The Hard Sell and the Educator

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 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.

Lend your voice to demanding reinstatement:

19 thoughts on “The Hard Sell and the Educator

  1. Pingback: Barbara Madeloni’s post on the #edTPA and teacher education « @ the chalk face

  2. The irony of this is that the pieceworkers scoring the teachers may well be adjuncts trying to make an extra dollar to eke out their pitiful hourly wages.

  3. I am enrolled in a course called Business, Government and Society this semester at my university. This is an interesting conundrum and I look forward to sharing your story with my class, as we discuss case studies concerning corporations that attempt to define public policy and/or shirk societal duties in the name of a dollar.

  4. Pingback: Higher Education and the Corporation. « Business, Government and Society fiVe

  5. I would like to offer a sincere counter-narrative as a way to understand the edTPA and the support my colleagues are offering in its launch. As one who provided comment that is used on the edTPA information site (, I am not selling a practice as much as I am endorsing it based on careful and critical examination of its merits and drawbacks.

    In my opinion, the heretofore lack of a clear, concise, and precise statement of our professional expectations for effective beginning teaching is something of which we in teacher education should be ashamed. That we have refused to come forth, to this point, with a definitive substantial common denominator of our expectations for future teachers beginning their practice is something for which we should humbly apologize and move to rectify. After all, our candidates presume to take charge of the learning and lives of other people’s children. Is that not sufficient reason to work together to develop a definitive statement of what their competencies ought to be? If not, what would it be?

    In what I have observed, objections to the edTPA based on the operational agreement with a corporate partner, in this case Pearson, amount to throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Stanford faculty and staff, in collaboration with highly competent teacher educators nationally, have exercised considerable diligence in negotiating an agreement for the scoring of the edTPA portfolios that will maintain the integrity and rigor of the assessment. The edTPA scorers are practicing educators from K-12 and teacher education programs with subject matter expertise, recent teaching or supervisory experience in the field they score and experience mentoring beginning teachers. This is a very important distinction from that of a “piece work laborer” as the author of this post terms it.

    Mind you, please, that the edTPA is a labor intensive assessment of practice, whereas other professions work on a national licensing examination of judgment, rigorous though they are. It is emphatically not, as the NY Times has reported, a “40 page take home test.” That’s just a ridiculous oversimplification. The edTPA does require extensive candidate commentary, asking them to make their teaching judgment visible, so the fact that there will be independent scorers is not a shortcoming. Rather, it is a strength because the evaluation will be based on the presence of recognizable evidence, rather than “filling in the gaps” and giving candidates the benefit of the doubt (“I know this student. I know they meant . . . “).

    To reiterate, the edTPA is the baby, a promising asset to our profession that deserves our care and attention if it is to reach its fullest potential. Yes, there is bathwater to contend with, a necessary component of which we must be mindful. To throw them both out because we find the latter distasteful is a terrible choice to make.

    Take care,
    Amee Adkins
    Associate Dean
    Illinois State University

  6. Aimee:

    I appreciate your thoughtful support of the edTPA and the opportunity to, in an open forum, debate its relative merits and shortcomings. There are many points in your post which should be open to discussion including: how we perceive the impact of Pearson in terms of the larger incursion of corporations into education; the constraints of the assessment itself as experienced by students, teachers and faculty; the suggestion that filling in the blanks through relationship based knowledge is problematic but leaving whole swaths of knowledge out in the name of objectivity is not; the degree to which the assessment is based upon learning to write within its genre and thus is a kind of take home test; the degree to which the standardization of education grows from the imposition of business models on education; and the fact that California, where they use the first iteration of the edTPA. the California PACT, has no better record of gate keeping than the relationship based model. To name just a few.
    But, that is not the point of my blog. The point of my blog is that these conversations have not been allowed to occur in the face of the juggernaut that is the edTPA. Ask professors of education in New York, where they have already been told the edTPA will be used for student teaching assessment in spring 2014; ask the teacher educator who refused to be named in the above noted NYTimes article for fear of retribution for critiquing the TPA. Note, that my first critical posts to the TPAC blog were removed until others demanded they be reposted. Note the rush to implement this across the country, the enthusiasm of AACTE every time a new state signed on, and note that the cross country tour by Stanford and Pearson is about how to implement not what it is and means and does to teacher education. Note also this article from Alan Singer which tells us that… the President of Teachers College ” is listed as a non-executive director of Pearson. As of February 29, 2012, she held 12,927 shares of Pearson stock valued at $240,000. As a non-executive director she also receives an annual fee of 65,000 or almost $100,000.”
    There are many more questions to ask-both of the instrument, the corporate connection, and the means by which decisions have been made. Those of us who ask these questions are being silenced. That is the point of the blog.


  7. I disagree with Amee. Just because schools of ed have not been using standardized tests for evaluating student teachers does not mean that they’ve lacked a “precise statement of our professional expectations for effective beginning teaching”.

