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I think we’re going over the cliiiiiffff. . . . (a rant with stylistic apologies to Peter Greene)

December 8, 2015

Lately I’ve been feeling a lot like Wile E. Coyote. You know the bit. The coyote runs off the cliff, then looks forlornly at the camera before crashing to the valley floor. Unfortunately, as we have driven Teacher Education off the cliff I’m not sure we’ll simply be able pick ourselves up and chase the Roadrunner again.

There was a time when (at least some) Teacher Education programs promoted high quality, engaging approaches to teaching, even though the teachers they worked with in the schools would say “oh that’s just college stuff, here in the real world we don’t do that.” But at least we tried, and the message got through to some of our students who became excellent and engaging teachers. I’m afraid the era is over and we may have driven the Teacher Education car off the cliff with no possibility of return.

A number of recent experiences have led me to this unfortunate conclusion. First a number of my colleagues often speak about creating a “Culture of Assessment” in our programs. Let’s get real here! Do you know any teachers, university faculty, or students who would want to work and learn in such a culture?  I guess some people might enjoy the constant surveillance but personally I’m not that kinky and I suspect most teachers and students aren’t either. Even the teacher educators are now focusing on surveillance instead of on engagement, creativity, self direction, wonder, or critique. Yuck!

It’s gotten so bad people are starting to suggest that we build our programs around our assessment tools rather the reverse. I recently heard a faculty member excitedly suggest that teacher education students could create an on-line portfolio based around the 11 required standards. She breathlessly told us how students could begin it in their introductory course and continue to build and update it as they mastered each standard through out their programs. WOW!  That sure sounds exciting! I bet we can find lots of 20 year olds who would think of that as an exciting and engaging way to spend their time and would love to spend two years working on it. Of course those standards are entirely focused on building wonder, engagement, love of learning, inquiry, critique and democratic values right?. What could possibly go wrong here? Doing that would surely help to turn our schools into joyous places that children will want to attend.

The same people who love this portfolio idea thought it would be an equally good idea to use the intro class to acquaint students with even more standards, and to start getting them ready for the edTPA (essentially they want to make teaching to the test raison d’etre of our programs.”) What a great way to introduce potential teachers to the profession and to get them imagining the great ways they’ll interact with kids!

I suppose that some folks might suggest that teaching is actually like that now in public schools so education students should get used to it. Actually the same argument is used when elementary kids are forced to change classes every hour because they need to “get ready” for doing it in High School. The underlying rationale could be described like this: They are going to have a lousy de-humanizing experience when they are in High School, so we better get them ready for it by giving them a lousy de-humanizing experience now.” By that logic race car drivers and airplane pilots should practice crashing their vehicles and airplanes so they can be ready for how bad it is going to be when it actually happens. I’m sure they’d all LOVE that. More seriously, the underlying stance of “that’s how it is, get used to it” also doesn’t leave any room for us to help teacher education students imagine something better either.

Unfortunately, the lunacy doesn’t stop there. CAEP (the successor to NCATE) wants to evaluate teacher education programs based on our graduates’ VAM scores. Never mind that most statisticians recommend against using VAM scores (for a variety of different reasons) in the first place. Even though VAM scores should not be used to evaluate individual teachers because of a wide variety of social and economic factors CAEP now thinks those scores could be used to evaluate institutions. There is however an easy solution to this. From now on we will only allow our students to take jobs in schools serving primarily white, middle to upper class students. That will make our VAM scores go up.

Lest you think it can’t get any worse you need to check this out. Go ahead and look. I dare you. For the faint of heart, I’ll describe what it is. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) is piloting a “National Observational Teacher Exam” (called NOTE)  in which education students will teach for 7 minutes in front of a set of electronic avatars. You read that right. Students will teach and be judged on a 7 minute lesson taught to electronic avatars. ETS claims it will standardize instructional contexts for assessment because, of course, all classrooms and kids come in standardized models. Perhaps we can stop this foolishness by having ETS pitch their new product to a bunch of avatars well.

So maybe I am just some old codger hopelessly caught in a bygone era. Perhaps I should just give up and shut up. But like Wile E Coyote I’m going to dust myself off, climb out of the valley and continue with the chase as long as I can. Maybe someday one of my attempts to catch and shake the lunacy will succeed. I know I’ll probably be driven over the cliff again, but like the coyote, I’m hopelessly compelled to keep trying.

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Is your head spinning like mine?

