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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part II

January 27, 2013

In my first post of this series, I mentioned that I would come back to the NCTQ goal of “helping state policymakers make the necessary reforms to their licensure systems.” Reforms necessary for what purpose, you might ask. It’s a good question.

The NCTQ website provides a link to its publications. It is here that I found an interesting 2007 “study” entitled, “Alternative Certification Isn’t Alternative”. The title page is a study in itself.  The authors are NCTQ President Kate Walsh and Vice President Sandi Jacobs.  (Interestingly, Sandi Jacobs was recently quoted as saying, “We do not grade on a curve” in an article on the D that NCTQ gave to Colorado’s teacher prep programs.  Univesrity of Northern Colorado (UNCO) Dean of the College of Education Eugene Sheehan compared NCTQ to the Kardashians or disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.  UNCO College of Education is my alma mater for my doctorate.)

The 2007 alternative certification study title page also notes “a foreword by Chester E. Finn, Jr., and Michael Petrilli.” Chester Finn is a former assistant secretary of education under Bill Bennett (Reagan admin.) and current president of the anti-union “think tank” Fordham Institute. Michael Petrilli is Fordham’s executive vice president and a former official in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement (Bush admin.).  Links on the Fordham website include one for “Policy Priorities,” which leads to “Implementing the Common Core”; “Advancing Choice”; “Stretching the School Dollar”; “Rethinking Governance”; and even “NCLB.” (No need to change the link to RTTT since NCLB and RTTT are the same injury under a different band aid.) Another link in turn chastises Ball State (BSU) for making Fordham “look bad” for lax management of charters and then commends BSU for “doing the right thing” by cleaning up their mess. (BSU is another part of my personal history.  I was faculty at BSU’s Teachers College from 2002-2007.)

Indeed, it was the Fordham Institute that created the NCTQ to discredit traditional education programs.  Even our own Diane Ravitch is listed as Fordham “trustee emerita,” though I daresay she no longer fits in with this group, for Fordham is clearly and undeniably pro-corporate, pro-voucher, pro-assessment and anti-traditional when it comes to its vision of education.

So, the four names listed on the title page of this study on alternative education– Walsh, Jacobs, Finn, and Petrilli– already hold the position that traditional teacher training programs need to go.  Even the illustration on the cover communicates this point.  It shows a milk carton with a picture of a teacher (that right there is a poor choice given the connotation that the person on a milk carton has met misfortune, possibly death), and it has the “product certification” of “certified alternative” with an asterisk to an explanation– don’t miss this– that this teacher’s alternative training “may contain low academic standards, minimal teacher mentoring, and burdensome coursework requirements just like regular teacher preparation” (emphasis added).

Let’s get this straight:  The NCTQ, which calls itself a “nonpartisan” (a sleight-of-word intended no doubt to convey the veneer of neutrality), and its creator, the Fordham Institute, purport to fairly rate traditional teacher preparation programs even though they are anti-traditional-teacher-prep.

Let us pause to allow that one to sink in.

Now, back to the title of the study, “Alternative Certification Isn’t Alternative.”  What could that possibly mean?  If NCTQ and Fordham are against traditional teacher preparation programs, wouldn’t it stand to reason that they must be “for” alternative certification?

Not exactly.  Look at the wording from the report: “Why not open k-12 classroom doors to academic high-flyers and career changers from diverse backgrounds, and see what happens? Why not find out whether top-notch individuals who lack conventional teaching credentials could outperform run-of-the-mill college-of-education products?”

Know yet where this is going?

“… an argument for acquiring most (or perhaps all) of that training on the job….”

“In 1983, New Jersey created the first alternate route to the classroom. It expedited the entry of well-educated individuals into public schools by hiring them as teachers straight-away, reducing or eliminating “theory” courses from their training, and using experienced teachers to mentor them during their first year or two on the job. At the end, the candidate either was awarded a full certificate or sought employment elsewhere” (emphasis added).

Sounds like John White.  Sounds like Michelle Rhee.  And Kevin Huffman.  And Kaya Henderson.

“A few more states soon jumped on board—including the goliaths of California and Texas with their soaring enrollments and singular teacher shortages—and steady growth followed. Before long, Teach For America (TFA) was born, and eventually came to epitomize alternative certification and its apparent success” (emphasis added).

There you have it, the miracle solution in the classroom:  the TFA “teacher.”

