Saturday, February 6, 2016

PA: Partial Testing Pause

This week Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the bill that will delay using the Keystone Exams (our version of the Big Standardized Test for high school students) as a graduation requirement. Though we've been giving the test for a few years, it will now not become a grad requirement until 2019 (postponed from 2017). That's certainly not bad news, but there's no reason to put the party hats on just yet.

First, as (unfortunately) always, it's worth noting that this happens against the backdrop of our leaders' absolute inability to fulfill their most basic function- as I type this, Pennsylvania is on its 221st day without a budget. We are right on track to have the governor preparing next year's budget while this year's budget is still not fully adopted. It is entirely possible that Harrisburg is populated entirely by dopes.

Second, the idea is to have officials go back to the drawing board and come up with better ideas for BS Testing. This is akin to feeling great pain because you're hitting yourself in the head with a hammer and saying, "Hmm. Well, maybe if I turn the hammer sideways it won't hurt so much." It's akin to eating a terrible, vomit-inducing meal of liver and pineapple and rotted fish parts covered with chocolate sauce and saying, "Well, maybe if we put the chocolate sauce on first rather than last." This is about re-aranging deck chairs rather than examining the premise.

Third, while high school seniors will not be required by the state to pass the Keystones to graduate, the state still plans to use the Keystones to evaluate schools and teachers. So our professional fates are still tied to a BS Test that students have no reason to take seriously or care about. Great.

Fourth-- well, many DO have a reason to care about the test, because in anticipation of the state's BS Test grad requirement, many school districts have already made passing the Keystone a local graduation requirement. We do that in PA-- the state sets a grad requirement minimum, and local districts can require over and above that. So for many local students, the postponing of the Keystone grad requirement will make zero difference-- they still have to pass the test or an alternative assessment (known in my district as the Binder of Doom) in order to graduate.

So this is good news in the sense that it would be worse if the state had gone ahead with its original plan to require Keystones as exit tests right now. But it's bad news in the sense that we aren't really trying to fix anything or figure out what we really ought to be doing. And it's bad news because the decisions are still in the hands of the most expensive, most incompetent state government in the country.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Support Real Education Journalism

I am here to ask for your support. Not for me-- my brand of faux journalism costs little to produce. Instead, I want you to help out with Jennifer Berkshire's (Edushyster) latest project.

Berkshire is working to fill one of the gaping holes in education journalism. Well, two holes, actually. The first is the need to hear voices that have gone too long unheard. The other is to literally make those voices heard by podcast.

Podcasting journalism done right is neither cheap nor easy. You need equipment, both for gathering material and for putting it in a nice production package. And you need to travel, to go where the people are who need to be heard and who, in many cases, have gone unheard for too long. For example, the first episode of the Have You Heard series, which gives voice to the African-American opt out parents of Philadelphia.

Watch their pitch here.

I don't make this kind of pitch often, but this is a project I believe in. I believe that there is a need for this kind of journalism in this kind of format, and I believe that Berkshire is just the woman to do it. She has an incredibly deft touch with an interview, and she remains fair and open without giving up her own convictions about public education. In a fair and just world, she would be making the kind of money that the big boys in the Gates-funded thinky tanks pull down. The advantage of the reformsters remains a huge mountain of cash and people who work full time, ready to be dispatched to any corner of the world that calls for them. In this world, Berkshire and French need some help from all of us.

So if you have thought periodically that you would like to do something, something to help the cause of public education in this country, here's a chance to do something that you can accomplish without moving form where you're sitting to read my words. Click on over to the Beacon site and give her a hand.

HYH: Urban Opt Out Is a Thing

Have You Heard is a new podcast series from Jennifer Berkshire (Edushyster), one of the handful of edubloggers who does the work of a real journalist.

For her first episode, she and blog partner Aaron French have traveled to Philadelphia to talk to some Opt Out activists who are not suburban white soccer moms, but urban African-American parents. It's a group that has been largely invisible in mainstream coverage of the opt-out movement, in particular because the narrative of the Testocrats has been that the Big Standardized Test is an important civil rights tool, opposed only (as famously suggested by Arne Duncan) a bunch of white suburban moms who are mad that the BS Test reveals their children to be less brilliant than they supposed.

But Philadelphia activists like Robin Roberts, Will Thomas, Shakeda Gaines and Tonya Bah reveal another picture.

