Guest Blogger Morna McDermott teaches in the College of Education, Towson University. This post originally appeared here.
Let’s Start with a Few Recent Headlines:
(also see more recently: http://edexcellence.net/articles/reforming-ed-schools-from-within and https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/teacher-prep-programs-need-to-be-accountable-too/2015/02/20/ed140f44-b8fc-11e4-aa05-1ce812b3fdd2_story.html )
Traditional colleges of education (aka 4 year undergraduate teacher preparation with state certification usually conferred in tandem) are under the gun in recent years. But WHO is it that is putting the element of doubt about the quality of teacher preparation programs into the mainstream media to begin with? Peter Taubman forewarned about this movement over seven years ago when he wrote: “It’s a remarkable sleight of hand. The best way we educators can address serious social, political, and economic problems is to comply with regulatory agencies and their mandated audit practices, subject ourselves to constant surveillance, render ourselves and our situations as quantifiable data, and surrender to normalizing discourses that drain our subjectivities.” (The Tie That Binds: Learning and Teaching in the New Educational Order, Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 4 (2), 150-160)
And here we are.
Framing a Narrative
A close examination of the facts suggests that colleges of education as an extension of their public K12 counterparts are being subjected to the same strategies and tactics led by corporate-run “reform” policies in an effort to privatize public education. All that is needed is sufficient “doubt” about our faith or trust in Colleges of Education. The “doubt” strategy is evident in other extreme far right policies regarding their challenge climate change policies (do we really know if its human made?), voter ID fraud (the whopping fraction of a fraction of the population who could destroy our democracy, right?), and even evolution as a scientifically proven explanation for the origins of the human species (it is a theory after all). All that’s needed is that seed of “doubt” to maintain leverage in a debate to keep their agenda on the table with the illusion of legitimacy. Like other public service sectors (agriculture, health, prisons) this effort to profoundly alter the landscape of teacher preparation in America is both ideologically and economically motivated.
The ideological motive behind eliminating Colleges of Education comes from far right individuals and think tanks who fear that Colleges of Education are bastions of leftist thought and “brain washing”. Common assertions made by these critics such as Chester Finn claim that the typical school of education “has a Left-wing political bias, favoring Socialist philosophies such as Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy “ and the “Teaching for Social Justice” movement” and are of lower academic standards and include “Mickey Mouse” courses” (Finn, C. E. . Getting better teachers—and treating them right. In T. M. Moe (Ed.), A primer on America’s schools (pp. 127-150). Stanford, CA: Hoover Institute).
It is not surprising that the voices leading the Pedagogy of Doubt are think tanks and non profits sponsored by The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the most powerful organization “you’ve never heard of” (Moyers, http://billmoyers.com/segment/united-states-of-alec/), which is directly tied to the Koch Brothers. As a Rolling Stone article explains ALEC: “They don’t oppose big government so much as government – taxes, environmental protections, safety-net programs, public education: the whole bit. (By all accounts, the Kochs are true believers; they really buy that road-to-serfdom stuff about the holiness of free markets.”
The lesser known but equally important “man behind the ALEC curtain” is Paul Weyrich (1942-2008). In addition to being one of co- founding creators of ALEC he also co-founded the conservative think tanks, the Heritage Foundation, and the Free Congress Foundation. He coined the term “moral majority”, the name of the political action group Moral Majority that he co-founded in 1979 with Jerry Falwell.
According to Paul Weyrich:
“The next conservatism should renew the call to disestablish the Federal department of Education and leave local schools to local communities. If we don’t stop it, soon we will find that it doesn’t matter how we educate our children, their minds will still be poisoned by this anti-Western, anti-Christian ideology”
The economic motive also exists for attacking Colleges of Education is economic, a move also generated by ALEC to craft policy catering to free market incentives that reap billions of dollars in profits by closing or co opting public Colleges of Education into privately managed profit driven intuitions.
As Giroux illustrates: “Neoliberalism is not merely an economic doctrine that prioritizes buying and selling, makes the supermarket and mall the temples of public life and defines the obligations of citizenship in strictly consumerist terms. It is also a mode of pedagogy and set of social arrangements that uses education to win consent, produce consumer-based notions of agency and militarize reason in the service of war, profits, power and violence while simultaneously instrumentalizing all forms of knowledge.”
See blog Part II for more data on this.
Three Easy Steps
There is the playbook which has been used to shutter schools from New Orleans to Chicago to Detroit and other urban locations. This is not conjecture. It’s a proven pattern. Following this step by step How to Privatize in 3 easy steps I suggest this narrative has found its way into reforms making their way through higher education.
1. Manufacture a Crisis (from David Berliner, 1996, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, And The Attack On America’s Public Schools)
This is a very real strategy which was embraced by Paul Weyrich and the political and corporate members of ALEC. In the words of Eric Heubeck, a protégé of Weyrich:
We will use guerrilla tactics to undermine the legitimacy of the dominant regime. We will take advantage of every available opportunity to spread the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with the existing state of affairs. For example, we could have every member of the movement put a bumper sticker on his car that says something to the effect of ‘Public Education is Rotten; Homeschool Your Kids.’ This will change nobody’s mind immediately; no one will choose to stop sending his children to public schools immediately after seeing such a bumper sticker; but it will raise awareness and consciousness that there is a problem.
Crisis #1: Colleges of Education are “Failing!”: Huebeck’s tactic is being imitated by key corporate owned policy makers. In October 2009, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that “by almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom.” (Medina, Jennifer [22 October 2009] “Teacher Training Termed Mediocre”. New York Times. Retrieved2012-03-02).
