Sunday, November 18, 2012

Venture Philanthropy Meets Alternative Teacher Training

The charter school movement is gaining momentum and it seems as though everyone is drinking the kool-aid. Do some public schools need to do better? Yes, some do. Does this mean we should stop training teachers? Probably not, Atkins. 

The NY Times article blows my mind. When we (America at large) worry about having bad teachers, I would have to wonder if some of it has to do with the fact that alternative certification program and programs like TFA aren’t training their teachers. I'm currently in "The Teaching of Reading" with Professor Johnston, and if I've learned anything at all this semester, it's that there is no "one magical way" to teach students. There are better strategies and worse strategies, but the teacher's background information and beliefs about how students learn are the most important things. I am skeptical of this panacea approach to training teachers from the get-go.  

I feel a certain sort of way about being “beyond ideology” concept at Relay. I think being “beyond ideology” sounds like a specific kind of ideology of ignorance, and that is just as dangerous as a radically liberal or conservative motivator. Coming from a founder who also has his fingers in the charter school pie, I can’t say I’m horribly surprised. It only seems natural that once in control of the schools to expand that control to the teachers in them as well. Give it time. If this keeps up, our sweet charter school indoctrinated students will grow up, have their own children, maybe, and send them to those inspiring model schools they themselves attended. It does not sit well with me. (In other news, Soylent Green is people.)

Venture philanthropy is motivated by neoliberalism? You don't say, Saltman! He also says that teaching is a political act and warns that the deregulation of teacher training would have serious political consequences. As he outlines a plan for the professionalization of teaching, I am reminded of Professor Palmer's triangle of the players in eduction: theory, policy and practice. In order to be effective teachers (practice), there needs to be a solid foundation in both theory and policy. Ideally, all three should inform each other, but that is rarely the case. Yet, if teaching can become professionalized, that may just be the impetus needed to empower educators to become more involved in the other two areas and vice versa. The three areas are too disconnected now, and even with teacher empowerment it is not fair to expect teachers to do all the work within the triangle alone.

The Gates Foundation is not alone in their desire to reform teacher education. I, too, see the need for reform. My reform doesn't include the complete deregulation of the teacher certification process in a feverish quest to raise test scores. Saltman notes, "Broader and more holistic concepts of understanding, wisdom, the education of the whole person from the enlightenment tradition...are diminished in this view in favor an instrumentalized conception of knowledge," (116). I see reformed teacher certification with more focus on multicultural education, and more reflection on the codes of the culture of power. I want teachers to be aware of their own beliefs and their schema, and I want them to be in classrooms that are not scheduled down to the minute, but have the flexibility to move with students' interest. Test score measurements continue to do more harm than good. We have to see teaching as bigger than test scores if we want real change. 


  1. Throughout class we have been touching on all of the dangers that come with privatizing education and neoliberal reform agenda. Now we have a better understanding of how political teaching really is. Often times, the de-professionalized persona that teachers hold make it seem like they really are just factory workers within a bigger system. With this in mind, I don’t understand how programs like Teaching U can justify ignoring theory in teacher practices. This type of short cut is one that should be a red flag for any professional educator. If anyone has ever participated in any kind of corporate training session (i.e. working for a large chain of restaurants) you realize that you do not learn anything from them. The argument for ignoring theory delegitimizes the need for a foundation in purpose for practice. The leaders at Teaching U argue that you cannot learn to shoe a horse by reading a book, but I argue that advanced degrees in theory and practice are inherently connected to teaching kids and provide a democratic foundation to start from. Reading, listening, writing, reflecting, and being in class is not so far off from teaching, they are connected. The political decisions that teachers make must come from an informed position, and how else will teachers become informed if no through education?

  2. In Saltman’s article, I found it particularly interesting that he explains the flaws of the professionalization (liberal) approach to teacher-education reform. Many of the sources we’ve read, such as that of Darling-Hammond, propose professionalization as the antidote/antithesis to the neoliberal deregulation approach. I agree with these words from Olivia— “if teaching can become professionalized, that may just be the impetus needed to empower educators to become more involved in [policy and theory]”— the quick-fix mindset we see in the NY Times article illustrates a teaching experience that completely lacks this theoretical and political foundation. However, I think Saltman makes a good point that teaching cannot be compared to law or medicine, as it repeatedly is by Darling-Hammond. Saltman says on page 101 that lawyers’ and doctors’ professionalism is partly a result of “class based elite status” and “control over the organization of knowledge and practices that provide access to capital production.” Though this explanation was complicated to me, I interpret it as saying that teachers should not be compared to lawyers or doctors because law and medicine repress social justice rather than promote it, as teaching should, and NEEDS to. I’m really glad that I read this critique of the “other side” (professionalization) because I had previously thought the lawyer/doctor comparison appropriate and convincing. As the Gates state in their mission statement, education should be an “equalizer” (Saltman 115) (ironically, because their policies don’t actually promote this). Like Olivia, I think that professionalization is a worthy goal and that teacher education should be rigorous and theory-based. However, I think we should realize that teaching cannot be compared to other professional careers, because of its unique purpose in our society.