Their growth as opt-out activists has been gradual, in part because Philly school authorities denied that opt out exists in PA, that parents have no such rights. The first time Gaines took her opt-out letter to the school and was denied. Says Thomas, "They'll look you right in your face and make you believe that what you're feeling isn't real."Yet Pennsylvania clearly has an opt out law on the books, allowing any parent to opt out of just about any educational activity based on religious objections-- and there is no requirement for them to explain the nature of that religious objection.

These parents see the stakes as large, and throughout the interview it becomes clear that they see the issue of testing as part of a larger assault on their schools. Schools that are already on starvation budgets still keep the testing no matter what the budget cuts. Resources are lost. Thomas asks if children doesn't do well, is there a program that says "Let's assist them." Is there money set aside to "empower" that school? No, he says. They close it. Your child is bussed out.

Bah says that students, teachers and parents have a right to be part of the decisions about the school. And that's a recurring theme for these activists-- the view that the BS Testing juggernaut is part of a mechanism for dismantling local schools and silencing local voices. "We will have a community of people that merely follow directions. I'm not interested in that type of community." Opt out is a way to demand that schools are centers of learning, not of testing.

There's much more to hear, though the podcast clocks in at just over 19 minutes. Give it a listen right in the space below, and then if you like it, make a contribution to the work that Berkshire and French have set out to do.You can catch my full-on pitch right here. 

This is a great podcast to share; it's clear and understandable and fair and even people who haven't been closely following the issues will still see clearly what is going on. Take a listen, then share it with a friend.

USED: King's Big Fail

It took Danny Harris's collapse to draw many people's attention. We should have been paying attention sooner.

Harris is the Chief Information Officer for the Department of Education. Prior to taking on that job in 2008, he was with the department's CFO office. He is a government lifer. And he was in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform because the US Department of Education is a big fat cyber-mess.

By late last year, in the wake of the huge security breach at Office of Personnel Management computers, Congress was checking the locks on the doors all around the federal government. And the Department of Education was spectacularly lousy. The Inspector General reported that her office found they could hack their way into USED systems with no particularly great effort. The department's data includes at least 139 million different social security numbers (so, almost half the US population), along with oversight of a trillion dollars.

Congress worked Harris like a chew toy back in November, at which time he did himself no favors by giving his department a 7 out of 10 when everyone else was giving the department F's and D's. So his recent collapse-inducing appearance in front of the House committee is the latest in a series.

The House Oversight Committee is headed by Jason Chaffetz. Chaffetz is an interesting story in his own right. The Utah Representative arrived at Brigham Young as a Jewish Democrat and left as a Mormon Republican. He earned early attention as one of the legislators who slept on a cot in his office rather than renting pricey DC digs. He's the guy who barely let the head of Planned Parenthood get a word in edgewise and ginned up the misleading cancer care vs. abortions chart. He's taken on the Secret Service, and he's also the guy who threatened to have US Marshalls hunt down Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley and drag him before Congress. And he's the guy leading the attempted interrogation of that odious pharma-troll Martin Shkreli this week. All in all, it seems safe to say that Chaffetz isn't afraid of a little tussle, though he is noted by many as a Representative who can play well bipartisanly, particularly within his committee.

All of this bode poorly for the Department of Ed in general and Danny Harris in particular when Chaffetz decided that Harris was the problem, both in terms of managerial skills and professional ethics. This last hearing was an odd mish-mosh of continued grilling about cyber-security, the ethical problems of Harris running a side business, and rigged awarding of department contracts to Harris's friend. Outside vendors are an issue for USED-- of the 184 data systems they manage, 120 are actually run by contracted vendors.

Acting Pretend Secretary of Education John King had to put in an appearance and while it has been chronicled in many press accounts, nothing captures just how painful it is to watch King fumble and stonewall. One clip that is making the rounds starts with Harris's attempt to explain that although he was the program manager, he didn't lead the project-- so he was in charge, but not in charge, when his friend landed a contract.

Then he moves on to King. Chaffetz has laid out the contract irregularities, and by this point in proceedings, Harris has admitted that he failed to properly report the income from his side business to either the department or the IRS. Chaffetz will now try to get King to say that Harris's behavior was unethical and illegal (the full video is posted below, if you think you can stand it-- this starts at about the 3:15 mark).

Chaffetz: So Mr. King, how is that not a violation of regulation, policy or the law? He admitted that he had outside income above the two hundred dollar threshold and he did not report it either to the IRS nor on the ethics form. How is that not a violation of law, regulation or policy?

