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

Friday, December 31, 2010

"Highly-Qualified" Temporary School Missionaries for Children Who Need Experienced Teachers

Arne and the Disruptors (great name for a bad band) are always talking about edu-reform taking us beyond the status quo.  Well, they are at it again, and the resulting changes this time are like most of the rest, taking the status quo backward, rather than forward. 

The arrogant corporate fools in charge of federal education policy have slid language into a continuing resolution that will allow alternate route "certification" programs like TFA to claim that their candidates are "highly qualified" for NCLB purposes after four weeks of preparation. 

With these clueless, well-meaning 2-year missionaries of TFA serving only in poor, brown, and black schools that desperately need teachers, rather than trainees, this has to be a solid basis for a civil rights lawsuit.  Here is part of an important piece by former TFAer, Ilana Garon, posted at HuffPo:
. . . .Unfortunately, the two-year mark -- which is pretty much exactly the time it takes for an average teacher to get "good" -- is the duration of the commitment required by most alternative certification programs, including my program (NYCTF), Teach for America, and the regional teacher corps programs across the country that fall under the umbrella of the New Teacher Project. During most of their tenure in these programs, the majority of new teachers are not only under-qualified for certification, but also completely clueless.

Last week, an "anomaly amendment" was inserted into Congress's Continuing Resolution (a stop-gap that allows the government to continue functioning in the absence of an official budget.) The amendment in question allows teachers who are in an alternative certification program, regardless of the amount of time they've been teaching or whether or not they've obtained licensure in their respective states, to be considered "highly qualified" under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations. It comes as no surprise that the amendment received a major push from Teach for America, a program whose mission is to place inexperienced teachers, most of whom are fresh out of college, in high needs schools across the country.

The passage of this Continuing Resolution (and by extension, this amendment) is problematic for several reasons. There are obvious criticisms of alternative certification programs -- the funneling of money and resources into teachers who generally leave when their commitment is up, the fact that placing these new, inexpensive teachers in schools often takes away jobs from experienced (and comparatively more expensive) teachers.

But independent of those critiques, allowing novices to be considered "highly qualified" absolves school districts of their responsibility to attract and retain teachers who possess true skill and experience. Instead, it allows them to tell parents and students, particularly those in the high-needs schools where participants in alternative certification programs are overwhelmingly placed, that all teachers are "highly qualified" without any accountability.

In the wake of heated debates about ways in which teacher efficacy can be most effectively judged, this current move seems particularly misguided. Instead of putting tried and true teachers in the classrooms that need them most, the amendment allows a perpetuation of the status quo: high-needs schools serve as a training ground for the most inexperienced teachers, the majority of whom leave before they ever have a chance to be truly useful to the communities and profession that they serve. For NCLB to then allow this fact to be hidden from parents behind meaningless designations seems not only ineffectual, but downright unethical. Yes, there will always be new teachers, and yes, these newbies are often placed in schools that struggle to fill positions -- but one simply cannot call a club a spade. . . . .

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