I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Two Questions For Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave an interview to Andrea Mitchell this past week that once again attempts to shift the blame for America's inequitable education outcomes on to everything and anything except the most obvious thing:

Yeah, sure, that's the problem: the schools of education. I mean, what else could possibly explain this:

Obviously, the difference in student outcomes between affluent districts and poverty stricken districts is that the teachers in the poor districts had more education history and philosophy courses in their undergraduate preparation. Makes perfect sense...

[Bangs head on keyboard repeatedly...]

Jersey Jazzman (artists's conception)

Bruce Baker has more on Duncan's incoherence. I'd just like to add two questions to the SecEd and his e-school hatin' acolytes:

1) Where is there any evidence that getting rid of education history and philosophy and developmental psychology courses and replacing them with more clinical practice leads to better teacher preparation? From the National Academies of Sciences, 2010:
Yet however they are designated, teacher preparation programs are extremely diverse along almost any dimension of interest: the selectivity of programs, the quantity and content of what they require, and the duration and timing of coursework and fieldwork. Any pathway is likely to entail tradeoffs among selectivity, the intensity of the training, and the obstacles it presents to teacher candidates. More selective pathways, and those that require greater effort and time to complete, may have the disadvantage of yielding fewer teachers to fill vacancies, for example, but the teachers they do produce may be more highly qualified. 
There is some research that suggests that there are differences in the characteristics of teacher candidates who are attracted to different pathways and types of programs. There is also some research comparing the outcomes for graduates of different kinds of programs. However, the distinctions among pathways and programs are not clear-cut and there is more variation within the “traditional” and “alternative” categories than there is between these categories. We found no evidence that any one pathway into teaching is the best way to attract and prepare desirable candidates and guide them into the teaching force. This finding does not mean that the characteristics of pathways do not matter; rather, it suggests that research on the sources of the variation in preparation, such as selectivity, timing, and specific components and characteristics, is needed. 
There has been an extraordinary amount of work, from a variety of fields, on questions about the factors that influence the effectiveness of teaching, but this work is only a starting point. There is little firm empirical evidence to support conclusions about the effectiveness of specific ap- proaches to teacher preparation. However, we found no reason to question the recommendations professional societies have made about what is important for teachers to know. Moreover, those recommendations integrate well with the relatively small body of empirical work. The research base is strongest for reading and least strong for science, and our conclusions about preparation in the three fields reflect these differences. [emphasis mine]
I must say that I continue to be astonished at the authority Secretary Duncan accrues to himself on topics about which experts themselves admit they actually know very little. The truth is that we just don't know if substituting more clinical practice for fewer theory courses is a good strategy for making more effective teachers. My suspicion is that Duncan wants this to be so, because he himself is remarkably ignorant about education theory: after all, if he don't need no high-falutin' book learnin' 'bout teaching, why should anyone else?

My personal view is that coursework in the theory, history, and philosophy of education, along with coursework in research methods and developmental psychology, is absolutely invaluable for a practitioner. I can't tell you how many times I have found myself dealing with classroom situations where I relied on things I learned in my master degree courses. Of course, I went to a high-quality program at a state university (University of Central Florida) that sought to find a balance between clinical experiences and theoretical instruction. I understand that this is considered rather passe in the Teach For America world we now live in, but I've not seen any evidence that all the courses I took with scholars in the field were really just a big waste of my time.

2) Where's my money? Over and over, I've heard the SecEd say that I deserve to be paid more. Hey, you'll get no argument from me... so where the hell is my check?

There has never been a serious proposal put forth by the Obama administration to raise teacher pay. They've never said how they would pay for it, they've never said how much more it should be, they've never said how it should be disbursed. And yet Duncan falls back on this bromide as if it will shield him from the fact that he has shown little if any respect for practitioners (the most egregious example being how he acquiesced to locking teachers out of the development of the Common Core (great work, as always, from Anthony Cody)).

I am getting sick and tired of Duncan making me and my fellow teachers a promise he has no intention of keeping. Unless and until he develops a serious proposal to increase teacher compensation, his talk about raising pay is little more than a cheap political ploy.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Arne Duncan is a lousy Secretary of Education. He's probably the worst appointment President Obama has made. He has no business making education policy for this nation, as he is unqualified, incoherent, and has no track record of success. That Obama appointed his basketball buddy over the extraordinarily well-qualified Linda Darling-Hammond speaks volumes about how little the president really cares about education policy.