January 10, 2010

A few days ago I attended my monthly meeting of the same Governmental Relations group I referenced in my previous post. Again, much of our time was spent on finance and funding of  public Higher Education in my state. I think I understood what our funding might look like in the next several years, but it took us nearly an hour to get there. The variables included how much money the state will allocate to Higher Education given our budget crisis, the amount of federal stimulus money we will receive for Higher Ed, how much our state funding can be cut without losing the federal stimulus funding, how much tuition will need to go up to cover lost allocations, how the state might divide it’s allocation between the two University Systems it supports, and whether the state can apply to be able to cut allocations further and still maintain stimulus funds.

If your head is spinning trying to make sense of all of this don’t fret. Mine was (and is) too, and I was there. The bottom line is at the end of the day this will affect folks jobs at universities, the availability of classes for students and the amount of tuition students have to pay. Most of the students going to college, and their families have no notion of all of this.. they simply want available classes and affordable, if not lower tuitions. There are other issues at the state level as well such as how much budgets for items like human services and schools will also need to be cut etc. Many different constituencies will want to have a hand in how all of this plays out. It’s probably impossible for most folks to understand the complexity of all. I can’t and I’ve had the benefit of several hours of folks trying to explain it to me.

The real issue here, it seems to me, is that we are not able to have a real national discussion on what it is that we value, and what we are willing to pay for those things. Instead of a rational discourse about what we want for our citizens we have the over heated rhetoric of socialism from the right, and “sell out” from the left. Amazingly all of this nonsense seems to be devoid of any historical understanding. I was surprised to find out this week that the maximum tax rate in the 1950 was 87% of taxable income. In the 1980’s under Reagan it came down to 50%, and the Bush tax cuts will pull it down to 33% of taxable income(the source of this information is http://treasury.gov/education/fact-sheets/taxes/ustax.shtml) Be careful when you read that information though…the bias of the site is that tax cuts lead to economic growth, and that perspective is at least debatable. We had much higher taxes well into the 80’s and we did have huge periods of economic growth during those times.

So how the heck do we get out of this mess? Frankly, I’m tired of stupid rhetoric..our governor here (and a potential presidential candidate too) says stupid things like “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem” as if the two are unrelated. He then goes on to solve the “spending” problem by cutting funding to local governments, schools, social services and Higher Education. Unfortunately, there are folks that believe that our foolish spendthrift behaviors in spending money on such trivial matters as social services, government services, health care for the poor, education really are the causes of our financial difficulties.

From what I can see, none of our politicians are brave enough to try and get at these most basic discussions of who we are. President Obama gets it from both sides for trying to walk a rational middle line and actually get something done. Frankly, I’m just plain tired of this foolishness and lack of vision. I just want to yell at the whole damn crew “Will ya shut up and listen to each other!” I used to be able to achieve something like that (with out the yelling) when I was an elementary teacher with my own classroom. But who can do that for the nation when a majority of the population is acting like a bunch of errant 3rd graders egged on by sniggering bullies like Rush and Glenn?

As for me, I’m going to take some Prozac and hide for a while..perhaps that will solve the problem.

Have a happy “whatever you celebrate this time of year.” And if you don’t celebrate anything go have some fun anyway. We’ll find a way through this one too. See you next week.

seh

Are we getting overloaded with information?

January 10, 2010

I’m wondering if the world has gotten too complex for most of us to understand. Perhaps the speed, intensity and sheer volume of the information coming at us now is so great that it is beyond our ability to create a narrative and make sense out of it.

It seems to me our level of discourse is suffering because of it. We use oversimplified terms for complex ideas; like using the word Socialism to describe the process of providing more government services to folks who don’t currently have them. It’s a complex issue with social, political and economic ramifications, and it cuts to the bone of who and what we want to be as nation. But calling it socialism, and thus implying it is inherently evil doesn’t help us to understand the complexity and nuance of what we are considering.

A recent piece on NPR noted that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was fairly easy for regular folks to understand what was happening in science. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120751039 )Now, the sheer volume and complexity of the information makes it impossible for most of us to understand. For example, I have a vague notion of what happens inside my computer, but really have no in depth or working knowledge of it. I bet most computer users are in the same boat.

This musing was prompted by a meeting I attended several weeks ago. The presenters were trying to show us what the potentials were for growth in some of our state retirement funds. I came away from the meeting wondering if there were simply too many variables to control, and that the nature of the financial instruments and the vagaries of “the market” were such that any sort of accuracy was beyond our reach.

Has the same thing happened in education, health care, finance and other venues – is there now simply too much information and complexity for the average person to make any sense of?

Hello world!

January 3, 2010

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