About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Monday, May 5, 2014

Six Questions for Secretary of Education Arne Duncan about New Plan to Evaluate Teacher Training Programs

            On Friday, April 25, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a plan to evaluate teacher training programs. (See Motoko Rich’s article from the New York Times here or Stephanie Simon’s report in Politico here.)

            According to Politico:

The Obama administration plans to use tens of millions in federal financial aid as leverage to reward teacher training programs that produce teachers who routinely raise test scores—and to drive the rest out of business…

The goal: To ensure that every state evaluates its teacher education programs by several key metrics, such as how many graduates land teaching jobs, how long they stay in the profession and whether they boost their students’ scores on standardized tests. The administration will then steer financial aid, including nearly $100 million a year in federal grants to aspiring teachers, to those programs that score the highest. The rest, Duncan said, will need to improve or “go out of business.”

In an e-mail exchange, Diane Ravitch asked me if I could write something for her blog on this plan, and I did. I reprint it here.

The six questions I pose are based on a much longer series I wrote on the current discussion surrounding teacher education. I posted that series on this blog in late 2013-early 2014, and you can access them here, here, and here. If this issue of teacher recruitment and education is of particular interest to you, you might also like two other posts from 2013: “Reflections on Harriet Ball, Teaching, and Teacher Education” (Aug 21, 2013) and “Forever Young: The New Teaching Career” (Sept 13, 2013).

Here are my six questions for Secretary Duncan:

           1.     Will you be evaluating with the same metrics all teacher preparation programs, alternative as well as traditional, Teach for America as well as California State University at Northridge or UCLA?

           2.     If the Department of Education will use close to $100 million per year on grants to forward its agenda, where will that money come from? From other educational programs that serve needy populations? If so, what services or funding will be cut or discontinued because of this reallocation?

           3.     Policy formation emerges out of staff research, consultation with experts, and political deliberation. What research and consultation leads you to the current project? I ask because your statement about teacher preparation programs needing to improve “or go out of business” as well as your general approach echoes last year’s report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a report that has been roundly criticized by a wide range of experts.

           4.     The National Academy of Education recently issued a comprehensive report on evaluating teacher education programs that recommends an approach very different from yours. Have you read it or consulted its authors?

           5.     There is an increasing number of respected scholarly organizations—the National Academies Board on Testing and Assessment, AERA, the National Academy of Education, the American Statistical Association—that are advising caution in the use of procedures like value-added to evaluate teacher effectiveness. These organizations point to technical, logistical, and conceptual problems in conducting such evaluations. One conceptual problem is imputing causality between teachers’ activity and a test score, for so many other variables come into play. Your stated plan will use student test scores to not only judge teachers, but also the institutions from which they come, introducing another level of questionable causal attribution in your model. You will have a putative causal chain that goes from the student test score to the teacher to the teacher’s training institution. How do you plan to address this basic conceptual problem?

          6.     The implication in your plan that bad schools will go out of business assumes that all prospective teachers are the economist’s idealized free agents who can go wherever a highly rated program exists. But a number of prospective teachers from lower income backgrounds do not have the finances to travel—or cannot travel because of family obligations and expectations. How will you address the possible unintended consequence of your program placing burdens on this segment of the population? What will you do to assure that you don’t restrict access to the teaching profession?

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  1. It seems to me that UCLA/Center X, home of its own teacher training program, should be ashamed for not advocating on behalf of public schools and for following the Common Core money trail instead. Although this blog questions the new plan to evaluate teacher training programs (and rightly so), where are the voices for public school teachers under attack--including those from UCLA?

  2. It seems to me that UCLA/Center X, with its own teacher training program, should be ashamed for not publicly advocating for public schools and instead following the Common Core money trail. Your blog rightly questions the plan to evaluate teacher training programs, but where are the voices for public schools/public teachers under attack, including those educated by your own university?