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

Friday, June 19, 2009

Yet Another DFER Brief

     The DFER propaganda machine marches on, this time with support of TFA's Associate Director for Teacher Quality Robin Chait, and Michelle McGlaughlin of the Center For American Progres.  In "Enhancing Entry Points To The Teaching Profession," released today, DFER proposes expanding alternative route programs like Teach For America and The New Teacher Project to attract more teachers to the field.  "Moreover, by increasing the supply of teacher applications for hard-to-staff positions, these programs also allow districts to be more selective in choosing teacher candidates, thus increasing the caliber of their teaching workforce."  These alternative route programs, far from increasing the caliber of the teaching workforce, actually provide a steady stream of ill-prepared, temporary laborers to work in the charter school chains spread by the philanthrocapitalists and neoliberals looking to improve education through a cruel brand of economic efficiency.  Notice their rationale: letting the market guide the way through increasing competition will improve the quality of teaching.
     The Mathematica study cited in the DFER document, which alleges that alternative route teachers are just as good or better than traditional route teachers, draws broad conclusions based on very little evidence (as outlined here by EPIC and here by Linda Darling-Hammond).  In particular, the EPIC researchers suggest the study is "relevant only to a very limited population of teachers in schools that hire many alternatively certified teachers, and is not generalized to most states, districts and schools that do not allow such programs and are more selective in their hiring."  Of the other studies cited by DFER, one pertains only to high school students (although DFER implies alternative track teachers would be as effective in every grade, or at the very least neglects to mention the narrowness of some of their research) while another study they cite shows minimal impact of TFA members on math scores and zero impact on reading scores (as well as reporting TFAers reported having more difficulty with classroom management).  But once again, this kind of research narrows and equates the definition of "good teaching" to "test scores," a sad indication of how many reformers view the role of the teacher.  In the business model, CEOs drive profits; in the business model of education reform, the teacher (and principal) is the CEO driving test scores, children be damned.
     DFER's supplemental information isn't any better.  The only "additional resources" cited in the DFER brief is a document by Chait and McLaughlin from earlier this year, "Realizing the Promise: How State Policy Can Support Alternative Certification Programs."  The real "promise" to be realized in DFER's corporate movement is the gradual privatization of public education and more anti-union politics.  In "Realizing the Promise," the authors cite Frederick Hess and Chester Finn (the same Hoover Institution publication suggests TFA and KIPP are models of 21st century education, complains that Chicago's Renaissance 2010 plan doesn't privatize enough schools, and features articles from Michelle Rhee and former NewSchools Venture Fund CEO Kim Smith):

Serving as field marshals for large-scale policy change is the proper role of advocates, whose interests do not always coincide with those of entrepreneurs. Indeed, advocacy groups are typically tone-deaf to some challenges facing entrepreneurs—such as the need for human capital, better R&D, increased access to venture capital, back-office services, and incubation—and are thus unhelpful at cultivating the full set of reforms that might help entrepreneurial ventures to prosper. If advocacy organizations wish to pave the way for more entrepreneurial activity, they need to attend to such issues.

The above statement gives us a pretty accurate summary of the role of DFER in the charter school movement: DFER is the media blitz designed to lay the framework for education entrepreneurs (funded by philanthrocapitalists and school privatizers) to expand competition and further erode the democratic purposes and functions of education.  DFER certainly isn't "tone-deaf" to the needs of these corporate charter chains - they're quickly becoming the lead trumpet in New Democratic education reform.  "Enhancing Entry Points" is DFER's call for reforms of the "human capital" in education.
     The authors conclude with this suggestion: Charter schools, nonprofits, and school districts should be allowed to operate as teacher preparation programs.  This, DFER argues, would increase "innovation and growth" in teacher education programs.  DFER would also like to break the "teacher student data firewall" to track teacher performance - defined as student standardized test scores - and connect teachers to their preparation programs (DFER expresses these viewpoints on their Twitter page).  Better yet, allowing charter schools to act as teacher preparation programs would allow high-turnover chains like KIPP to ensure a steady flow of temporary laborers for their unsustainable teaching model.  Training their own worker bees (the "human capital") would also help charter chains "expand to scale" as Duncan tries to close 5,000 schools during the next four years.  DFER, of course, loves Duncan.  From the DFER website, just after Duncan's appointment:
Under Duncan’s leadership, Chicago has been at the forefront of school restructuring and improving teacher quality.
The school restructuring miracle was a glitzy PR campaign waged by Chicago's corporate elite, as described by George Schmidt and Substance News.  The "teacher quality" improvement resulted in the recent lawsuit filed by African American teachers in Chicago.  DFER will eagerly play the role of pushing market mechanisms for the neoliberal school reform movement based on efficiency, charter schools, high-stakes testing, and common standards.  We'll innovate our way out of this, open up more entrepreneurship opportunities, and have more competition; high-stakes testing and No Child Left Behind are here to stay; and Washington will continue to ignore poverty and social injustice.  In this day and age, this is the "progressive" agenda.

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