College Guide


May 08, 2012 11:00 AM When Teachers Refuse Shoddy Reform Efforts

By Daniel Luzer

A pilot project at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is supposed to help license teachers cheaply. Under a program developed by Stanford University and the education company Pearson, aspiring teachers submit material to outsiders who then, without ever seeing the students, determine whether or not student teachers can teach. Many teaching programs across the country are using this method.

But some students and professors at UMass object. According to an article by Michael Winerip at the New York Times:

Sixty-seven of the 68 students studying to be teachers at the middle and high school levels at the Amherst campus are protesting a new national licensure procedure being developed by Stanford University with the education company Pearson.
The UMass students say that their professors and the classroom teachers who observe them for six months in real school settings can do a better job judging their skills than a corporation that has never seen them.
They have refused to send Pearson two 10-minute videos of themselves teaching, as well as a 40-page take-home test, requirements of an assessment that will soon be necessary for licensure in several states.

Student-teachers object that this is a complicated concept and it’s hard for evaluators to understand teacher quality if they don’t ever show up in the classroom. The procedure, which also requires aspiring teachers to learn video editing software, doesn’t seem to be any more stringent or effective at evaluating teacher quality.

According to the article California, which has had a performance assessment similar to that developed by Pearson in place for 10 years, grants licenses to about 98 percent of student teachers who apply and submit the materials. Six states plan to adopt teacher performance assessments in coming years.

Four school districts training the UMass student-teachers also refused to participate.

According to the article, in states using the Pearson-Stanford licensing procedure, students have to pay “up to” $300 a piece to Pearson in order for the company to evaluate the videos and tests.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Scott Fenwick on May 09, 2012 9:57 AM:

    As someone who completed a Master of Education in Instructional Leadership with certification to teach secondary history and social studies at a large state university in Illinois a year ago, I empathize with the folks at UMass. I also stand in solidarity with them. I was volunteered to be a part of this exact same pilot program. It's called TPAC. I opted out of the pilot program for a number of reasons. Little did I know it was worse than I thought.

    First, the College of Education at my institution had no idea what it was dealing with. A mandate came down from the State and they thought they'd use us teacher trainees as guinea pigs. What they asked of us was unreasonably burdensome. Student teaching is tough. Getting a placement in an environment in which one can experience a true professional apprenticeship is even tougher. And then to ask a student teacher to potentially compromise himself by videotaping the classroom shows a lack of forethought. Schools volunteer to accept student teachers. There's no mandate to take them in. And once schools get a whiff of these TPAC requirements even fewer will want to accept student teachers, making it even harder for institutions to find placements for their teacher trainees. As you can see, only fools rush in.

    Sadly, and more broadly, the fact that this TPAC evaluation system even exists reflects the profound mistrust and disconnect between government, the public, and (real) education professionals. It's maddening to think that university professors and administrators - experts with PhDs - are so willing to yield to state bureaucrats and corporate for-profit interests. Do they not realize that this TPAC evaluation system is a step towards standardizing what they teach and how they teach it? Just like K-12 teachers, these folks' professional judgment is now being compromised as well.

    Unfortunately, teacher trainees in Illinois soon won't be as lucky as me. They will have to comply with the State's mandate. In the near future, these folks (some of whom I happen to teach and advise at the moment) will have to endure the pain (and perhaps shame) of this madness called the TPAC. And then corporate revenues will grow while politicians' campaign coffers swell. The hijacking of public education is in full swing. Those in a position to lead must not just sit there and take it. Shame on them if they do. Here's to the courage exhibited by the students and teachers at UMass. They, and those like them, should not go down without a fight.