Betsy DeVos, Education — September 14, 2017 at 3:22 pm

Zombie Education Reform Strategy #459


To save you from having to read this claptrap, I’m going to share the gist of a new “report” on teacher preparation programs from David Bergeron & Michael Dannenberg. Who the heck are these guys, you might ask? Well, our friend and Highly Effective Curmudgeon, Peter Greene, fills us in on their “credentials,” and it’s pretty much what we expected–they sure aren’t teachers…

Bergeron was at the Department of Education from 2009 to 2013 under Arne Duncan, and then he graduated to the Center for American Progress, the thinky tank that was supposed to cough up the working cogs of the Hillary Clinton administration. Sorry, guys. Dannenberg was with the New America Foundation, the USED (also under Duncan), and the Education Trust before joining ERN. So we’ve met the first requirement for one of these education policy papers in that it involves nobody with actual education experience–just lots of government/advocacy/lobbying/thinky tank time.

To cut to the chase, here’s their big idea to “fix” teacher education: Ask billionaires to give them the money to buy one of the current teacher prep accrediting organizations, then fire everyone that works there, and change the guidelines and rules to reflect their neo-liberal reform agenda—which means evaluating teacher prep programs based on the test scores that the students of their graduates receive.

Sound dumb? As if an 8 year old’s standardized test score really represents what that child knows; or if that score should be used to make high-stakes decisions about a teacher’s continued employment; or if that test score should then be considered as a measurement of how effective that teacher’s college teacher prep program was?

Sound invalid and unreliable and meaningless? If Value Added Measures have been found to be inappropriate tools for making decisions about teacher evaluation, isn’t it just heaping injury upon insult to double down on those decisions by using those scores to evaluate the colleges and schools of education those teachers attended?

That’s because it’s just another Zombie Education Reform Strategy, brushed off and trotted out again and again after it’s been thoroughly trashed by accreditors, debunked by researchers, and viewed with consternation by any parent who has seen a test score come home with their kid that has nothing to do with what that child knows and can do. The corporate reform agenda is full of these Zombie Strategies–ideas that, no matter how bad, or unworkable, or discriminatory, or unconstitutional they are, just never seem to die. These schemes get run over, picked apart, torn into shreds, and left for dead–and yet they just get dusted off by a new “education policy expert” who never taught anyone anything, and we are expected to treat these “proposals” as though they aren’t stumbling, undead bags of bones, held together with corporate reform idealogical masking tape and baling wire.

Bergeron and Dannenberg try to paint some bright red lipstick on their pig of a terrible, very bad, no good idea by rolling out that old saw that “teacher quality is the number one in-school influence on student achievement“–a trope that totally, and willfully, ignores the fact that in-school factors account for less than 10% of the differences in student achievement, and “teacher quality” is just one of many of those in-school factors.

Does that mean that improving teacher quality is not a worthwhile goal? Of course not–and it happens to be the #1 priority of every reputable teacher prep program out there. And this is something that Bergeron and Dannenberg know full well–but it doesn’t fit their narrative as well as pushing the whackadoodle notion that the only persons to be entrusted with improving teacher preparation are those who have never taught, or prepared teachers. [Which is actually Zombie Education Reform Strategy #27: “Never trust professional educators when it comes to professionalizing education”.] But I digress…

You also have to wonder at the hypocrisy of the authors trashing the enterprise of teacher preparation in a “report” that’s not been vetted as is common in education research and policy work, but was rather released by their employer, a group by the name of Education Reform Now–which, in true corporate reformer style, is not about “education”, or actual “reform”, and has nothing to do with what is happening in education right “now.”

Do these authors ever even try to share these “ideas” through academic journals, or present their proposals for reform at conferences attended by teachers and teacher educators?

Do they really care of these ideas will work, or are they just “bomb throwers,” advancing these radical “solutions in search of problems” in order to further widen the “Overton Window” of awful ed reform fiascos? Or are all of their ideas self-published and self-promoted, and then expected to be taken seriously as “scholarship”?

The good news here is that it seems clear that the authors know that their proposals won’t stand up to scrutiny if exposed to the sunlight of thoughtful examination and critique, as is the standard in education policy research. So, the most effective weapons against Zombie Education Reform Strategies are for all teachers, teacher educators, parents, and anyone who cares about the future of public education to speak out forcefully against the reformers’ radical proposals; to show your support for your public schools and the dedicated, committed teachers who work wonders with their students every day; and to call out the destructive idiocy that our obsession with testing is wreaking upon our children, teachers, and schools.