Letters to the Editor 28.2

In response to critiques of the Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), I’d like to share some perspectives as a teacher educator (“High-Stakes Test for New Teachers,” summer 2013). At Alverno, our programs are committed to social justice, starting with the expectation that our graduates will leave us able to teach all our children, advocate for their civil right to a good education, and show respect for them and their communities. There are many opportunities in the edTPA for candidates to demonstrate social justice in action. In the rationale section of the planning commentary, candidates reflect on what content students need, and the rubrics clearly privilege teaching that takes into account the needs of specific individuals or groups.

Regarding work with diverse candidates, our experience is that the edTPA in no way disadvantages our candidates from underrepresented groups. Our candidates from across varied ethnic groups perform well on the edTPA. Our strong curriculum and assessment model, with feedback-intensive work with candidates across the whole program, builds toward the outcomes assessed by the edTPA.

Regarding concern with Pearson’s involvement as the platform/logistics provider, I fail to see how engaging one of the few entities with the infrastructure for a nationally available assessment leads to the critique that corporate involvement means corporatization of campuses. Stanford remains in control of the design of the assessment, and of the scoring and training specifications. And it’s simply untrue that assessors can be hired off the street. I’m familiar with the screening process as several of my faculty colleagues have applied to assess. Candidates for scoring must have experience as teachers or teacher educators, and they don’t assess if they don’t pass the training. Moreover, assessor performance is routinely checked for calibration with the training.

To me, the National Council on Teacher Quality’s “research” is much more worrisome than the edTPA. NCTQ tries to move us back to an input focus, as though making everyone work from the same NCTQ syllabus would ensure good teaching by graduates. The edTPA moves us forward with credible outcome measures.

Teacher education must take hold of the professional demands of teaching in the 21st century for all of our children. I see the edTPA moving us in that direction.

Mary Diez
Professor, Alverno College School of Education
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

EdTPA: Latest Salvo in Neoliberal Arsenal

In a letter to Rethinking Schools (fall 2013), Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, introduced his argument in defense of the edTPA by asserting: “Pre-K-12 students need teachers who are fully qualified and fully prepared to teach on day one when they enter a classroom.” In other words, the problem: national need for qualified and prepared teachers. Van Roekel’s solution: edTPA, an ineffective, quick fix solution for in-depth, systemic problems.

The edTPA is yet another widely disseminated education experiment that has no independent validated research to support it. There is no evidence that scoring well on the edTPA ensures or even increases the chances that teacher candidates will become effective teachers. Nor is the edTPA a performance assessment. In reality, it is largely an assessment of how well candidates can write extended analyses in response to a series of prompts. The short video of candidate teaching is a 15-minute staged presentation that conceals the nuances of the historical, local, and interpersonal contexts that underlie candidates’ teaching over time. Why would anyone require financially strapped students and programs to participate in such an expensive, unproven endeavor?

As an alternative approach, consider Finland, a country whose heavy investment in the common good supports a well-subsidized and highly respected corps of pre- and inservice teachers and teacher educators, as well as students who demonstrate the highest academic achievement in the world. High-stakes standardized testing is unknown in Finland.

U.S. investment in policies that empirical research has shown do improve educational outcomes smaller class sizes, early childhood intervention services, and strong peer-to-peer staff development/mentoring models would increase the chances that all teachers who enter classrooms are fully prepared, and promote a more equitable and socially just society in the process.

Let’s be honest thus far national standardized high-stakes assessments have marginalized students of the global majority, limited or eliminated preparation for democratic citizenship, and decimated the morale, respect for, and self-respect of teachers and teacher educators. EdTPA is just the latest salvo in the neoliberal arsenal of educational quick fixes offered in place of addressing systemic issues in effective ways. Why would anyone think that’s a good idea?

Mari Ann Roberts
Associate Professor of Multicultural Education and Coordinator, Master of Arts in Teaching Program
Department of Teacher Education, Clayton State University
Morrow, Georgia

Corporate/Government Collusion in School Closings

I would like to add three important points to your outstanding editorial about the epidemic of public school closures (“Clear-Cutting Our Schools,” fall 2013):

1. Our movement needs to grapple with the fact that the school closure strategy is being led by the federal government and is entirely bipartisan. The school-closer-in-chief is a Democratic president who was endorsed by all the teachers’ unions and for whom many of us voted. President Obama announced the public school closure strategy in 2009, vowing to close 5,000 “failing schools.” As you mention, to date 4,000 public schools have closed nationwide.

2. There is a revolving door between corporate “reformers” and a deeply penetrated U.S. Department of Education (DOE). Arne Duncan’s chief of staff received a conflict of interest waiver to transfer from the Gates Foundation to the DOE. The Gates Foundation is lead funder for the Common Core and its testing regime, which, not coincidentally, must be taken on computers.

3. The strategy of “public school downsizing, private school upsizing” has expanded to include community colleges. City College of San Francisco, where I taught for 31 years, is a test case (see “Corporate Reform ‘Jumps the Fence’: Crisis at City College of San Francisco,” summer 2013). A regional accreditation commission closely allied with corporate reformers announced that it intends to disaccredit and close our college as of July 2014. Under this threat, the college is being overhauled and “right-sized,” down from 100,000 students citywide in 2008 to 79,000. The disaccreditation announcement has spurred an even more precipitous drop, which could set off a spiral of downsizing and failure (similar to what has happened in many K-12 districts). A determined movement is resisting with organizing and four lawsuits.

Here, too, the corruption intrinsic to a corporate/government revolving door is in play. In January 2012, Vickie Schray the DOE senior analyst in charge of negotiating college accreditation regulations left after 13 years to become the vice president of regulatory affairs for Bridgepoint, the second largest for-profit career “college.” Arthur Rothkopf former vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a trustee of the Educational Testing Service now co-chairs the commission that advises the DOE on the accreditation of the accrediting agencies themselves.

Our unions, and our movement for education justice, need to reorient our alliances away from the corporate-dominated Democratic Party leadership and toward the grassroots.

Allan Fisher
Retired faculty and member, Save City College of San Francisco
San Francisco, California