    I’ve worked at colleges in Illinois as well, where multiple measures have been used effectively. For example, based on state standards, we developed our own observational tools and identified acceptable levels of proficiency in different areas, had teacher candidates document pre-test/post-test measures on student learning, required that they compile digital and hard copy portfolios, which included video-tapes we made of them teaching, etc., and we convened an advisory board composed of teacher educators in our area from different settings, who reviewed and evaluated these materials.

    Standardized tests are not the be all and end all of education!

  8. Hello, Aimee;

    Below is a response to the first two paragraphs of your contribution to the blog. If time permits I will respond at a later time to additional claims you made.

    You wrote that your position was “based on careful and critical examination of (edTPAs’) merits and drawbacks.” Have you engaged thoughtfully with the full range of critiques of the Teacher Performance Assessments? Have you read with an open mind the arguments made in, among other sources, the article I wrote for Rethinking Schools that Barbara referred to above? If not, I would like to know what you read that facilitated your careful examination. Do you know what validity and reliability mean? If so, are they important to you? Could you frame the argument that has been made for why the TPA’s are not measuring teaching performance, and are neither reliable nor valid? Can you respond critically to those arguments. Could you list and present the various reasons why critics are outraged by being required to assess credential students by TPA’s? If you are unable to do so then, according to my way of thinking, you can not claim to have done a careful and critical examination.

    You wrote , “We have refused to come forth, to this point, with a definitive substantial common denominator of our expectations for future teachers beginning their practice…(Because teachers)…presume to take charge of the learning and lives of other people’s children (we must) work together to develop a definitive statement of what their competencies ought to be.” Underlying these claims are assumptions that those of us who believe the role of schooling is to produce critical and creative citizens who embrace social justice contest. Have you asked yourself and others who believe in the edTPA’s if, in a democracy, we really should all agree on a common denominator? Have you asked yourself which groups actually have the power to define this common denominator? Are you aware of how the edTPA process disempowers teachers and undermines and deskills them? Does the edTPA assess whether a teacher promotes equality, empathy, creativity, honesty? These and many other factors are not part of the “definitive statement of what (children’s) competencies should be. Teaching for any test tends to marginalize what is not on the test.

  9. Sorry for the questions, but I can’t afford online subscriptions and am unable to read the article at Rethinking Schools. So there was no attempt to establish reliability and validity –the edTPA is not standardized?

    In my experience working collaboratively with an advisory board, we made sure faculty who taught teacher candidates and supervised them in the field were present to discuss observations, videos, portfolios, etc. I can’t imagine farming that out, let alone to goodness knows who at Pearson. Just who is requiring the edTPA –NCATE/TEAC, states, CoEs?

    Also, are you not concerned about the use of VAM to evaluate faculty in higher ed, based on the test scores of students’ students? Since teacher educators are not the only faculty who train teachers in higher ed, are you aware of any initiatives where Teacher Ed is joining forces with Liberal Arts faculty to address this matter, before it’s thrust upon them?

    • Prof W
      My apologies for such a late reply–so very busy. But, to answer some of your questions.
      1) Yes, I am worried that some kind of VAM like measure will be used to evaluate teacher educators/teacher education. When the TPA was first introduced to us at Umass Amherst, we were told it would be used to assess teacher education programs and not individual students. I recall suggesting that, given the current climate of attacks on teacher education, this might not be such a good idea, that numbers can be used to punish when they miss nuance or measure something other that which we are hoping to achieve. I believe that there are currently states where the TPA is being used to assess programs, though not yet individual instructors. In a climate where scores in k12 schools are used to punish, this should have people worried. I think of how in MA, when they introduced our high stakes tests (MCAS), they said it was only going to be used to get a general picture of what was happening in schools and then to support those schools that were struggling. Now we have ‘level four’ schools threatened with being taken over by the state, incredible pressure to get student scores up, the deskilling of teaching, and the crushing drilling of test prep. All so seemingly innocent and such a fine idea when it started, and used as a tool against students, teachers and public education once it was in place.
      2) I have no information about whether or not TFA programs would have to complete the TPA as a requirement. But I can say this: I think they would welcome it. One of the comments from my students using the TPA was that it was a performance of teaching that requires one to meet specific genre requirements as represented by the rubric. Just as high control charter schools have adopted test prep as their core curriculum, so high control fast track teacher education programs could adopt the TPA as their curriculum. In five weeks of drilling, one could learn how to get a passing score. This is no small flip statement. The students who worked with the TPA marveled at the degree to which it constrains that possibilities of thinking about teaching and learning and themselves in that work. This kind of constraint is perfect for fast track technocratic programs.
      3) What is the impact of standards? “as teacher educators uncritically participate in the standards-based movement, it becomes impossible for them to conceive of teaching and education outside of the framework provided to them by the standards. In other words, they give up the intellectual autonomy to think about their work and the work of their students, thereby preventing change’’ (Delandshere & Arens, 2001). Delandshere was involved in the earliest iteration of the TPA, way back in CT. She got out when she saw it atomizing teaching. You can listen to her, for free, on this radio program:

      where you can also here two more programs about the TPA (check the list on the side of the blog) and listen to Ann Berlak, who wrote the Rethinking Schools
      piece, here:

    • Sachiko–The answer to your question varies from state to state. If it is a field test, completing the work might be required for student teaching, but they might not be able to use the actual score as a measure of passing/failing. Email me at and I will see if I can get you information.

