Letters to the Editor 27.3


We write to clarify misunderstandings about the edTPA initiative described in “Stanford/Pearson Test for New Teachers Draws Fire” (winter 2013) by Nini Hayes and Jody Sokolower.

The edTPA was created by a national consortium of teacher educators and accomplished teachers to define, uphold, and support professional standards. It was not developed, as your article claimed, as a vehicle for corporate America to profit from teacher education. Rather, it is the outgrowth of over two decades of effort by the teaching profession, propelled by the belief that the best way to determine the readiness of prospective teachers for teaching is to have them actually demonstrate they can do it effectively. Unlike the impression given in your article, the edTPA has been well received around the country—spreading over the last 10 years to 26 states and more than 120 institutions.

Because interest in the edTPA grew so rapidly, the edTPA consortium needed a partner to assist in national distribution. Pearson Publishing was selected, from amongst numerous bidders, for the job. Its role, however, is limited only to distributing the assessment and providing the scoring platform. Pearson is NOT involved in the development of the assessment, nor does it control content, scoring, or policies. These are controlled by the edTPA consortium’s policy board, which includes teacher educators, accomplished teachers, state standards boards, and education agencies. Scorers are teachers and teacher educators who are reimbursed for their efforts, which include extensive training (designed by the consortium) to examine prospective teachers’ work in relation to edTPA rubrics.

Contrary to the claim in your article, using the edTPA need not usurp the autonomy of teacher education programs. Programs still have the freedom—and responsibility—to develop and uphold their own criteria, courses, clinical experiences, and assessments. In fact, those that have used it report that it enhances their work and better prepares candidates for the realities of teaching.

Because our public education system compels families to entrust our children to the care of the teachers who work in public schools, it has a moral and ethical responsibility to assure that these educators meet a defined standard of expertise. The edTPA, as part of state certification, assures this because it requires teachers to demonstrate that they know how to teach before they assume responsibility for children’s lives. Those of us in educator preparation should welcome such a valid assessment of our work.

Beverly Falk, professor and director, Graduate Programs in Early Childhood Education, School of Education, City College of New York

Jon Snyder, dean of the college, Bank Street College of Education

Nini Hayes responds:

The article does not say that the edTPA was created as a vehicle for corporate profit, but that it is one. Employing Pearson, a multinational conglomerate with no public accountability, to levy a fee and assess student teachers from afar is contradictory to the value of teacher education and public education as a public good—one that must be contextualized, personalized, and democratized. Across the globe, the discourse of education “reform” is being used to advance opportunities for profit and privatization. That the purveyors of the edTPA ignore this larger context, when we are seeing the devastating impact of similar “accountability and reform” measures on K–12 education, is astonishing. This is why Can’t Be Neutral (CBN) stands in solidarity with United Opt Out National in their efforts to organize a boycott of Pearson.

The edTPA is a high-stakes assessment of student teaching. Have we not learned from K–12 accountability regimes that high-stakes measures reach back into curriculum and classroom practice, shifting the focus and dominating the discourse?

The authors suggest that support of the edTPA is all but universal. They ignore the larger point of the article—Barbara Madeloni’s job loss for speaking out—and concerns about infringement on academic freedom in teacher education. Across the country, silence may mean compliance, but it does not mean agreement. That faculty are required to sign nondisclosure agreements to access the edTPA is evidence that the edTPA restricts scholarship, academic freedom, and the possibility of teacher educators as public intellectuals. This is why CBN stands in solidarity with concerned faculty from Teachers College, Columbia University, who have publicly expressed their reservations about the edTPA as a summative assessment tool.

I agree that the moral and ethical responsibilities of teacher educators are profound—all the more reason not to entrust these to corporate entities and the illusion of objectivity. Teaching and learning to teach are human, personal, relationship-based experiences, with the goals of transformation and liberation. This is the work of people in relationships and social practice, not of a rubric and “calibrated” scorer.

Nini Hayes, Can’t Be Neutral
Social Justice Education doctoral student, University of Massachusetts-Amherst


We write in response to Jennifer Holladay’s article “The Character of Our Content” (winter 2013). Holladay levels a number of charges against the Great Books Foundation and, in particular, against the story “The Selkie Girl,” which appears in our Junior Great Books program. As an institution that promotes the thoughtful consideration of divergent ideas, we are disappointed that the story (and the foundation itself) has been subjected to such a limiting interpretation.

The stories in Junior Great Books have been carefully chosen, first and foremost, for their ability to support sustained, open-ended interpretive questioning. Folktales are particularly good vehicles for this type of interpretation, as they reveal much about the human condition in all its contradictory splendor.

Such is the case with “The Selkie Girl.” This tale was chosen because it explores what happens when we lose touch with—or deny—who we really are. For students, the actions of both the male and female protagonist can be useful entry points into a discussion of the importance of staying true to oneself, and allowing others to be their true selves as well.

Although it can be argued that the male protagonist’s actions in the story are not always laudatory, Holladay’s interpretation is a singular (and distinctly adult) one in a multitude of possible interpretations. It is a shame to champion this notion—along with the determination that the story promotes gender stereotypes and beauty norms—to the exclusion of all others, as it determines the entire tale reprehensible, immediately terminating further discussion of its larger themes.

We stand behind the stories we have assembled as thought-provoking, multifaceted takes on social and personal issues. The more facets explored, the more enriching the discussion. We write not to defend a particular position, nor to deny Holladay her own, but instead to emphasize our belief that civil discourse is essential for personal growth, social and civic engagement, and the common good.

Rachel Claff, editorial director of K­­–12 programs, and George Schueppert, president, The Great Books Foundation

Jennifer Holladay responds:

I emailed the Great Books Foundation as a concerned parent when my daughter first encountered “The Selkie Girl” in her 2nd-grade classroom. I did not receive a response. Now I know what the foundation’s response might have been, and it does not allay my concerns.

The foundation asserts that “The Selkie Girl” is about “what happens when we lose touch with—or deny—who we really are.” On its face, however, the story is about a man who kidnaps and rapes a woman. To summarize the basic plot points of “The Selkie Girl”:

1) a man becomes obsessed with a magical seal woman, 2) he steals her seal skin so she cannot return to the water, thus compelling her to stay with him, 3) she bears children during her captivity—because she is there involuntarily, the sex that produces these children cannot be considered consensual, and 4) when her seal skin is located, allowing her to return home, she does so immediately. The foundation describes the male character’s actions as “not always laudatory.” I’d describe them as misogynistic and criminal.

At 7 years old, my daughter didn’t use the words “kidnap” or “rape,” but she knew this man was abusing the seal woman, that he was wielding power over her and hurting her. (She also identified and resisted the white beauty norms imbedded in the story.)

What implicit messages might young boys and girls learn from “The Selkie Girl”? Folklore invites the reader’s imagination, to be sure, but it also can cloak problematic social norms by wrapping them in an imaginary time and place populated by magical characters, making problematic content harder to see. “The Selkie Girl” normalizes misogyny and sends implicit messages about power and gender, even if young children don’t yet know the “grown-up” terms for these issues.

As educators, parents, and educational publishers, we must remember that the value of purportedly multicultural content isn’t defined by where a story comes from (“The Selkie Girl” is a Celtic tale). The value of multicultural content is defined by its character, by its ability to position new possibilities in which the principles of social justice are made manifest.

Jennifer Holladay
Denver, Colorado