Wednesday 26 June 2014
And she’s not gonna take this anymore!
Barbara Madeloni, newly-elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA), is outraged at the technocratic neo-liberal hyper-capitalistic anti-democratic profit-driven corporatist rich male white supremacist privatization of American public education. A former psychologist, Ms Madeloni taught high school English for a few years. This apparently gave her enough street cred to direct a teacher preparation program at UMass Amherst. She describes herself as a “social justice activist.” Her chief bête noire is London-based Pearson PLC, publishers and purveyors of all sorts of educational materials, including curricula, standardized tests, and new teacher evaluation kits. This last bit has Ms Madeloni in a mighty snit.
“Pearson,” says she, “is the head of a monster,” alluding, clumsily, to the mythical Hydra, whose heads grow back when severed. Or is she perhaps more subtly alluding to Latin caput, head, as the base of “capital?” In any case she clearly regards herself as a heroic slayer of polycephalous saurians. Which particular head is she striking at? Pearson’s Education division, together with the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) and the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), have created and sell a program called edTPA for assessing the job-readiness of teacher candidates in schools of education. If adopted by a state, teacher candidates will need to pass the edTPA to obtain licensure. Among the qualifications are some standardized tests in the subject content and a requirement that would-be teachers allow themselves to be filmed in demonstration classes.
I’ve done a fair bit of teacher evaluations and I’ve hired and mentored quite a few young teachers in their first year or two. Were I still doing so, I would find this program very worthwhile. If I were a beginning teacher myself, I would appreciate the close attention to my preparation, the feedback from experienced people, and the additional assurances accompanying my licensure. If I were a district personnel officer, I would certainly give it a try; if it didn’t work, I’d quit using it. Seems simple enough.
So why is Ms Madeloni so hacked off, so to speak, about edTPA? Let us count the ways.
1. The tests of the program are standardized. So what? say you. Perhaps you didn’t know it, but standardization in education is a manifestation of white supremacy. That’s right. See, standardization is all about “getting rid of differences,” since everyone takes the same test or same kind of test. That’s bad because it assumes established norms and standards equally applicable to all. And who establishes norms and standards? White supremacists do, that’s who! Just like the Grand Dragon and his Hydras! Coincidence? You be the judge.
2. Pearson is a for-profit capitalist corporation. That phrase, in case you didn’t know, is synonymous with “anti-democratic” among a certain set. The invasion of the private sector into public education is “a deep undoing of the democratic project,” at least for persons such as Ms Madeloni and Diane Ravitch. You, as I, might have been deluded into thinking that free enterprise and democracy in America have something to do with each other. Ah, not when Malefactors of Great Wealth are involved, “millionaires and billionaires” (a verbal tic of Ravitch’s, picked up, perhaps, from our Fundamentally-Transformative Leader-from-Behind) who seek to gut the heretofore citizen-making Great American School System for the sake of filthy lucre, leaving poor, black, and brown children without resources and scattering curricular detritus everywhere.
3. The program is anti-union. First, the people who score the edTPA assessments are non-union “piece-work” laborers who are paid seventy-five bucks a pop. Who should be doing that work? Unionized professors in schools of Education, such as Ms Madeloni was at UMass Amherst — until she was canned for refusing, and encouraging her students to refuse, to participate in edTPA. So Pearson is a sweat-shop operator. Second, the program disqualifies some candidates from obtaining teaching licensure. YOU might think that’s a good thing, Mr or Mrs Citizen Parent. But that means fewer dues-paying tenured union members, and that means less money, and that means diminishing political power. We can’t just sit back and let that happen.
4. The scoring of teacher candidate tests and especially the filming of demonstration classes is “the gaze of a centralized authority” in a surveillance state, Ms Madeloni warns. Imagine Big Brother glaring out from a telescreen to denounce Goldstein, or, keeping with the lizard theme here, Sauron’s eye in Lord of the Rings. A genuine teacher is not supposed to go into the classroom with plans and a “script,” you see. No, “you shouldn’t know what’s going to happen in the classroom,” she asserts. The goal of a class is to “create empathy.” Ms Madeloni seems to be a follower of Martha Nussbaum in this respect. The teacher and students are to “discover” stuff together, without all that planning and preparation done just to appease snoopy administrators and to keep profits flowing to rich white corporate men.
Where to begin? Might as well take them in order.
The notion that standardized tests in particular — and standards at all in general — are a product of white supremacy makes sense only in the doublespeak of social justice activists. If genuine equality does not produce desired results in terms of neat mathematical ratios of genders, ethnicities, sexual styles and myriad other criteria, then the norms and standards are plainly flawed and must be adjusted in any way necessary to achieve those results. Inequality is thus the new Equality. Let us call this one of those Conflicts of Vision and move on.
Private sector bad, public sector good. From the POTUS to the OWS this is now an invidious mantra. The idea that for-profit interest in education is harmful to our democracy will not sit well with private schools, tutoring services, or students. And let’s not forget that the world’s worst despotic, anti-democratic states also have had and still do have compulsory public education, with no school options, no private-sector involvement. Finally, you may be sure that the influence and money of “progressive” millionaires and billionaires, such as those massaged by the NEA’s high-level operative John Stocks and the Democracy Alliance, is perfectly acceptable to Ms Madeloni.
It is ludicrous for Ms Madeloni to complain about a “highly centralized authority.” American public education, from its founding by Horace Mann upon the statist Prussian model, has always been and remains a thoroughly socialist undertaking. More to the point, the teachers unions owe their very existence and strength to that same highly centralized authority; the two go hand in hand. And as for standardization, it was the Progressive educational technocrats of the early 20th century who set the American system on the efficiency-measurement plan. See Thorndike, Edward L.
Ed schools have ever been an embarrassment, as noted by Rita Kramer and David Labaree, (though for very different reasons), incubators of social justice activists but poor preparation for the noble work of teaching. They could use some help from outside. Beginning teachers need support and structure. They need good plans and curricular guidelines. They must come ready to the classroom, with very good organizational skills. They must have the confidence that comes from knowing that their preparation, their practical training, has been very good. They derive strength from that. And students need their new teachers to be all that and more. It happens often enough that entering teachers are not qualified despite — or because of — their ed school preparation. Follow the longitudinal pass rates of Massachusetts’ MTEL program from 1998 on (here) as one example.
Ms Madeloni says new teachers are aware that “things are not going well in public education.” She means especially the various threats to union-protected teacher tenure (aka “due process”). As a union leader, she will have to acknowledge the increasing public animosity toward and suspicion of the teacher unions (not teachers themselves) as legitimate and justified. The Vergara decision may release a wave of frustration and impatience. More to the point, new and well-qualified beginning teachers should not be attracted to the work of teaching because of the promise of union-protected employment. There are better reasons.
The MTA may come to regret this election. Barbara Madeloni wants to “reclaim the conversation” about public education. What does that mean? It means she recognizes that the unions are fighting a rearguard action with only a clutch of rusty 60s-era slogans and a few slings and arrows of adolescent OWS envy. Cognitive dissonance is her vision. This will win the MTA few new friends on Beacon Hill, and will probably cost them some old ones. But hey, that’s our democratic project.
For the curious: according to the MTA’s 2011 IRS Form 990, former president Paul Toner made $129,522 plus $9,260 in deferred taxable income. On that basis the new president will probably be getting around $150K per annum, minimum.