  3. Like Olivia, I found the NYTimes article pretty shocking and disheartening. It amazes me that so many people support programs, like the one at Relay Graduate School of Education, that promote a few week training course, which lacks the necessary knowledge about the complexities of teaching, as the solution to the problems of America’s public education system.

    Considering the disgusting and destructive effects of these programs, it amazes me that so many people, including political leaders and the most powerful people in our society, continue to support these movements—that they continue to push for programs that devalue and worsen teaching in this country, while also reproducing inequality. I was extremely upset reading about the amount of money that the Robin Hood Foundation contributed to the project, thereby giving it the financial means to devalue and destroy teaching in this country. I have heard quite a bit about the Robin Hood Foundation and the amount of money it donates to various non-profit organizations, most of which do good work in society. Reading about the foundation’s financial support for the program actually bothered me more than hearing about the other companies and corporate elites supporting this movement. I think this stems from the realization that even those with seemingly good intentions and a “commitment” to ending problems of inequality support such damaging programs. This realization is scary because it ultimately means that this destructive movement will be very hard to stop—that it will be extremely difficult to shift the country towards a new kind of education reform that actually stems from the needs of the children. Furthermore, it suggests a rather depressing conclusion about people in our society, even those who “try to do good.”

    I really wish that people in society would wake up and consider the disgusting and destructive effects of the programs that they are supporting—that they would reconsider the notions of education “reform” that have become so popular today. I know it is extremely hard to change people’s opinions, especially when they seem to lack a common care for other individuals, but I really hope it can be done. It needs to be done if we are to create a democracy that’s actually based on equality and justice.

  4. It amazes me that so many people can support alternative methods of teacher certification that takes short cuts and devalues the profession and the importance to have teachers prepared with theory, policy, and practice (Prof. Palmer’s educational players, as Olivia already noted). The fact that our country claims to support education so much makes it hard to believe that so many people would support less educated and prepared educators. It seems pretty clear to me that it is the businesspeople and corporate sectors of the country that support these “quick-fix” initiatives, despite the pushback and criticism coming from the people who have actually spent time in classrooms as teachers. Although there is clearly a lack of support and appreciation of teachers, it seems counterintuitive to me that teachers’ ideas and input are rarely taken seriously.

    I would also like to comment on Grace’s point. It is very interesting to see the counterarguments to using professionalization of teaching as a way to ameliorate the problems we associate with teaching and public schools. Although I do think that this liberal approach to improving the respect that teachers are given, it is evident that this is not a simple or all-encompassing solution.

  5. Like Olivia, when I read the Otterman article, it was eye-opening to see the drastic changes that are occurring in the Teaching Certification field. As an Educational Studies major, we have gone over the dangers of too much privatization and deregulation in public schooling. I see that if this trend continues, the teaching profession will be completely sabotaged. It's terrible to hear that most of these teachers that are in these alternative teaching programs are selected to work in most low-income communities. I would think that teachers in these neighborhoods would need to know more about educational philosophy to better understand the culture of these children. Saltman makes the point, the neoliberalist approaches to deregulating the teaching profession has been made to better benefit the business economy (100). Well, duh. It seems like most of the changes being made post-NCLB to public schooling has been in the interest of the business owners.

    I fear that the deregulation of the teaching profession will cause teaching to be viewed as any other staff job. Saltman expresses the danger of the teaching profession no longer being viewed as an "art." (101). We have seen this time and time again. People suggesting that "if you can't do, teach." Why is teaching seen as something that can be done without any educational background? It especially bothers me when Otterman describes certification programs that can be completed online. How can a teacher understand how to educate students if they never have personal contact with them? How can an educator learn about the culture within their classroom if they never experience working with other cultures? I feel like there is so much that needs to be changed within our public school system because educational policies continue to be in the interests of the businesses that are investing in these institutions, instead of in the students attending them. Most of these teachers educate their students the way that they were educated. If this is their example of a "classroom setting," what is the future of our schooling?

