Deep Pockets, Corporate Reform, and Teacher Education

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A colleague whom I have never formally met, but with whom I’ve had some interesting email exchanges with over the past few months — James D. Kirylo, Professor of Teaching and Learning in Louisiana — recently sent me an email I read, and appreciated; hence, I asked him to turn it into a blog post. He responded with a guest post he has titled “Deep Pockets, Corporate Reform, and Teacher Education,” pasted below. Do give this a read, and a social media share, as this one is deserving of some legs.

Here is what he wrote:

Money is power. Money is influence. Money shapes direction. Notwithstanding the influential nature of it in the electoral process, one only needs to see how bags of dough from the mega-rich-one-percenters—largely led by Bill Gates—have bought their way in their attempt to corporatize K-12 education (see, for example, here).  

This corporatization works to defund public education, grossly blames teachers for all that ails society, is obsessed with testing, and aims to privatize.  And next on the corporatized docket: teacher education programs.

In a recent piece by Valerie Strauss, “Gates Foundation Puts Millions of Dollars into New Education Focus: Teacher Preparation,” she sketches how Gates is awarding $35 million to a three-year project called Teacher Preparation Transformation Centers funneled through five different projects, one of which is the Texas Tech based University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation (U.S. Prep) National Center.

A framework that will guide this “renewal” of educator preparation comes from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), along with the peddling of their programs, The System for Teacher and Student Advancement (TAP) and Student and Best Practices Center (BPC). Yet, again, coming from another guy with oodles of money, leading the charge of NIET is Lowell Milken who is Chairmen and TAP founder (see, for example, here).

The state of Louisiana serves as an example on how NIET is already working overtime in chipping its way into K-12 education. One can spend hours at the Louisiana Department of Education (LDE) website and view the various links on how TAP is applying a full-court-press in hyping its brand (see, for example, here).  

And now that TAP has entered the K-12 door in Louisiana, the brand is now squiggling its way into teacher education preparation programs, namely through the Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center. This Gates Foundation backed project involves five teacher education programs in the country (Southern Methodist University, University of Houston, Jackson State University, and the University of Memphis, including one in Louisiana (Southeastern Louisiana University) (see more information about this here).  

Therefore, teacher educators must be “trained” to use TAP in order to “rightly” inculcate the prescription to teacher candidates.

TAP: Four Elements of Success

TAP principally plugs four Elements of Success: Multiple Career Paths (for educators as career, mentor and master teachers); Ongoing Applied Professional Growth (through weekly cluster meetings, follow-up support in the classroom, and coaching); Instructionally Focused Accountability (through multiple classroom observations and evaluations utilizing a research based instrument and rubric that identified effective teaching practices); and, Performance-Based Compensation (based on multiple; measures of performance, including student achievement gains and teachers’ instructional practices).

And according to the TAP literature, the elements of success “…were developed based upon scientific research, as well as best practices from the fields of education, business, and management” (see, for example, here). Recall, perhaps, that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was also based on “scientific-based” research. Enough said. It is also interesting to note their use of the words “business” and “management” when referring to educating our children. Regardless, “The ultimate goal of TAP is to raise student achievement” so students will presumably be better equipped to compete in the global society (see, for example, here). 

While each element is worthy of discussion, a brief comment is in order on the first element Multiple Career Paths and fourth element, Performance-Based Compensation. Regarding the former, TAP has created a mini-hierarchy within already-hierarchical school systems (which most are) in identifying three potential sets of teachers, to reiterate from the above: a “career” teacher; a “mentor” teacher, and a “master” teacher. A “career” teacher as opposed to what? As opposed to a “temporary” teacher, a Teach For America (TFA) teacher, a substitute teacher? But, of course, according to TAP, as opposed to a “mentor” teacher and a “master” teacher.

This certainly begs the question: Why in the world would any parent want their child to be taught by a “career” teacher as opposed to a “mentor” teacher or better yet a “master” teacher? Wouldn’t we want “master” teachers in all our classrooms? To analogize, I would rather have a “master” doctor performing heart surgery on me than a “lowly” career doctor. Indeed, words, language, and concepts matter.

With respect to the latter, the notion of having an ultimate goal on raising student achievement is perhaps more than euphemistic on raising test scores, cultivating a test-centric way of doing things.