King: As you know the general council's role is to review-- our chief career ethics officer, her job is to review the findings from the inspector general and to determine whether or not there has been a violation of law or regulation or policy. General counsel advised--

Chaffetz: But you're asked to review that. You're the one that's supposed to look at that. You're not just supposed to read and say "Hey, that's what they say" and you still to this day believe that Mister Harris has done nothing wrong?

King: A-As I indicated previously, general counsel may--

Chaffetz: No, I want to know what you believe. All this evidence we've thrown out there, you still believe that there is nothing he's done wrong?

King: My responsibility is to rely on the guidance--

Chaffetz: No, your responsibility is to make a judgment--

King: to review the evidence--

Chaffetz: You're hired for your judgment. You're the acting secretary--

King: And based on the recommendation of the general counsel, based on the review that was conducted Deputy Secretary Miller when these incidents first occurred, Deputy Secretary Shelton, after further review of the inspector general's report, after review of the addendum which indicated that the Department of Justice declined further action, based on all those recommendations and the recommendations of our staff, yes, I believe that the department's actions in this case have been appro--

Chaffetz: I asked you if you believed that he had done anything wrong. To this day, do you believe he's done anything wrong?

King: I believe there were significant lapses of judgment. Counsel--

Chaffetz: To your mind is that doing something wrong?

King: Those significant lapses of judgment-- I counseled him on those and they ended by 2013.

Chaffetz: Is it a violation of policy or regulation or law to have outside income and not disclose.

King: The specific determination of whether--

Chaffetz: No no no no no--

King: evidence--

Chaffetz: Mr. King. With all due respect. You're a smart guy. You're in this position for a reason. I'm asking you, is it appropriate, because everybody at the Department of Education is watching you and what you're doing and there's a reason why you're scoring near the bottom of the heap, bottom ten percent of everybody in government. Every single key metric we look at is going down and it's your leadership that's on the line. I'm asking you is it appropriate, is it a violation of law or regulation or policy to have outside income purposely not disclose it?

King: Based on the recommendation of (our) general counsel I do not believe that there was a violation of law, regulation or policy--

Chaffetz: He admitted that he didn't do it-- he admitted that he didn't do it. You don't think that's--

That's eight times that Chaffetz tries to get an answer pried out of King. On the last attempt, King gets around to trying to defend his department about the charges of sucking at cyber security. Chaffetz will try once more at least to get King to say something like, "Yes, what he did was wrong." But he will try in vain. King will steadfastly assert that the general counsel said this was fine and somebody wrote out this cool talking point that he will hold onto like life itself.

Now, I think it's worth looking at this because I don't just see a guy who is stonewalling to protect one of his career bureaucrats. King here is a guy who clearly thinks that exercising judgment is not part of his job.

That's worth noting. We've seen all along that reformsters envision a world where classroom teachers exercise no personal or professional judgment, but simply follow procedures and structures handed down from faceless authorities. But watching King here, I'm realizing that it's not just a vision of how a classroom should work, but how the whole world should work. As long as your oversight policies don't set off alarms, as long as the program says you're okay, there is no responsibility or even need to look at something and say, based on your own human experience and judgment, "This is wrong."

As long as the bureaucracy is functioning in its bureaucratic way, no actual human thought or judgment, neither moral, ethical, professional or personal-- none of it is either needed or desired. That would seem to be Chaffetz's point-- in a department where nobody wants to talk about right and wrong, it is predictable that all sorts of things would come off the rails.

It's clear that King didn't singlehandedly create this mess (Arne Duncan supposedly only met with Harris about security issues once a month). It's equally clear that King is not the man to clean it up. And it is clearest of all that the Department is a drifting ship loaded with valuable cargo that it has no idea of how to protect.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Robert Marzano Takes on Edublogger

Emily Talmage has been working hard for Maine schools. She is a tireless citizen journalist who has dug and dug and dug some more to uncover some of the ugly roots that Competency Based Education has put down across the country, with those roots running deep in her own state (the decision by somebody, somewhere, to roll out the new CBE in Maine, a quiet little state with a big loud governor, must be an interesting story of its own).

At any rate, if you are not a regular reader of Saving Maine Schools just because you don't live in Maine, don't let that stop you. It should be on your don't-miss list.

Apparently, as we've learned over the last week, one reader is not a fan. Here's the story.

