Are Schools of Education Why Children Don't Learn? Reclaiming the Conversation on Education

They think they found the solution to fix American schools and it is really very simple: get rid of schools of education because they fail to adequately train teachers. According to a scalding report recently issued by a private group that calls itself the National Council on Teacher Quality, "The field of teacher preparation has rejected any notion that its role is to train the next generation of teachers" (6). The problem, teacher educators try to "expunge the prejudices of teacher candidates, particularly those related to race, class, language and culture" and refuse to "arm the novice teacher with practical tools to succeed" (93). Teacher educators have "thrown their own field into disarray and done a great disservice to the teaching profession" (93), so get rid of schools of education and then American children will miraculously learn.

If someone claimed that schools of education in the United States were responsible for racial inequality, persistently high levels of unemployment, income disparity, segregated schools, single-parent families, gridlock in Congress, and globalization that ships jobs overseas, you would be very leery about buying their solutions.

If they also claimed that college professors who teach teachers could somehow inoculate them so that for the next thirty years they would only do the best job possible, you would think they were out of their minds.

Unbelievably, and suspiciously, influential people are rushing to embrace the NCTQ findings. The NCTQ website claims that " 24 state school chiefs, over 100 district superintendents, the Council of the Great City Schools and 77 advocacy organizations across 42 states and the District of Columbia have endorsed the Review."

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the "NCTQ deserves praise for working to give consumers -- both teacher candidates and districts -- better information to use in selecting the most effective teacher preparation programs." Consumers? Not parents, not children?

Michelle Rhee, who has been in constant battles with teachers and teacher unions as chancellor of Washington, D.C. schools and as CEO of a group called StudentsFirst, enthusiastically praised the report:

Its groundbreaking scope and approach, provides exactly the kind of information that teachers, districts, and policymakers need to guide better decision-making. Creating high quality traditional prep programs are key to consistently putting effective teachers in front of kids.

The study claims to have rigorously examined curricula, syllabi and admissions standards and used a four-star rating system similar to ones used by a lot of movie reviewers. Less than 10 percent of the 608 teacher education programs evaluated in the study earned three or more stars. Only four programs were four-star blockbuster hits: Lipscomb, Vanderbilt, Furman University and Ohio State University. Lipscomb is a private Christian college in Nashville, Tennessee, where Vanderbilt University is also located. Furman University is in Greenville, South Carolina. Hofstra University, where I teach, was not one of the schools of education evaluated.

The location of the four-star teacher education programs is somewhat surprising and for me makes the entire report suspect. In 2011, Tennessee students ranked second to last on the ACT and in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, Tennessee scored in the bottom 20 percent of the states, with below national average scores in every area tested. South Carolina scores were essentially the same.

Schools in Tennessee and South Carolina do poorly by almost every objective measure, which makes one wonder how their schools of education are so fantastic. In 2009, they ranked 40th (SC) and 41st (TN) in percentage of population 25 years old with a high school diploma. On Education Week's 2013 Quality Counts report card, both states earned grades of C+ overall, but only D in K-12 student achievement.

I will not defend every school of education and every professor that works there, but I know we are not "the problem" with education in the United States.

As a former high school teacher and as a teacher educator, I believe Schools of Education are being attacked because we present a message critics of schools do not want to hear. For me, the best teachers not only master the tools of the trade, but learn to be classroom decision-makers who understand how to adjust lessons to connect to students, which means they have to be concerned with race, class, language, and culture. They become curriculum creators who master the content of their subject area over time and design lessons and activities that appeal to the interests of the students that they are teaching. They also become student advocates who build classroom learning communities based on mutual respect and fight for and defend their students against unfair practices and inadequate funding. Decision-makers, creators, and advocates are exactly the kind of teachers that we need and exactly the kind of teachers that corporate interests with the processed scripted tech-driven programs they are selling to school districts hate and want to eliminate.

The NCTQ posted a list of the advisory committee for its study on teacher education and its major funders. The lists confirmed my belief that major corporations want to get rid of school of education so they can remove impediments to their control over and profiting from education in the United States.

Guess who is on the NCTQ advisory board?

Sir Michael Barber, Chief Education Advisor to Pearson in the UK.
Cynthia G. Brown, Vice President for Education Policy at American Progress which has close ties to the Democratic Party.
Frederick M. Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the rightwing American Enterprise Institute.
E.D. Hirsch, author of The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them, who blames romanticized, anti-knowledge theories of education for America's lackluster educational performance and widening inequalities in class and race.
Colorado State Senator Michael Johnston, a Democrat and an educational advisor to Barack Obama, who became an expert on education during the two years he spent in Mississippi as part of Teach for America, and of course, Wendy Kopp, founder and Chair of the board of Teach For America.
Representing Murdoch and Fox is Joel I. Klein, CEO of the Educational Division and Executive Vice President of News Corporation.
Representing the anti-teachers union movement are Jim Larson, Director of Special Projects at Educators 4 Excellence and Celine Coggins, founder and CEO of Teach Plus.
Charter school companies are represented by Mike Feinberg, co-founder of the KIPP and Michael A. Goldstein, founder and CEO of the Media and Technology Charter High School in Boston.
Also on the board of advisors are Eric Hanushek, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, and Stefanie Sanford, chief of Global Policy & Advocacy for the College Board who previously spent 10 years at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

NCTQ and its highly critical study of teacher education programs was funded by the usual suspects, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Joyce Foundation which equates school reform with charter schools, and The Teaching Commission, founded by former IBM chairman and CEO Louis V. Gerstner, Jr.

But there are also a few surprises representing right-wing pro-entrepreneurial groups. They include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which is committed to preserving and defending the tradition of free representative government and private enterprise, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which supports rigorous and comprehensive entrepreneurial problem-solving approaches, the Searle Freedom Trust which defends individual freedom and economic liberty, and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, whose mission is to promote the powerful economic impact of entrepreneurship and which runs its own charter school in Kansas City.

Excuse me. Which of these people and groups can actually be trusted to evaluate teachers and schools or to place the needs of American children first?