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

Friday, June 26, 2009

DFER Takes Aim at Teachers

     DFER's latest policy brief, "A Great Teacher For Every Child," begins with this bold statement:
Studies have shown that teacher quality is the single most correlate of student achievement; at the same time, it is the primary factor driving the achievement gap between rich and poor students, minority and non-minority students, and native English speakers and English language learners.
While teacher quality is certainly important for public education, to suggest teachers are "the primary factor driving the achievement gap" blames teachers for various problems associated with poverty and other out of school factors (see Berliner, 2009).
     "Data-driven reform," a favorite phrase of Duncan, is one of DFER's primary tools for improving the teaching profession.  States must also eliminate any "firewall" that prevents student testing scores from being tied to their teacher - and Duncan mentions the very same "firewall" at this Advance Illinois speech just a few days ago.  Of course, the data used is almost exclusively standardized test scores - which DFER would like tied to school evaluations, teacher evaluations, merit pay, and pay-for-performance.  DFER also calls for "[c]lassroom observations and other 'process' evaluations of teacher effectiveness," but these observations only supplement the evaluations that rely on student test scores.  Worse yet, the observations "should be absolutely free of bias, utilizing outside, objective evaluators rather than a teacher's co-workers or principal."  In other words, teachers are not allowed to be tried by a jury of their peers (or even their principal) but rather by some external force.
     I'll give DFER a little credit where credit is due: they call for professional development that includes a "broad, rich, and integrated curricula rather than 'drill and kill' or test-prep."  Unfortunately, I doubt DFER realizes that most of the "scientifically-based" reading and math programs are little more than thinly-veiled test-prep materials.  And, while DFER wants to move away from "'drill and kill' or test prep," they're still convinced that the only professional development worth the time and money is "informed by, and evaluated based on, real-time data on the achievement of the students in each teacher's classroom(s)."  
     Particularly when viewed in combination with their push for national standards, DFER's take on improving the teaching profession limits teacher evaluations to standardized test scores and the outside observations.  DFER pays lip service to moving past the test prep regimen common in American schools but appear to trade the old paper and pencil method for a more computer-based edition through "real-time data" ("real-time data" means the data is available as soon as the student finishes the project - which implies the use of computers or other technology).  "Data-driven" is just the latest incarnation of those looking to "teacher-proof" the profession by creating a narrowly-defined education for our children.  The ideal teacher in this framework simply uses "scientifically-based" programs and "real-time data" to guide classroom activities.  
     "The development of the so-called teacher-proof materials is a continuation of experts' authoritarianism, of their total lack of fain the possibility that teachers can know and can also create," said Freire in Teachers as Cultural Workers.  Sadly - both for our children and the future of public education - DFER and many leading education reformers view teacher creativity as a dangerous unknown, a challenge to the corporate-driven reform movement, and an unmeasurable quantity.  

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