When a cat and a dog start howling at the moon together, something is terribly wrong.
With Randi Weingarten and Arne Duncan howling in unison over the need to overhaul teacher training, I get immediately suspicious. These two never seem to howl together for anything, and when they do…it is usually more self-serving than selfless.
Recently, Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has been touting the need for a streamlining of teacher certification, so that all teachers are held to the same standard. This new system is meant to replace the multiple certification systems in place in all fifty states, geared toward making sure that “an individual teacher walking into her classroom the first day is confident and competent.”
(Name one person who’s “confident and competent” on their first day on the job, and I’ll show you someone who’s neither.)
Part of this would be a teacher “bar” exam similar to a bar exam for lawyers or a medical board exam for doctors. According to Weingarten (a trained lawyer, not a teacher), a combination of clinical experience in the field, academic preparedness for the subject(s) in his/her license, and training in child cognitive development would culminate in a national board exam that would create a teacher ready for the first day.
Everyone seems to be on board, from Arne to Andrew Cuomo…and that really scares me. They see another silver bullet, but I know otherwise. How is a national exam going to fix—or even try to fix—a system that suffers due to its participants.
With all due respect to my colleagues, the problem still lies at the very beginning: entry into the field of education is too easy.
Years ago, I got a slew of feedback both positive and negative from my previous diatribe on teacher education. Many of you cheered my call for an admission process just as stringent as law and medical schools.
Others took me to mean education itself was an “easy” profession and took me to task—which further proves my point about ease of entry into this profession.
We all know that education is among the toughest jobs to do. I, for one, work long hours above and beyond my workday to research, plan, grade, analyze and organize for my students—work that usually gets foisted off to nurses, paralegals and first-year associates in other professions.
Yet even those in education itself agree that the law and medicine have barriers to entry that education lacks. Unfortunately, prestige and especially pay are determined largely by these barriers, whether you like it or not.
Sandra Stotsky, who oversaw teacher certification in Massachusetts, stated that “You have more problems today with ineffective teachers because we’ve had virtually open admissions into the profession.” Since the bar is set so low (no pun intended) many teachers with an education degree and a teacher’s license still lack the stills to become effective in the classroom.
Medicine and law both started as apprenticed crafts that developed professional institutions. Due to prejudices about teaching, education never reached the level of “official” professionalism of the other schools. For teachers to garner the respect we richly deserve, education programs need to catch up and develop a rigorous framework that includes high admissions standards.
Of course, the raising of admission standards is no silver bullet. Certification requirements vary widely, from state to state and even from college to college. Some colleges focus too much on academic theory, some too little. Some spend countless hours analyzing fieldwork and classroom routines at the expense of theory and concepts. Even in a field with few barriers of entry, the quality of preparation is a complete crapshoot.
The need for a new way to train teachers is important at many levels. Education programs, certification programs and school districts need to realign and synch their resources to create a useful, rigorous, and productive teacher training program.
Yet as long as anyone can be a teacher, then our schools will still be flooded with those who have no business being teachers.
Much of the god-awful education reform agenda—the data collection, the constant forced collaboration, the constant assessment to collect data—is designed with a simple premise: that most in the teaching profession are stupid. Even the collaboration, the common planning and “inquiry analysis”, is built around the supposition that in any group of idiot teachers there must be at least one person who’s competent.
Teachers in the past were never subject to such scrutiny because their word was law, in every way. Now, because of a veritable free-for-all system of hiring and licensing, competent teachers must suffer the yoke of the grossly incompetent.
It’s insulting to any hardworking teacher, and wouldn’t be necessary if the idiots weren’t allowed in the classroom in the first place.
Bring Back Social Studies – From the Pages of The Atlantic
The beginning of the end: President Bush signing NCLB at Hamilton H.S. in Hamilton, Ohio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Even if you’ve said it a thousand times, it doesn’t hurt to say it again.
Mr. D’s much more industrious little sister, Dr. D (yep, she finished that doctorate!) drew my attention to this recent article from The Atlantic. The article advocates stopping the current trend towards neutering social studies as a distinct discipline in American education.
While the article itself breaks no new ground, it encapsulates the history and status of the issue well so that newbies to the struggle get an eye opener–whilst the veterans get a refresher course in the shitstorm that is No Child Left Behind.
Jen Kalaidis opens with the decline of student time spent studying social studies, to a whopping 7.6 percent. More importantly, she details the history of this decline–and contrary to popular belief, it didn’t happen in the Cold War.
Kalaidis does mention the 1957 Sputnik launch as a “Pearl Harbor” moment in American education. From that point on, millions of dollars poured into math and science programs to keep up the space race against the Commies. Yet to assume education was a zero-sum game at the time would be false: social studies did maintain its status through the Cold War, in fact peaking in 1993-1994 at 3 hours per week on average in US classrooms.
The reasoning is simple: the Cold War was more than just a technological race. It was a battle of ethics and morals, of hearts and minds. Social studies was at the center of that struggle, for better or worse. At its worst, social studies channeled jingoistic American patriotism into half-truths and propaganda. At its best, social studies provided the historical foundations, civic structure and critical analysis that helped shape a better America–one that could hopefully achieve that moral high ground against the Soviets.
The real decline came with No Child Left Behind–and here is where the article gets mundane.
To old-timers of the education wars, Kalaidis’ retread of the decline of social studies–the sacrifical lamb at the altar of Common Core, ELA, and STEM–is an old argument shouted out in hundreds of teacher lounges, conferences and workshops across the country. The emphasis on reading, math and science pushed social studies to a secondary discipline–one that was often not subject to standardized testing. If you couldn’t use a number 2 pencil, it wasn’t worth knowing.
We also all know how important it is to develop critical thinking and analysis skills, something social studies was designed for. If taught well, social studies makes students take ownership of history, of civics and economics, leading them to their own ideas, conclusions and opportunities.
One aspect of this decline that Kalaidis did mention–and should be mentioned more–is the “civic achievement gap.” The lack of civic education has created an underclass not only ignorant of their own government, but wholly unable or unwilling to vote, to participate in local politics or pursue careers in public service. As much as we rag on the government, we need one–a competent one–and that involves competent people working in all levels. To ignore the civic gap in low-income Americans is tantamount to disenfranchising them.
Lastly, Kalaidis does mention steps to move social studies back to the forefront. Obama has decried the lack of civic education in NCLB. So has Arne Duncan in a half-hearted article in the NCSS journal in 2011 (I ripped him a new one about it). Yet most of this is lip service, or that dreaded word integration (as in subject integration, not race).
The reality is that there is no concrete move to make social studies important again in American schools. And I hate to admit it–but the conspiracist in me thinks the decline of social studies is deliberate.
When the lunatics run the asylum, they make sure no one figures out they’re really lunatics. Without proper social studies education, there’s no way to tell the difference.
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Tagged as American History, Arne Duncan, Barack Obama, Cold War, Commentary, Common Core, Communications, Cultural Literacy, Curriculum, Education, education reform, No Child Left Behind Act, Opinion, Pearl Harbor, Social studies, Teaching, U.S. History, United States, World History