Monday, June 24, 2013

The Tale of Two Education Reports

Two national groups hope to influence education with the release this week of their widely publicized education reports. On first glance the two reports seem to have little in common. The first report published by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) attempts to rank teacher preparation programs, while the second report published by American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) examines the teaching of the humanities and social sciences in K-12 schools. Yet, these reports offer book ends of the same debate over the future of our public education system. Whether intentional, both reports speak to major flaws in the the market-based education reform movement's infatuation with education as a means to serve the economy, as well as its obsession with data-driven instruction.

Numerous scholars, including Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, Aaron Pallas, Michael Feuer, Bruce Baker, Mercedes Schneider, Ed Fuller, Jack Hassard, Donald Heller, and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, have highlighted the problems with the recent National Council on Teacher Quality "Teacher Prep Review" report (on the flip side, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan praised it). For those who do not know much about NCTQ, it was created by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to directly challenge university-based teacher education. As such, it is not surprising that their report found most university-based teacher preparation programs were inadequate. Its board members include education reformers that favor deprofessionalizing teacher preparation, including Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee. Due to the controversial nature of NCTQ and concerns about data collection, many schools of education (including my own institution, Boston University) refused to provide data. Yet, NCTQ rated many of these teacher preparation programs regardless, and if you look at their report, attempt to publicly shame those institutions that did not share data. 

Despite its research-like appearance, this report is not educational research. The NCTQ report collected syllabi from institutions along with entrance exam scores and used that to rate teacher preparation programs. It is essentially a document reviews without any serious methodology or peer review and based on erroneous or missing data. The report's rating system is primarily based on each teacher preparation program's selectivity and content alignment to the Common Core standards. However, neither variable are an accurate measure of a program's overall quality. The vast majority of critiques of this report can be summed up with Richard Allington's comment, "Imagine a person reviews the restaurants in your city by examining the menus they found on-line. Never tasted the food or ever visited any restaurant." This report assessed teacher preparation programs without ever observing a single course, interviewing a single instructor, or surveying any students. This is not an honest assessment of our nation's teacher preparation programs. Rather, it is a underhanded attempt to undermine the university-based teacher preparation system that has made dramatic improvements over the past two decades. It is indicative of the current state of education reform in the United States.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released their own report titled "The Heart of the Matter." This report was supported by a panel of liberal and conservative politicians and commentators, as well as actors, artists, and media personalities and documented the state of humanities and social sciences in K-12 schools. Although this report was suppose to be earth-shattering, it has been drowned out by the recent uproar caused by the more controversial NCTQ report and a recent scandal involving the resume of the AAAS's director. However, the findings of this report should have received much more media attention. In sum, the report finds that the United States has focused too much educational attention on math and sciences at the expense of the humanities and social sciences. Consequently, the school disciplines that help students develop certain types of creativity, civic knowledge, and understanding of the human experience are being neglected. Meanwhile, other high-performing nations, like Singapore and Finland, are increasing their instruction in the humanities. My main critique of the report is that it suffers from the same obsession with market-based education reform as the NCTQ report. Although not to the same extent, it frames the need for more education in the humanities and social science as an economic imperative. Despite this, the report illuminates the dilemma a nation is put in when it chooses to focus its resources and energy into the school subjects it believes are more important for the economy. It is important to provide a well-rounded education, which includes a diverse array of school subjects.

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