Last Saturday, Talmage took aim at Robert Marzano. Marzano has been at the reformster business for over two decades, hopping on the educonsultant train back in the early nineties when Outcome Based Education first reared its unattractive visage, and he's been at it ever since, with a stew of semi-researched recommendations for school reform, teacher observation, and instructiony ideas.

As an early acolyte of OBE, Marzano must be enjoying seeing his ship come in again. He was apparently not so happy when Talmage stood on the dock and told everyone else a few things about Marzano.

Reaction to her post was immediate and loud-- in twenty years, Marzano has given many, many working educators reason to make a "yuck" face when they hear his name. But that batch of responses brought in news from Detroit that the beleagured and supposedly money-starved district just spent $6 million dollars on Marzano's consulting company. Talmage wrote about that, too.  

Six million freakin' dollars in a spectacularly crumbling school district. Do you know what a district could do with six million dollars?

It was about that time that Talmage noticed two things-- the appearance of an Ohio investigation firms ip in her visitor's list, and much more noticeable, an e-mail threat from Marzano himself. 

I assume you know that while you may state your opinions quite freely, false statements about people that are damaging to their reputation are considered slander. In the blog post I read you have a number of such statements about me. 

Marzano took exception to two assertions in Talmage's posts-- first, that he had never taught in a classroom, and second, the whole six million dollar contract thing.

On point one, Talmage learned that she was in error, though it appears she had to do a great deal of digging on her own to confirm that he had indeed taught, though, well-- she found a document where he listed himself as an "English teacher" in "New York City Schools" in 1967-68,-- he graduated from college in 1968, so I'm not sure how that works. After that he spent two years as English Department Chair in a Seattle private school.

On point two, Talmage asked for and received copies of the contract from the reporter whose FOIA request broke the story. The $6 million company is Learning Sciences International which holds the copyright to some of Marzano's delightful teacher stuff, but which is not technically his company-- they give him money, but he doesn't have to work there.

You can read all of this in greater detail on Talmage's blog. I'm not usually one to do what is essentially a repost of other people's stuff, but this is a story that deserves to spread. Plus I'm just impressed by any blogger who can pull an actual threat from a rich and famous reformster.

I asked her how it felt.

A little scary, but exciting too... If he weren't at least a little concerned, I don't think he would have taken the time to respond ... These big shots need to realize that we are on to them.

I also felt a little sorry for him... I honestly think his companies are getting so many contracts right now that he probably didn't realize Detroit was spending so much on his professional development program ... I wonder if it was a little embarrassing for him to have a teacher point it out?

That sounds about right. It's good to know that they are paying attention, they are hearing us, and they can't just sail on thinking that nobody notices or cares what they're up to. Hats off to Talmage for making Marzano take notice.

Breaking Down the Walls for CBE

In the discussions of Competency Based Learning (or Outcomes Based Education or Performance Based Stuff), a support that emerges from time to time is that CBE will "break down the walls between curriculum and assessment."

On the one hand, I see the appeal. In a perfect world, education shouldn't really have to stop cold for assessment, and the burden really should be on the teacher to discover what the student knows and can do, rather than putting the burden on the student to sing and dance her Proof of Achievement. Just keep learning, students, and the teacher will figure out what you know and what you can do by using the Power of Watching.

This, in fact, is what the best teachers do-- constant monitoring and collection of data, gathered by our eyes and ears, and stored and processed in our brains. That's a huge part of the job, and we've already been doing it for ages.

The unspoken issue here is that it's not enough for some folks that the teacher and the student know what's happening-- it has to be made visible to an assortment of third parties. Some of those third parties like, say, building administrators, are not a stretch. But having to make learning visible to third parties such as Pearson or a far-off government bureaucrat is more of a challenge, not unlike having to prove to a complete stranger that you have a good marriage. Actually doing the thing (teaching, learning, marriaging) is one challenge; giving outward and visible proof of the thing to other separate people is a whole other challenge.

In other words, breaking down the wall between curriculum and assessment for students, teachers, and maybe even building admins-- that's easy. Breaking it down in a way that still leaves a big fat data trail for off-site lookie-loos is more problematic.

Now the data and progress largely carried in my head and my classroom records, folders, portfolios, etc isn't good enough. I have to create some sort of digitized data collection, and that means one of two things has to happen:

1) Data via clerical work. Part of my job becomes data entry, repeatedly and relentlessly and daily plugging the data that I've collected via quiz and worksheet and exercise and observation and clickity-clacking away at my computer to get it all recorded in whatever format the provided software (because you know nobody is letting me pick that out myself-- it'll have to be compatible with all manner of systems) demands of me.

