Saturday, January 14, 2012

Comments about the Van Roekel/ Kopp article

After reading Diane Ravitch's response to the Van Roekel/Kopp op. ed., I had an opportunity to think and consider the situation. I've read many reactions to the piece, such as TeacherKen's, Anthony Cody's, and even my hometown hero Jersey Jazzman's. In replying to another reader's comments, I solidified my ideas and this was my response:

I have my own thoughts about TFA,
But when I read the interview that Van Roekel did with Valerie Strauss I started to give him the benefit of the doubt, except on one very important point; testing and data.

His list to improve teacher preparation includes:

*Raising the bar to entry by requiring that every teacher candidate have one full year of residency

*Advancing a new tiered system of achievement for career teachers by providing different compensation and responsibilities for novice, professional, and master teachers.

*Ensuring that teachers take on leadership roles in their schools to take responsibility for helping to improve instruction, curriculum, and school performance. (I agree if they are to call themselves "Master Teachers")

I agree with pretty much all of these ideas, especially the full year internship, though I think they should receive some kind of compensation.

The joint list of Top Three Things include:

*using data to improve teacher preparation (The test scores of the students received by graduates; sounds mathematically impossible like Value-added is proving to be)

* bringing new talent to the teaching profession (agreed)

*giving teachers opportunities for continuous professional development. (Isn't this why we have to do 100 hours?)

In the interview he said the one great thing about TFA is that they actively seek and recruit possible talent for the profession and that's what everybody needs to start doing.

"One of the things I've learned they do well is recruitment," he said. "In the regular teaching profession we don't have a recruitment process. They do. They identify certain students and go after them to get them to apply. Outright antagonism toward Teach for America doesn't make much sense, he suggested. They are not going away. They have too much money backing them. They are around the world now. If there are things we can learn from them, let's take it. ... It's talking to people with whom we don't agree on every issue. This is way too important to only talk to people we totally agree with."

This makes sense to me and I can't fault him for thinking that. What I can fault him for is jumping on the data (i.e. testing) bandwagon.

What I think we all need to work on is actual improvement of teacher preparation programs. Some thoughts provided by Andrew Hartman include the most expansive study of TFA success, he said:

"Professors of education Julian Vasquez Heilig and Su Jin Jez, in the most thorough survey of such research yet, found that TFA corps members tend to perform equal to teachers in similar situations —that is, they do as well as new teachers lacking formal training assigned to impoverished schools. Sometimes they do better, particularly in math instruction.

"Yet 'the students of novice TFA teachers perform significantly less well,' Vasquez Heilig and Jin Jez discovered, 'than those of credentialed beginning teachers.' It seems clear that TFA's vaunted thirty-day summer institute—TFA "boot camp"—is no replacement for the preparation given future teachers at traditional colleges of education." Here's a link to the actual study.

So they are somewhat better than other emergency certified teachers who earn credentials while on the job, but they are NOT better than traditionally certified teachers. Makes sense to me.

My cousin the TFAer  HATED the program she was assigned to in the state where she is teaching because it just didn't meet her standards for education to which she is used. (She said the deep south college basically had a 7th grade reading level.)

We need to take a page from Finland on this one and start with requiring an undergraduate, subject area major and an Education Masters. (NJ was starting to head down this road, but then people erroneously voted for Chrsitie who thinks we don't need advanced degrees OR certification.)

These are my ideas for improving Teacher Ed Programs:

*There should be an "exploring teacher" practicum BEFORE people apply to programs. (At my university 50% of the people who do the practicum DIDN'T apply to the program because they find out real quick teaching is not for them.)

*There should be a minimum requirement of practicum/fieldwork prior to student teaching and 1, "1 day a week junior field" IS NOT enough.

*There should also be a balance of theory, ideology, and practical application, as taught by research professors AND working teachers. (What can I say, Rutgers has one of the BEST programs going, I'm not biased)

I was never an advocate for standards based education, but there are areas in this country where there are notoriously low standards in their educational systems (known from my own personal experience, though things may have changed in 20 years, but I doubt it), including teacher preparation. Also, let's address the idea that teachers who are better prepared are better able to deal with the intricacies and stress of everyday teaching, and are more likely to stay passed that 2nd, 3rd or 5th year.

Over the years I've had the opportunity work with colleagues from a number of different programs, and each had its own philosophy and skill set. What I usually see is a deficit in some skill sets from some universities. I do have to wonder if it's because I was better prepared, or if I'm just more proactive in learning new ideas and approaches and honing my craft. There is one thing I can do that they can't, and that's create a curriculum out of thin air, which I had to do while in the inner city.

As a career educator, I am all for improving the teacher ed process.  Even Van Roekel said that 5 weeks will never be enough, and I believe that emergemcy certification should be for EMERGENCIES.

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