Article published in Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman
Little noticed in the “No Child Left Behind” education reform bill that President Bush will sign into law early in 2002 is a shift toward greater autonomy for localities in how they use federal funds for attracting knowledgeable teachers into the classrooms.
Gone are federal commands that local schools hire more teachers to reduce class size, or that the new teachers be products of the certification mill operated by education schools and state bureaucracies. Instead, states now will be able to use their Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) funds for developing non-conventional pathways for placing mid-career professionals in K-12 teaching jobs.
They also could develop tests that will show how much teachers are helping their pupils increase their academic achievement. Such a value-added approach could lead to merit pay or bonuses to reward the most effective teachers and provide incentive for them to stay in the classroom.
Of course, the federal government influences education policy only at the margins. It puts up only 7 percent of total dollars spent on K-12 education, and has no constitutional authority to prescribe a curriculum. But if Washington can help nudge the education world away from its obsession with process and toward a focus on academic results from teaching, it will have done something.
That won’t be easy. The dominant gatekeeper to teaching is an entity backed by the teacher unions called the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), which accredits many of the schools or colleges of education that train teachers. The establishment-financed National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future wants NCATE to have monopoly authority over all institutions that train teachers. No one could teach who had not graduated from an NCATE-accredited ed-school.
NCATE’s standards have little, if anything, to do with whether new teachers are being prepared to teach children to read, write, compute, or comprehend science. At a recent convention of the National Association for Multicultural Education (NAME) in Las Vegas, NCATE senior vice president Donna Gollnick unveiled NCATE’s latest standards, which (she proudly noted) have been condensed from 20 to 6.
Five of the six standards relate to the teacher trainers’ devotion to “diversity,” said Ms. Gollnick. NCATE defines diversity as “differences among groups of people and individuals based on ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, gender, exceptionalities, language, religion, sexual orientation, and geographical area.”
It seems fair to conclude from this that teachers so trained, or indoctrinated, in groupthink would concentrate their K-12 lessons more on what divides Americans than what unites them. That was certainly the tone of the NAME gathering (presided over by Ms. Gollnick as NAME president), where featured speakers like Claremont education professor Antonia Darder essentially blamed America’s “culture of dominion” for the September 11
terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
NCATE’s standards, NAME delegates were told, mean accreditation teams will judge how well teacher-trainers “model diversity” and exhibit the correct “dispositions” with regard to diversity.
That suggests a focus more on attitudes than academics. By way of contrast with this politicization of the classroom, the bipartisan Public Agenda has found that the vast majority of parents want schools to concentrate on teaching basic skills and core knowledge.
If local school boards want to bypass NCATE and follow the wishes of parents (and perhaps win a grant from the new ESEA in the process), they could hire some of their teachers from outside the certification mill, teachers who know their subjects from years of scholarship or experience in the working world. Then they could use a value-added approach to school testing to see which teachers – those steeped in diversity or those who know their disciplines – most help children progress in their studies.
Former University of Tennessee statistician William Sanders, who is now associated with a software company in Cary, N.C., pioneered the technique of value-added assessment a decade ago. Through a sophisticated analysis of student achievement data, the Sanders system is able to pinpoint how much value each teacher adds to each pupil’s learning from year to year.
The multiculturalists and education professors gathered in Vegas bashed standardized tests for holding down low-income and minority children. But in fact value-added assessment does the opposite: It gives full credit and offers potential reward to those teachers who take children from impoverished, low-achieving backgrounds and help them make gains.
Sanders suggests envisioning the curriculum not as stair steps but as a ramp. Educators should be held accountable for “the speed of movement up the ramp,” he says, “not the position on the ramp.” Kids come from different starting points, and backgrounds. Improvement is what counts.
And improvement is what could come to schools if substance ever replaced bureaucratic processes like certification.
— Robert Holland is a Senior Fellow at the Lexington Institute.
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