2) Direct data collection. All of the student learning activities are done on computer, so that all the data stirred up by whatever company-provided activities are involved will be automatically harvested while the student works. Doing all of her significant classwork on the computer.

There is a third option--

3) Worst of both worlds. In a nightmare scenario, my district gets a data harvesting system and I am required to digitize all of my teacher-created assignments, quizzes, tests, etc so I get the pleasure of hours and hours of mind-and-finger numbing clerical work, while my students still get to enjoy education-by-screen.

All of these options suck. Option one represents a huge increase in the work hours of a teacher, which means either blowing off your family or cutting back on actual instruction or, most likely, both. More data entry, less actual teaching. This is not a win for teachers or students. Option two has already been tried in various forms, most notably the Rocketship Academies that were going to change the education world by plunking students at computers all day. That was a fail. Creating a system in which all student educational activities must come via computer is expensive, frustrating, and counterproductive.

Both methods of data collection also pressure the process to create materials and activities that fit the limitations of the computers, which means, among other things, no real writing instruction and no critical thinking. Because the center of this system is a number-crunching computer-driven data-gobbling monster, it can't help but replicate all the shortcomings and failings of Big Standardized Tests on a large scale.

Advocates will claim that all this data collection will help teachers teach better. They are full of baloney. Any teacher who is any good at all already does all the data collection possible, and there is nothing that running it through the computer will help that teacher do. Conversely, teachers that are Not So Great will not be improved by giving them big data printouts to examine.

I don't mean to diss this kind of data collection entirely-- there are some very specific, very focused areas in which having the data-crunching assistance of a computer can be helpful for a teacher and her students. But as an approach to the Whole Educational System, it's baloney.

Breaking down the wall between curriculum and assessment is a very worthy goal. That's why teachers have been doing it since the invention of dirt, and all without the benefit of any highly-marketed highly-profitable software.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Search for Great Teachers

Bellwether Partners is a right-leaning pro-reform outfit that often comes across as the Fordham Institute's little brother. Like most such outfits, they like to crank out the occasional "report," and their latest is an interesting read. "No Guarantees" by Chad Aldeman and Asley LiBetti Mitchel is a look at the teacher creation pipeline that asks the subheading question, "Is it possible to ensure that teachers are ready on day one?"

The introduction sets the tone for the piece:

The single best predictor of who will be a great teacher next year is who was a great teacher this year.
The second best predictor is... Well, there really isn’t one that’s close. 

And that carries right through to the title of the first section-- "We Don't Know How to Train Good Teachers."

Let me be clear right up front. My own teacher training came from a not-so-traditional program, and my experience with student teachers over the decades does not make me inclined to give uncritical spirited defense of our current techniques for preparing teachers for the classroom. So I'm not unsympathetic to some of Bellwether's concerns. I just think they miss a few critical points. Okay, several. Let's take a look at what they have to say.

What We Don't Know

The authors note that teacher preparation has always focused on inputs, and those inputs include a lot of time and a buttload of money. But there's not much research basis to support those inputs. And they break down the various points at which we don't know things.

"We don't know which candidates to admit." Tightening admission requirements, checking SAT scores, tough admission tests-- these all seem like swell ideas to some folks, but there's no proof that  tougher admissions policies lead to better teachers. This makes sense-- why would things like SAT scores, which are not highly predictive of much of anything,

"We don't know what coursework to require-- if any." On the one hand, there are many teacher preparation programs that involve ridiculous, time-wasting courses. I'd bet that almost every teacher who ever worked with a student teacher has stories of playing that game where, during a supervisory visit from the college, the student and co-operating teacher pretend to be using some method endorsed by the university and implemented by approximately zero real live classroom teachers. On the other hand, if you think a teacher can be adequately prepared without any methods courses at all, or courses dealing with child development-- that any random assortment of courses is as good as any other assortment-- then you are just being silly.

"We don't know what the right certification requirements are." The authors don't have an actual point here other than, "Why shouldn't people who have been through a short-- say, five weekish-- training program be just as certifiable as people who studied teaching?" The reformster vision is deeply devoted to the idea that The Right People don't need any of that fancy-pants teacher training, and even when they are being relatively even-handed, they can't get past that bias.