Achievement and VAM

That is, instead of focusing on learning, opportunity, developmentally appropriate practices, and falling in love with learning, “achievement” is the goal of TAP. Make no mistake, this is far from an argument on semantics. And this “achievement” linked to student growth to merit pay relies heavily on a VAM-aligned rubric.

Yet, there are multiple problems with VAM, an instrument that has been used in K-12 education since 2011. Among many other outstanding sources, one may simply want to check out this cleverly called blog here, “VAMboozled,” or see what Diane Ravitch has said about VAMs (among other places, see, for example, here), not to mention the well-visited site produced by Mercedes Schneider here. Finally, see the 2015 position statement issued by the American Educational Research Association (AERA) regarding VAMs here, as well as a similar statement issued by the American Statistical Association (ASA) here

Back to the Gates Foundation and the Texas Tech based (U.S. Prep) National Center, though. To restate, at the aforementioned university in Louisiana (though likely in the other four recruited institutions, as well), TAP will be the chief vehicle that will drive this process, and teacher education programs will be used as the host to prop the brand.

With presumably some very smart, well-educated, talented, and experienced professionals at respective teacher education sites, how is it possible that they capitulated to be the samples for the petri dish that will only work to enculturate the continuation of corporate reform, which will predictably lead to what Hofstra University Professor, Alan Singer, calls the “McDonaldization of Teacher Education“?

Strauss puts the question this way, “How many times do educators need to attempt to reinvent the wheel just because someone with deep pockets wants to try when the money could almost certainly be more usefully spent somewhere else?” I ask this same question, in this case, here.

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5 thoughts on “Deep Pockets, Corporate Reform, and Teacher Education

  1. You are quite right, Leonie. To be sure, what I discussed scratches the surface with respect to what is a systematic effort to marginalize teacher education. There are obviously multiple layers to the conversation here. There is certainly much subtext to what I articulated in my piece. My hope is that more and more teacher educators will push back on forces that are working to marginalize their relevance, voice, and expertise.

  2. One of the huge problems with using VAM for teacher compensation is simply that VAM or “growth” scores correlate with many factors other than teacher quality — like English language proficiency, learning disabilities, and, although not ever mentioned, student and behavioral issues. My experience at the school level with SGPs is that they are generally meaningless numbers, not correlated with teacher quality, but correlated with the composition of teacher’s classes. For a longer explanation and some “data” on this, see http://educornercafe.blogspot.com/2016/01/value-added-measurement-has-little.html

  3. I think this whole report is missing some of the key features in the five Gates-funded Transformation Centers. I have been doing research beyond the press releases. The grants go to four initiatives. One does involve USPrep, but there is another with Relay Graduate School facilitating ready-to use- shortcuts to teaching developed by teachers, another intent on revamping approvals for every currently authorized teacher preparation program in Massachusetts, and another in Michigan working on the premise that there are faster and more efficient ways to train teachers, including for example, practice teaching with a small group of avatars programmed to misbehave.
    But the most important \”transformation center\” is a new non-profit based in Florida that was operating as a three-person data-analytics and policy shop (Teacher Preparation Analytics, TPA ) and is now set up by Gates money as Teacher Prep Inspection (TPI-US) to evaluate the work of the other four transformation centers and to market a version of the British \”inspectorate\” system for teacher preparation programs in the US. The proposed system has been \”incubated\” by the infamous National Center for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) and will use criteria already in place for NCTQ\’s ratings, published annually in Teacher Prep Review with stack ratings then published in U.S. News and World Report as well as an online customer-value site, Path to Teach, set up by NCTQ in 2015 as if these NCTQ ratings should function as much like Consumer Reports. (Gates loves rating systems, he has financed a variant for Common Core compliant instructional materials) .
    The Inspectorate will have some tweaks in the NCQT methods of rating so that data is gathered from site visits, about four days long with a team comprised of TPI-US trained inspectors, who will provide programs with a brief summary of findings. Gates hopes that this system will be used by states, and ultimately replace other systems of accreditation. With complementary funding from the Helmsley Charitable Trust, four trial inspections have been two states (Texas, New Mexico) and in 2015 others were conducted in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and North Carolina. So far, I have found no evidence that TAP/MilliKen are in this effort to disrupt teacher preparation, sidestep issues of academic freedom, and make teaching more like a how to trade. This is enough for now. I am working on a paper that deals with all of this in tandem with Title II of ESSA.

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