Move to Outsource Teacher Licensing Process Draws Protest
Michael Winerip, New York Times, May 6, 2012 – The idea that a handful of college instructors and student teachers in the school of education at the University of Massachusetts could slow the corporatization of public education in America is both quaint and ridiculous.
Sixty-seven of the 68 students studying to be teachers at the middle and high school levels at the Amherst campus are protesting a new national licensure procedure being developed by Stanford University with the education company Pearson.
The UMass students say that their professors and the classroom teachers who observe them for six months in real school settings can do a better job judging their skills than a corporation that has never seen them.
They have refused to send Pearson two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching, as well as a 40-page take-home test, requirements of an assessment that will soon be necessary for licensure in several states.
“This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands,” said Barbara Madeloni, who runs the university’s high school teacher training program. “We are putting a stick in the gears.”
Lily Waites, 25, who is getting a master’s degree to teach biology, found that the process of reducing 270 minutes of recorded classroom teaching to 20 minutes of video was demeaning and frustrating, made worse because she had never edited video before. “I don’t think it showed in any way who I am as a teacher,” she said. “It felt so stilted.”
Pearson advertises that it is paying scorers $75 per assessment, with work “available seven days a week” for current or retired licensed teachers or administrators. This makes Amy Lanham wonder how thorough the grading will be. “I don’t think you can have a genuine reflective process from a calibrated scorer,” said Ms. Lanham, 28, who plans to teach English.
At this point the Teacher Performance Assessment that Pearson and Stanford are developing is still in the pilot stage, being tested by 200 universities in more than two dozen states. While it is meant to supplement traditional assessment methods like classroom observation, in reality it would be the final word for states that adopt it. Student teachers who do not pass would not be licensed.
Stanford officials say that, to the best of their knowledge, the UMass program is the only case of resistance.
The student teachers at UMass complain that they were being told to take part in the pilot program by university officials without their consent and that there were inadequate confidentiality protections for the schoolchildren appearing in the videos being sent to Pearson.
“As a parent, I wouldn’t give my permission to videotape my child and send it off into the twilight,” said Kristin Sanzone, 33, who is getting a master’s degree.
In previous years, parents had given permission to have their children videotaped for use by UMass instructors. But Ms. Madeloni said student teachers and principals had told her that they felt differently about sending videos off to a big company.
“If there are concerns about UMass, there’s someone nearby they can go to,” she said. “How do you complain to a corporation?”
Four local school districts that train student teachers declined to participate when they learned how the video would be used.
This year, when Ms. Madeloni questioned UMass administrators, they played down the need for consent from the student teachers and school districts. One dean wrote in February that Pearson was doing a “field test,” and “not a field research study,” and so no special consent was required.
In March, university officials reversed themselves, acknowledging that special consent forms were needed.
An associate dean offered books of Post-its as prizes for the first six student teachers who turned in consent forms.
The Post-its did not turn the tide.
Jerri Willett, the chairwoman of the department of teacher education and curriculum studies, said because it was a pilot program, it had taken time to develop procedures. She said officials were meeting to develop a statewide policy for confidentiality and consent.
Asked why so many students had refused to take part, Ms. Willett said they may have felt “forced” by faculty members. (None of those who posed for a photograph or were interviewed by this reporter said they had felt pressured.)
While Massachusetts has not made a decision about whether to require the Teacher Performance Assessment, six states — New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington — have committed to adopting it in the next few years.
Ms. Willett said the education reform movement had been highly critical of teacher education programs, complaining that not enough weak candidates were being eliminated. An independent measure should reassure the public, she said.
She is one of hundreds of educators who have been consulted by Stanford to develop the new assessment. The 40-page test requires student teachers to submit several lesson plans and explain how they measure learning and adapt lessons to their special-needs students. “Until now we’ve assessed what students know about teaching,” she said. “This assesses teaching.”
Raymond Pecheone, a Stanford professor, said he had worked closely with Pearson to ensure extensive confidentiality protections. He said the student videos can’t be downloaded or duplicated by scorers, nor used for marketing and promotion or training teachers.
Pearson plans to hold onto the videos for up to two years in case there are legal challenges, he said.
Mr. Pecheone said Pearson, which describes itself as the biggest education company in North America, was one of six to bid to work with Stanford. Pearson was chosen in part because it was the only company willing to provide enough seed money for a nationwide pilot program. “We needed an operating partner,” he said.
In states that choose Pearson-Stanford to manage the licensing, student teachers are expected to pay the company up to $300 apiece.
Washington State will require teaching candidates to pass the assessment next year. Wayne Au, a University of Washington professor, said based on the pilot, this approach was a considerably more sophisticated measure than traditional standardized tests. But because it is a mass-produced assessment, he said, students have already learned to manipulate it. “Their answers are shaped by what the test requires,” he said. “They’re not expressing who they are as teachers. It will do bad things.”
In New York, Pearson will be able to test a teacher’s worth from start to finish. The company currently administers the test students must pass to be admitted to a teaching program and is developing the testing system that will be used to calculate each teacher’s annual performance score.
How much impact any of this will have on teacher quality is debatable. California has had a performance assessment program in place for 10 years. According to Mr. Pecheone, 10 to 15 percent fail to get their license on the first try. When students retake the test, he said, only 1 to 2 percent fail to get a license.
At UMass, 1 to 2 percent of student teachers are weeded out of the program each year, according to Ms. Willett.
As for the idea that having an independent licensing test like California’s will improve the public’s opinion of teachers — no way. Politicians and businesspeople bash teachers in sunny California as much as they do in cloudy states. There is a whole education industry that is flourishing because it is built on the denigration of public schoolteachers.