Stick with what you're good at, I say.

Our Secretary of Education in his natural habitat.

ADDING: More from Bruce on Duncan's nonsense (better sit down for this one: the professor is in rare form!). 

It is not at all a stretch to say Duncan is Obama's greatest embarrassment.

ADDING MORE: Sherman Dorn weighs in:
Do historians and philosophers of education dominate teacher ed curriculum? Don’t take my word for it: you can look at the catalog description for undergraduate elementary education majors in a large public university near you (or minors, where there is no education major). Here are a few: University of South Florida-Tampa (my current institution–that PDF is for all undergraduate programs in our college), Arizona State University (where I’ll start working in July, and which Duncan praised in his press conference Friday), and to pick on a state at random… the University of MichiganMichigan State UniversityEastern MichiganWestern Michigan, and Central Michigan (For Central Michigan the PDF of the entire 2013-14 catalog). In six of those seven colleges of education, the apparently dominating theory courses comprise six or seven hours from a 120-hour program, split between educational psychology and a course lumping together all humanities and social-science perspectives on education. In no case is there an undergraduate course required for teachers that is devoted entirely to the history of education or the philosophy of education. [emphasis mine]
You know, maybe Duncan could cool out with the celebrity basketball games and cable TV interviews and maybe, you know, do a little research on the topics on which he opines?

Just a thought...


Laura said...

By "clinical practice" does Duncan refer to supervised student teaching?

Duke said...

Laura, I have no idea. As Sherman points out, the Secretary apparently has very little idea about what actually happens in e-schools. I think, once again, he was just making s#!+ up as he went along.

Julie B said...

The interview with Andrea Mitchell is appalling. Let me channel Peter Greene: "HOLY MOTHER OF GOD how can they not know that Student Teaching is a Thing?"

jcg said...

Duncan gave Teach for America $50million in 2012. TFA does-5 weeks of drill and MAYBE 11 hours of clinical training in summer schools.
Is anyone a bigger hypocrite than Duncan?

JanetM said...

Retired teacher, 32 years here. I became certified via a non traditional route in the early 70s, Urban Education Corps, Newark. Then got Teacher of the Handicapped cert. I've been exposed to it all: theory, practice and on-the-job training. My becoming a good teacher was a product of EVERYTHING, and it really didn't happen until at least ten years in. I also think some of my best practices, my most creative practices, came from intellectual pursuits outside of my academic career. It's become a cliché, but the best teachers are life long learners themselves.

Teacher Mom said...

Janet, nail meet head. Schools with higher degrees of fieldwork, do seem to do better, or at least from my own personal experience, I definitely felt better prepared. However, I had a huge amount of child psychology development and philosophy. I know I didn't hit my rhythm until at least year five and I never called myself good until well after that. The best teachers are life long learners. I can honestly say that working with some people who graduated from other schools of education, sometimes I look at them and think, "WHy don't you know this? or Why don't you know how to do this?"

jcg said...

Arne's in the business of opening up markets for the 1%.


@arneduncan ask[ed] Match Teacher Residency team thoughts about bringing program to scale to produce thousands of teachers

— Match Education (@MatchEducation) March 12, 2014

Dr. Anthony Petrosino said...

A program I co-founded with some other colleagues at The University oF Texas at Austin, UTeach, is one of the programs being touted by Secretary Duncan. We are now in over 30 colleges and universities around the country. ALL our sites have a collaboration between a College of Education AND a College of Natural Sciences at the University. Read More: UTeach at the University of Texas at Austin are drawing more undergraduates with STEM majors into teaching. Ninety 90% of UTeach graduates enter teaching and of those, roughly 80 percent are retained after 5 years, and about half of UTeach graduates are in high-need schools. Recent replications of the UTeach model have meant that the annual number of UTeach candidates has grown from 519 in 2008 to nearly 7,000 in 2014, expanding the supply of teachers prepared to teach STEM subjects.

Giuseppe said...

Whoopee, I clicked on the MSNBC video link and all I got was your video is loading over and over and over and over again.... but no video. So I did not have to endure the talking points of Duncan. The same thing happens on Common Dreams when they post links to MSNBC videos. I end up having to do a duckduckgo or google search to find the video in question. MSNBC videos are hellish, they are always loading but never delivering the actual video, at least on my computer. The last thing I need is Arne Duncam spouting all his blather and nonsense.