Guest blogger Barbara Madeloni of the UMass Amherst School of Education chose to boycott the Teacher Performance Assessment field test via Pearson. As a result, her contract was not renewed. There is a movement for her reinstatement through a petition that can be signed here.
The incursion of for profit companies into higher education occurs with willing collaborators. Whether misguided, fearful, subject to the lure of the advancement of their own careers, or standing to profit themselves we cannot know, but across the country faculty join administrators in advancing practices that open the door for the privatization of our work. The accountability regimes supported by accrediting agencies and professional organizations have become entryways for companies like Pearson, Inc. to not only sell their products, but to control our practices. In teacher education, the Teacher Performance Assessment (TPA) is being pushed as a national assessment for student teaching by faculty from Stanford and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE). With more than twenty states having signed on to field test it, and six states already mandating it as part of student teaching, the TPA is overtaking teacher education. Questions must be asked about what it means to standardize teacher education assessment, and how that standardization then reaches back into the content of our courses. But a more immediate concern is that this TPA is being delivered and scored by Pearson, Inc, which will hire contract scorers on a piece work basis to review videos of student teaching and written responses to canned questions. The work of developing student teachers, working closely with cooperating teachers, and assessing readiness to enter the classroom will come down to a number from a rubric scored by a piece work laborer who does not know the student teacher.
Valerie Strauss recently published a piece from InsideHigherEd.com by Linda Darling-Hammond, of Stanford University, extolling the virtues of the new edTPA. This followed on the heels of a puff piece in the NYTimes quoting Ray Pecheone, also from Stanford University, at length about the need for and benefits of this hoped for national assessment of student teacher readiness to enter the classroom. And this NYTimes article was published shortly after the AACTE (American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education) and the Teacher Performance Assessment Consortium unleashed their marketing campaign for the newly branded edTPA, a campaign that features Ray Pecheone and Andrea Whittaker from Stanford, and representatives from Pearson, crisscrossing the country with an edTPA purchase plan for colleges of education. Said purchase plan features tiered access, with ‘usage credit’ programs for those who commit to full implementation, and is blazoned at the bottom with the trademarks of Pearson, AACTE and Stanford’s SCALE (Stanford Center for Learning, Assessment, and Equity). Now we learn of an ‘implementation conference’ for the edTPA, one of a few across the country. Note, this is not a conference to examine its reliability, validity, or implications for teaching and teacher education, but to discuss how to best implement it. Clearly, the hard sell is on to convince both the public and the administrators of teacher education that we need a national assessment of teacher education, that the edTPA is the one we need, and that the outsourcing of the scoring to a for-profit company is the way to go with this plan.
Why the hard sell? It is a curious thing that something as complicated, uncertain and contested as teacher development is subject to the demands of salesmanship. In her essay, Linda Darling Hammond dismisses concerns, such as those raised by the students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who refused to participate in the Pearson field test of the TPA, without engaging any of their specific objections. Other critiques, which have been ongoing throughout the development of the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (of which edTPA is the most recent iteration) are not even mentioned (see Ann Berlak in Rethinking Schools and Kornfield and others writing from Sonoma State). Instead we are given testimonials from satisfied customers—teacher educators and students. This salesmanship is most disconcerting in the face of my own experiences with the TPA, where raising questions about its usefulness, its impact on teacher education, and the contract with Pearson to distribute and score it landed me in trouble with the administration of the School of Education of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Cost me my job. After an article appeared in The New York Times about the students with whom I was working refusing to participate in the Stanford-Pearson field test of the TPA, I was reprimanded for having too much power over students and my contract was not renewed. The article allowed me to be in touch with many people from across the country—teacher educators and student teachers-who were opposed the TPA but felt that they could not speak out without risking their jobs or their opportunity to be certified.
So understanding the hard sell gets more complicated. Not only is it odd that scholars are selling an assessment instrument and selling it as precise and refined when teaching and teacher education are complicated and contested, but this is happening against a backdrop in which dissent is being silenced. In the fall of 2012, my department chair wrote in my annual faculty report that I needed to work with her (her italics) in implementing the TPA. I objected to the italics because as an intellectual, an academic and a scholar, I expect that questioning, challenging and disrupting received wisdom is working with. We work with ideas, questions, possibilities; we don’t regurgitate them or accept them without questioning. It is my understanding that the plan for my job is to divide it between a tenure line faculty and a staff person. The staff person will, if this goes through, teach courses and oversee the student teaching, but report to an administrator not to faculty colleagues. As a staff position that person will not be protected by tenure, and will not even have the idea of voice as part of the job description. That staff person will be required to follow the rules of licensure—obediently. This move to make the work of teacher certification more technocratic, more subject to the hierarchies of bureaucracy, and separate from conversations and decision making with tenure line faculty is entirely in line with the edTPA in its impact on teacher education. As adopted in states such as New York and as it being sold through Pearson, edTPA will outsource the assessment of student teaching to contract labor hired on a piece work basis by Pearson.
We are at a very dangerous time in the history of American public education. The forces of privatizing profiteering corporatists are moving to undo the foundations of a democracy—public education and public spaces. It is within these public spaces that we come to speak, to challenge, to listen, and to create our communities. Teachers and teacher educators work to help students learn how to explore these spaces, engage as citizens and community members. This democratic work is a messy human enterprise, varied, uncertain, fluid, and not contained within the rigors of standardization, rubrics, efficiency, pseudo-objectivity, corporate profits, or commodification. Indeed, it contradicts the very nature of public spaces and humane pedagogies to reduce teaching and learning to teach to the numbers of the edTPA rubric. The hard sell of the edTPA product and the silencing of faculty that is accompanying it tells us very clearly how far we have traveled from commitments to academic freedom, to uncertainty, and to public dialogues as critical to our work and our democracy.
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