The manufacturing of faux ratings of Colleges of Education by National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is the starkest evidence of a manufactured crisis created by the same individuals who seek to profit from marketing solutions ever created. See blog Part II for more about NCTQ.
Crisis #2: Colleges of Education are Expendable–Now we are facing the message of “under enrollment” –the higher education version of “underutilization” in K12. The manufactured crisis of under utilization is used to justify closing k12 public schools and re opening them as privately managed charter schools.
Ed Week (funded by Bill Gates) refers to this as “an alarming trend.”
This narrative was repeated by Cabinet Report whose corporate host is School Innovations & Achievement (SI&A), “a bellwether education consulting firm … among the nation’s leaders in providing software and service solutions to schools with a combined enrollment of nearly six million students.”
Maybe there are fewer students enrolling in colleges of education. However, the framing of the language as negative IS important. It implies that colleges of education must be doing something wrong causing low enrollment that we must “fix.” WHO is defining the numbers as “low”? Low according to whom? Many college classes are often over-full lacking the financial resources to hire more faculty and open more sections of classes. So they extend the class sizes, making quality instruction often times challenging. How can we have insufficient numbers of sections available for classes necessary to complete a program of education within four years (note the counter criticism is that we fail to graduate student out in four years) but also be faced with under enrollment? Which is it? Reframing the language, might be an opportunity to provide more personalized instruction which in turn would help us prepare even better beginning educators. Maybe fewer students in each class would mean fewer students failing to get in to their needed courses within a four year time period. Maybe, given the financial constraints of most institutions we no longer have to stretch ourselves to hire more and more adjuncts to cover the overflow of students clamoring to complete our courses.
- Create A System of Self-fulfilling Prophecies:
Many of the so-called solutions to the so called crisis actually exacerbate existing problems, moving the crisis from manufactured to real. For example, CAEP (formerly NCATE) is requiring Colleges of Education collect data on their interns (student teachers) from two sources while they are teaching in the field. This is to measure the efficacy of the teacher preparation program and the quality of the intern (to appease Arne Duncan’s notion of mediocrity). Refer back to headline Number Three. which reported, “Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, and Tennessee, among others, are at the forefront of another effort. They are issuing annual reports showing teacher programs’ ability to raise student achievement, usually by connecting K-12 students’ test scores to each institution that prepared those students’ teachers.”
However, this over simplified solution to the problem ignores the myriad of factors that all educators know to be true about how student achievement is produced such as family dynamics, schools funding, health and wellness of the child, and most notably POVERTY. As Taubman warns:
“Racism, poverty, class warfare, political corruption, as well as specific individual and local problems are translated into lack of qualified teachers who can be produced if we just have the right standards and practices in place. Furthermore, we know we’ll have succeeded by the results on tests taken by the teachers and by the students.”
With little to no consideration for these key factors, interns and colleges of education will be judged on their performance. Partnerships with schools within high poverty neighborhoods will have fewer interns and fewer interns will be prepared to work in such communities. Ravitch echoes this concern: “Judging them by the test scores of students taught by their graduates will discourage colleges from sending their graduates to distressed districts and serve as a warning to avoid special education and English language learners.”
In addition, one might imagine that if “data performance” will be attached to whether or not a student/intern may even graduate, one might imagine enrollment in colleges of education plummeting even further. As the saying goes, more rules make more criminals, just as more accountability will create more “failure”—the narrative framing has moved from manufactured to inevitable.
- Market a “Solution”:
The same entities manufacturing the crisis conveniently are also the same folks waiting in the wings to market the solution. Such is the case with Relay Graduate School and Teach for America. These organizations, whose key funders are the same people whose “think tanks” and non profits generated the “data” to create a crisis narrative in the first place, profit handsomely for their efforts. The end result also serves the ideological interests who created the crisis. Again, Paul Weyrich:
“Conservatives have also made progress in dealing with the corruption of our universities by the ideology of cultural Marxism, which includes all the phony “studies” departments we now see in most colleges. We have established new colleges and universities, both “brick and mortar” and on-line institutions, that offer the classics of Western culture. Conservative alumni groups are having real impact on some existing universities, working to restore freedom of thought and speech.”
Universities have become a new market for venture private investments to make their profits. According to University Venture Funds, “In the last few years … a new strain of entities has emerged. These use private (often investor-provided) capital to work with existing institutions to create entirely new institutions or enterprises.”
Let me recap: Colleges of Education are subjected to the same two manufactured narratives as their K12 counterparts: Failure and under utilization. These narratives of “doubt” are mobilized by the same corporate and political entities that market “solutions” to the crisis they fomented. Corporate members of ALEC finance non profits, think tanks and research that provide “data” to market these narratives. The motives for this are ideological (a blind faith in unfettered free market and privatization, and fear of “progressive” ideas) and economic (profits created via free market privatization).
Do teacher preparation programs need to improve? Of course they do. Just as any professional program for lawyers, nurses or business majors could be improved. But our areas in need of improvement are not the “problems” framed by corporate reformers. And their “solutions” are not the real solutions to the problems we face. For example, we need to address how to attract more teachers of color (education is still largely a white female profession). We need to create curricula that emphasize critical theories which encourage beginning educators to critique “reform” and the attacks launched on public education and our profession. A pedagogy of doubt IS needed-one that WE frame, one that asks our students to doubt whether or not those promising “reform” have other economic or ideological motives NOT in the best interests of public education or children. So rather than responding to the manufactured crisis narratives such as how will we address “low enrollment” or “improve teacher quality” by twisting ourselves in knots to address these “crisis”-a task designed for our failure no matter how we try, we should put our energies into a deep critique of the narrative itself and whose bidding we are choosing to serve?