Report cards may sound simple and harmless. But the “report cards” for teacher education programs that recently were proposed by the U.S. Department of Education are a bad idea.
They, and the proposed new federal rules of which they are a part, could do tremendous damage to schools, colleges, teachers and children.
If enacted, it would undermine much of the work that Penn State and our local schools do in partnership to prepare excellent new teachers and support the ones we already have in improving.
The regulations would hinder this existing good work and would force changes in programs to ultimately diminish the teaching force as a whole while extending the reach of the already-excessive system of testing that schools are now forced to use.
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The thrust of the proposed regulations is to subject college and university teacher education programs to a system of so-called “value-added assessment” in which children’s test scores (on tests that are themselves controversial and unsupported by research) are linked to individual teachers, teacher candidates and, by extension, specific university programs (using a set of statistical procedures that has been discredited by scholars in statistics and education).
These calculations would be used to create report cards comparing teacher preparation programs in a state and require states to use these comparisons in accrediting programs; the results would further be tied to university funding using the federal TEACH grants as a lever.
These regulations are dangerous and irresponsible.
Testing for these purposes is bad for children. Reliance on testing for “accountability” shapes teaching and curriculum in ways that narrow the scope and diminish the quality of students’ experiences in school.
These effects are greatest for the poorest students and those with the greatest challenges to learning, such as those with disabilities or those learning English. These issues have been addressed by the National Research Council and by the nonprofit FairTest, among others.
Government should not overreach into the content of specific programs at a college or the activities of its faculty. Faculty who do research in a field of study should decide what a student in that field should learn at Penn State.
Further, the costs of implementation of the proposed regulations would be substantial and would draw fiscal and human resources away from the actual work of teacher preparation and research. We already have stellar teacher education programs that are threatened by these proposed regulations.
Comparing colleges and universities on a reductive “report card” is a bad idea.
We are fortunate to have a wide range of state-related, state-owned and private institutions of higher education to serve the broad array of higher education needs in Pennsylvania. Comparing institutions on a limited number of insensitive measures ignores these differences in mission and character, forcing nonsensical comparisons.
Penn State isn’t Pitt, Lock Haven or anywhere else. We have a specific heritage and charge as a land-grant, research institution. No one approach fits all contexts.
The method proposed can’t actually do what it is being proposed to do.
VAM as a method for evaluating teachers and schools has been discredited by the American Statistical Association, along with most academic scholars in the field of teacher education.
Moreover, the tests to be used are relatively undeveloped and were not designed for this use.
These are just a few of the largest problems with the Department of Education’s plan. The proposed plan is the latest step in the disastrous series of decisions in education policy emanating from the Bush administration and now the Obama administration — decisions that have resulted in a staggering amount of high-stakes testing for kids and an unprecedented level of interference from government in the experiences our own teachers and kids have in school.
Neither our children nor our teachers are served well by this clumsy, one-size-fits-all approach to education.
I urge all members of our community to respond promptly and strongly.
Once in place, the proposed regulations would be tied to state and federal administrative infrastructure in ways that make them extremely difficult to extricate.
Some simple things we can do:
• Talk with our neighbors about these issues.
The regulations were announced during a busy holiday, and the comment period will coincide with one also. It helps to draw people’s attention to what is going on.
• Educate your elected representatives about the danger this poses to colleges and universities in their constituencies — and to children in schools.
While these regulations are from the Department of Education and not subject to legislative approval, pressure from Congress can be very persuasive.
• Make a comment onhttp://www.regulations.gov
and encourage your network to do the same.