    It seems that this stance on alternative certification is only going to lead us to further blame educators for the social problems within our society (Saltman, 103). We are going to first blame the educators for underperformance, then close the school and blame the students for the lack of achievement. These neoliberal values only force us to continue to ignore the public need for education and blame people for not being able to properly navigate through society.

  6. Olivia has brought our attention to an important quote in the Teacher U article when she said that she was skeptical about Norman Atkins describing his program as "beyond ideology." Olivia believed that this was likely a code word for an "ideology of ignorance." Based off of the NY Times article, what this translates into at Teacher U is indeed a simplistic curriculum that focuses a "nearly single-minded focus on practical teaching techniques."

    When Teacher U claims to be "beyond ideology," it is either ignoring or trying to hide the ideology that drives it. Kelsey eloquently talked about "the need for a foundation in purpose for practice" in her post. Teacher U doesn't lack a purpose in their practice, but they are trying to mask it as well as they can. Saltman describes what is going on when Teacher U says that they only teach "stuff that makes you a better teacher on Monday." Saltman writes, "[The neoliberal deregulation agenda] appeals through a scientific promise of objectivity and neutrality-- a vigorous embrace of positivist rationality that separates information from the underlying values and assumptions organizing it." Teacher U embraces a stance of objectivity and neutrality with gusto in order to hide their own neoliberal agenda.

    That agenda is, as far as I can tell, to turn teaching into "a trade instead of an art." It is an attempt to boil teaching down into a simplistic set of skills so that teachers might be better assumed into a neoliberal economy. This is the opposite of Giroux's transformative teachers that Saltman discusses. Saltman tells us that transformational, critical approaches "prepare teachers who can help students theorize their experiences of oppression to collectively address the systematic and structural causes of that oppression." Instead, Teacher U teachers are being taught to exclusively transfer basic knowledge to their students that will prop up the neoliberal economy. Ideology and theory is removed in an attempt to dam off all those things that seep through during the course of an education that challenge and question the system.

    This vision of teaching "beyond ideology," typified by Teacher U, is so effective and so destructive because it appear does appear to offer truth, a clear way apart from the ideologies that distort the discussion of meaningful reform. But, in fact, it often offers only more lies. The Saltman article shows how even someone like President Obama, who appears to have good intentions, can be bought into the system. Obama says, "I don't approach problems by asking myself... is there a conservative approach to this or a liberal approach, is there a Democratic or Republican approach to this... I am willing to tinker and borrow and steal ideas from just about anybody if I think they might work." This outlook has strong appeal. With the sad circumstances of many kids in challenged schools, it is felt that anything that might help should be tried. Unfortunately, many of the remedies offered come with their own agenda. This is especially the case because those who appear most capable of offering assistance are usually the rich and powerful who only got into their position of power and influence by manipulating and internalizing oppressive ideologies. Unfortunately, going "beyond ideology" often means surrendering those transformative ideologies that are a last line of defense against bad ideology.

  7. The NY Times article was very interesting to me. One of the quotes that stood out most to me in this article was from Brent Maddin, Relay’s senior manager of teaching and learning. Mr. Maddin said, “To make a crude analogy, if I am learning to become a blacksmith, I also don’t learn how to be a pipefitter. I also don’t read a ton of books about how to shoe a horse. What I do is I show up and shoe horses.” It is true that hands-on learning can be extremely beneficial for people. Things happen in the classroom that nobody can teach you how to deal with, which is something that I’m sure every teacher has experienced. However, I think it’s pretty unbelievable that so many people continue to support the placement of completely inexperienced ‘teachers’ (like the TFA members) in the classroom. It seems as though we’re perpetuating the idea that students are just vessels for us to import our knowledge in. Another part of this article that stood out was the belief that the techniques that these teachers are learning at Relay are applicable to “all settings and to all types of kids.” Honestly, I think that is just a blatantly false statement. There is no way that what these people are learning can apply to all settings and types of kids that these teachers see in their classrooms.
    Reading these articles, I can’t help but feel that we’re talking about educating students and children in a pretty terrible way. Yes, having great teachers is important. But these teacher improvement programs seem to create this idea within teachers that they have the ultimate knowledge of what students need to know in the classroom. I don’t think it works that way. But I also don’t know of another way to educate teachers that would be beneficial in the classroom. Just like every child is different, every teacher is different. There is no one way that is the correct way to teach. So I don’t think that there can be one way to improve all teachers.