"We don't know how to help teachers improve once they begin teaching."  This has been covered before, in the TNTP "report" The Mirage.The short answer is that the most effective professional development happens when it control of it is in the hands of the teachers themselves. The disappointing or non-existent results are not so much related to Professional Development as they are related to Programmed Attempts To Get Teachers To Do What Policymakers Want Them To, Even If The Ideas Are Stupid or Bad Practice.

What We Really Don't Know

What Bellwether and other reformsters really don't know is how to tell whether any of these factors make a difference or not. What they really don't know is how to identify a great teacher. Every one of the items above are dismissed on the grounds of showing no discernible effect on "student achievement" or "teacher effectiveness" or other phrases that are euphemisms for "student scores on standardized tests."

This is a fair and useful measure only if you think the only purpose of a teacher, the only goal of teaching as a profession, is to get students to score higher on standardized tests. This is a view of teaching the virtually nobody at all agrees with (and I include in that "nobody" reformsters themselves, who do NOT go searching for private schools for their children based on standardized test scores).

Bellwether's metric and criticism is the equivalent of benching NBA players based on how well their wives do at macrame. The Bellwether criticism only seems more legit because it overlaps with some issues that deserve some thoughtful attention. The problem is that all the thoughtful attention in the world won't do any good if we are using a lousy metric to measure success. Student standardized test scores are a lousy metric for almost anything, but they are a spectacularly lousy metric for finding great teachers.

So Let's Talk About Outcomes

Next up, we contemplate the idea of measuring teacher preparation programs by looking at their "outcomes." This has taken a variety of forms, the most odious of which is measuring a college teaching program by looking at the standardized test results of the students in the classrooms of the graduates of the program, which (particularly if you throw some VAM junk science on top) makes a huge baloney sandwich that can't be seriously promoted as proof of anything at all. This is judging an NBA player based on the math skills of the clerk in the store that sells the wife-made macrame.

Another outcome to consider is employment rates, which is actually not as crazy as it seems; at the lowest ebb of one local college's program, my district stopped sending them notices of vacancies because their graduates were so uniformly unprepared for a classroom. But of course graduates' employment prospects can be affected by many factors far outside the university's control.

Aldeman and Mitchel provide a good survey of the research covering interest in outcomes, and they fairly note that efforts at outcome-based program evaluations have run aground on a variety of issues, not the least of which is that the various models don't really find any significant differences between teacher prep programs. Focusing on outcomes, they conclude, seems to be a good idea right up to the point you try to actually, practically do it.

What Might Actually Work

All of this means that policymakers are still looking for the right way to identify effective teacher preparation and predict who will be an effective teacher. Nothing tried so far guarantees effective teachers. Yet there are breadcrumbs that could lead to a better approach. 

Aldeman and Mitchel have several breadcrumbs that strike them as tasty. In particular, they note that teacher quality is fairly predictable from day one-- the point at which teachers are actually in a classroom with actual students. Which-- well, yes. That's the point of student teaching. But I agree-- among first year teachers I think you find a small percentage who are excellent from day one, a smaller percentage that will be dreadful (the percentage is smaller because student teaching, done right, will chase away the worst prospects), and a fair number who can learn to be good with proper mentoring and assistance.

But Bellwether has four recommendations. They make their case, and they note possible objections.

Make it easier to get in

Right now getting into teaching is high risk, high cost, and low reward. There's little chance for advancement. There is considerable real cost and opportunity cost for entering the profession, which one might suppose makes fewer people likely to do so.

Drop the certification requirements, knock off foolishness like EdTPA, punt the Praxis, and just let anybody who has a hankering into the profession. Local schools would hire whoever they felt inclined to hire. Teachers might still enroll in university programs in hopes that it will improve their chances-- "add value" as these folks like to put it. But the market would still be flooded with plenty of teacher wanna-bes. And I'm sure that if any of these were open to working for lower pay because it hadn't cost them that much to walk into the profession, plenty of charter and private and criminally underfunded public schools would be happy to hire these proto-teachers.

The authors note the objection to untrained teachers in the classroom, and generally lowering the regard for the profession by turning it into a job that literally anybody can claim to be qualified for. The "untrained teacher" objection is dismissed by repeating that there's no proof that "training" does any good. At least, no proof that matches their idea of proof.  As for the regard for the profession, the authors wax philosophical-- who really knows where regard for a profession comes from, anyway??

