what has happened is that NCATE has become an early case study in the use of federal intimidation to shape university programs in the image of political ideology. In this case, it is ED that accredits the accreditors, and so it through the accreditors that ED will enforce its 19th Century social agenda.

NCATE, in fact, has folded in a spineless acquiescence to the anti-political-correctness political correctors. From the Chronicle of Higher Ed (12/16/05):
Last month, in the midst of the controversy, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education sent a bulletin to the 614 programs it accredits, saying that education schools should not evaluate students' attitudes, but rather assess their dispositions based on "observable behavior in the classroom." It also said it does "not expect or require institutions to attend to any particular political or social ideologies.
Beliefs, values, philosophy, or ethical commitments don’t matter anymore unless we observe them after they are allowed to do damage in the classroom? If a teacher can teach math, it does not matter if she is an avowed skinhead, fascist, or a dangerous liberal?

And then from the Chronicle, 6/16/06:
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education won a key endorsement last week in its quest for continued federal approval of its accrediting power after announcing that it would drop controversial language about social justice from its accrediting standards for teacher-preparation programs.

The council, which is the nation's largest teacher-education accrediting group, has come under fire from conservative activists for the wording of a glossary appendix to standards for candidates in education programs.
NCATE has, then, just attempted to acknowledge the meaninglessness of a foundational element of what constitutes the foundations of education--the inclusive and factual intellectual and social history, and the advocacy for education for democracy and social justice. Sure does seem to open the door for TEAC or another accrediting body that is not afraid to take a stand for an inclusive, multicultural democracy.

By the way, did you ever wonder how it happened in Germany? This offers a perfect contemporary example of the universities taking the lead role of appeasor for an increasingly-bold rightwing fanaticism.

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