  10. Hi Barbara,

    I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. I do appreciate this blog as a different opportunity to discus the edTPA. There’s not much I can say about the role of Pearson, except for my understanding that they offered the unique capacity to bring the assessment to scale. Is it possible, at least for a moment, to put that aspect on hold and focus on the assessment itself?

    I’m not naive in suggesting separating the question, which is why I offered the baby and bathwater distinction. What I see in the edTPA is a coherent and easily recalled statement of the key aspects of effective beginning teaching. In the face of our current assault on teacher preparation, my hope is that a unified and convincing voice might have some traction (and that is where I embrace my naivete, because I have to). Perhaps if we can agree to the edTPA constructs as a core of effective beginning teaching, we can hold the other forces at bay and secure our abilities to reach further for the creative and critical capacities that many of us work for in teacher education. I don’t see it as the only thing we care about, but potentially the thing we can all agree to care about amongst other values, and then we pursue those with earnest.

    A bit of context. I did a brief stint as an administrator in ISU’s College of Nursing, where I became familiar with the NCLEX, the national licensure exam to certify someone to be a registered nurse (pay attention when you go to your local provider to see whether you see an RN tag on their ID). It is a sophisticated test of nursing judgment where one must demonstrate sustained accurate judgment at the levels of analysis and application. The NCLEX exam will start a candidate out a low level, say of identification, and with accurate answers, up the cognitive level. As long as they continue to answer accurately, they get bumped up and if sustained, they pass. If not, the exam drops them down and does a “recheck” on accuracy, sustaining or bumping them up as appropriate. They pass or fail as a result. The consequence: an RN is permitted to perform some procedures that an LPN or tech are not, such as installing a pic line. This was a revelatory moment for me. We have no such common standard in teacher education. Shouldn’t we?

    The NCLEX has not stifled distinctiveness in nursing programs. Some specialize in parent-child, others in vulnerable populations, others in gerontology. They layer their distinctiveness on the profession’s commonly held standard for safe general practice nursing. It’s the idea of a public common fundamental standard that I find so promising in the edTPA.

    • Hi Amee:

      Just a few quick points in response. First, we cannot separate the edTPA from Pearson and the juggernaut it has become. It is true that the edTPA is being sold throughout the country, with big money and big names behind it; with Pearson representatives at the meetings with the Stanford team. Whether naivete or ignorance, it is critical to understand that we are in the midst of a global assault on the commons and Pearson, as a for profit corporation, is a huge part of that assault on public education. The accountability regimes are a weapon in the attack. Apple has warned of this for years. The teacher educators of New York State did not have a say before their commissioner of education signed a contract with Pearson. That matters and I have not heard anyone from the edTPA team, who are organized enough to respond to every post about this, say anything publicly to denounce that move. Second, three years ago I was told that the TPA (before it was re-branded) would never be used to judge individual students. But, lo and behold, here we are. This is not a surprise. Anyone paying attention to corporate education reform for the past twenty years knows that when we give an inch they take a mile. The place at the table strategy has garnered us nothing but losses. Some of us see profound danger, danger that requires more than placating those who are attacking us. While we can disagree about this, we deserve a discussion, not job loss. Which brings me to my last point for now: how come no one from the edTPA team has denounced my job loss? How come the edTPA team only responds to these articles and blogs by defending the instrument but not academic freedom? Or even asking about the academic freedom issue? I see this as a sign of something very strange going on, where the commitment to the product is greater than the commitment to a core value. Last last point: Neo-liberal ideology is insidious, almost impossible to escape. I spend tons of time in my courses helping students to identify the chemical composition of the air we breathe: accountability, outcomes, product, individualism, technocracy. And what we might want more of in the air, even and especially the air of new teachers: social justice, empathy, love, a deep appreciation for the complexity of human experience. Freire talks of courage, of the joy of life. I was just speaking with students last night about the difference between teaching as instrumental and behavioral, and teaching as existentialist-/humanistic, about critical pedagogy versus the pedagogy of reproduction. These are questions and possibilities for beginning teachers and not subject to a rubric.


  11. This posting is old, but if anyone in the know can inform me, I would be grateful. I am a graduate student, being forced to take precious classroom time and waste it on the edTPA. I cannot find any information about what would happen if I didn’t complete it or if I did, and did not turn in a solid portfolio (purposeful bad job). I am hesitant to ask at my school!

  12. Pingback: Our edTPA Journey: One Program’s Story | Jessica Hochman

  13. Pingback: An edTPA Journey: One Program’s Story | Jessica Hochman

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