What did they miss here? Well, they continue to miss the value of good teacher preparation programs which do a good job of preparing teachers for the classroom. But even the worst programs screen for an important feature-- how badly do you want it? One of the most important qualities needed to be a good teacher is a burning, relentless desire to be a good teacher, to be in that classroom. Even if a program requires candidates to climb a mountain of cowpies to then fill out meaningless paperwork at the top, it would be marginally useful because it would answer the question, "Do you really, really want to be a teacher?"

The teaching profession has no room for people who are just trying it out, thought it might be interesting, figured they might give it a shot, want to try it for a while, or couldn't think of anything else to do. Lowering the barriers to the profession lets more of those people in, and we don't need any of them.

Make schools and districts responsible for licensing teachers

Again, this is an idea that would make life so much easier for the charters that Bellwether loves so much. It's still an interesting idea-- the authors are certainly correct to note that nobody sees the teacher being a teacher more clearly or closely than the school in which that teacher works. The authors suggest that proto-teachers start out in low stakes environment like summer school or after school tutoring, both of which are so far removed from an actual classroom experience as to be unhelpful for our purposes. On top of that, it would seriously limit the number of new teachers that a district could take on, while requiring them to somehow bring those proto-teachers on a few years before they were actually needed for a real classroom, requiring a special school administrators crystal ball.

In other words, this idea is an interesting idea, but it will not successfully substitute for making sure that a candidate has real teacher training in the first place.

The other huge problem, which they sort of acknowledge in their objections list, is that this only works if the school or district are run by administrators who know what the hell they're doing and who aren't working some sort of other agenda. A lousy or vindictive or just plain messed up administrator could have a field day with this sort of power. Possible abuses range from "you'll work an extra eight hours a week for free in exchange for certification" to "you'll serve as the building janitor for free to earn your certification" to "come see if you can find your teaching certification in my pants."

Measure and Publicize Results 

Baloney. This is the notion of a market-driven new business model for teacher preparation, and it's baloney. We've already established that states can't collect meaningful on teacher programs, and Bellwether wants to see the data collection expanded to all the various faux teacher programs. They've already said that nobody has managed to scarf up data in useful or reliable quantities; now they're saying, well, maybe someone will figure out how soon. Nope.

Unpack the Black Box of Good Teaching

This boils down to "More research is required. We should do some." But this is problematic. We can't agree on what a good teacher looks like, or even what they are supposed to be doing. Bellwether becomes the gazillionth voice to call for "new assessments that measures [sic] higher-order thinking," which is just unicorn farming. Those tests do not exist, and they will never exist. And their suggestion of using Teach for America research as a clue to great teaching is ludicrous as well. There is no evidence outside of TFA's own PR to suggest that TFA knows a single thing about teaching that is not already taught in teaching prep programs across the country-- and that several things they think they know are just not true.

Another huge problem with unpacking the black box is the assumption that the only thing inside that box is a teacher. But all teachers operate in a relationship with their students, their school setting, their community, and the material they teach. The continued assumption that a great teacher is always a great teacher no matter what, and so this fixed and constant quality can be measured and dissected-- that's all just wrong. It's like believing that a great husband would be a great husband no matter which spouse he was paired up with, that based on my performance as a husband to my wife, I could be an equally great partner for Hillary Clinton or Taylor Swift or Elton John or Ellen Degeneres. I'm a pretty good teacher of high school English, but I'm pretty sure I would be a lousy teacher of fifth grade science.

Great teaching is complex and multifaceted and on top of everything else, a moving target. It deserves constant and thorough study because such research will help practitioners fit more tools into their toolbox, but there will never be enough research completed to reduce teaching to a simple recipe that allows any program to reliably cook up an endless supply of super-teachers suitable for any and all schools. And more to the point, the research seems unlikely to reveal that yes, anybody chosen randomly off the street, can be a great teacher.

Operating at that busy and complicated intersection requires a variety of personal qualities, professional skills, and specialized knowledge.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of interesting questions and criticisms raised by this report, but the conclusions and recommendations are less interesting and less likely to be useful for anyone except charters and privatizers who want easier access to a pliable and renewable workforce. Dumping everything into the pool and just buying a bigger filter is not a solution. Tearing down the profession and pretending that no training really matters is silly. We do need to talk about teacher preparation in this country, but one of the things we need to talk about is how to keep from poisoning the well with the bad policies and unfounded assumptions of the reformster camp.

There are some good questions raised by this report, but we will still need to search for answers.