Thus, only two pages in (indeed, not even beyond the foreword), the reader knows that this “study” is nothing more than TFA (and TNTP [The New Teacher Project]) propaganda.

And the propaganda continues: “But here’s a sorry little secret: much like we came to suspect that few charter schools are as estimable as KIPP, so too did we come to wonder whether ‘typical’ alternative certification programs are as strong as TFA or TNTP.”

Gotta throw in a good word for KIPP, an organization that misrepresents its success.

Other alternative certification programs need to go, just like traditional teacher training needs to go, for both interfere with the fantasic, miracle-working power of “the nation’s best and brightest” (Finn’s words to describe TFAers). That is the point of this “study.”

Finn maintains that this study is not biased; after all, Walsh and Jacobs belong to the “nonpartisan” NCTQ.  He neglects to say that his organization, Fordham, created NCTQ.  Finn also glosses over the fact that Jacobs is a former TFAer. No conflict of interest there.

In their criticism of alternative certification selection criteria, Walsh and Jacobs note, “Unlike the well-known Teach For America initiative, which accepts just one in six applicants, many alternate route programs accept nearly every candidate who fills out an application. Two-thirds of the programs do no better than one rejection per acceptance. Though the intent of alternate routes was to attract talented individuals who oterwise were not choosing teaching, most programs look for the same academic performance that is expected of the traditional candidate, a 2.5 college GPA.”

So, which is it? Are there teacher shortages necessitating TFA, or are there too many teachers since “anyone” can get accepted?

As it is, to imply that TFA only goes where there are teaching shortages is misleading.

I wonder also, how is it that TFA has so many applicants clamoring for admission?

First of all, TFA offers the possibility of paying off its recuits’ college debts.  Right there, TFA holds an advantage over other teacher programs.  How does TFA manage this? Well, TFA has corporate financial backing. Also, TFA charges districts  a fee of $2500 to $4000 per TFAer, supposedly for recruitment and training. Traditional and other alternative certification programs do not charge a temp-agency-type fee once one of their graduates is employed.

Second, TFAers know that their classroom commitment is only for two years.  They can major in any field; they need not show any sign of commitment to the teaching profession by way of a declared college major in education, and they know from the outset that they will not be in the classroom long. This leads to two types of applicants: Those with little to no career direction, and those with very intentional, ladder-climbing, career-advancing ambition.  It’s the ladder climbers who make it in TFA. This segues into the third reason TFA has a large applicant pool and can therefore be highly selective in its mission:

The promise of a lucrative career in some type of position of power once those two-to-three years are over and beyond.

Like John White.  Like Michelle Rhee.  And Kevin Huffman. And Kaya Henderson.

And, also at LDOE, like Molly Horstman, who, with only two years of teaching, was first noted to be the Director of COMPASS then retitled as simply “fellow.”  Her annual salary is 77k.  And there’s Jessica (Tucker) Baghian, who, with two or three years in the classroom, has used the LDOE title of deputy chief of staff though on the LDOE site, her title is “fellow.” She makes 90k annually.  Then, there’s Kunjan Narecahnia, former TFAer, who holds the title of chief of staff and makes 145k annually.  Also, LDOE employs Hannah Dietsch, the (real) Director of COMPASS (maybe) who holds the title of assistant superintendent; her three years in the classroom with TFA now earn her 130k a year.

(There are more TFAers in LDOE’s employ than I have listed above. Perhaps readers might make an educational game out of locating the TFAers on this list of LDOE employees and comparing their salaries with their classroom experience.)

Traditional and other alternative certification programs can make no such career-ladder-climbing promises.  They have neither the corporate backing nor the classroom-as-turnstile mindset.

For some TFAers looking for that golden employment opportunity beyond the two-to-three-year teaching commitment (thereby fulfilling Finn’s words of TFAers “seeking employment elsewhere” beyond those couple of years in the classroom), their destination (or at least a rung on thr golden ladder) rests with none other than NCTQ itself.

Let that one sink in.

Yes, indeed.  The “nonpartisan” (dare we say, connotatively “neutral”?) NCTQ, the organization that brands traditional teacher education programs with low letter grades because it doesn’t want them around, is itself an employment ladder rung for TFA and its counterpart, TNTP. NCTQ’s staff is comprised of 20 individuals including President Kate Welsh. Of these, 6 are former TFA or TNTP members.  Furthermore, in reading all of the staff bios, I noticed how light these folks are on classroom teaching experience yet seemingly heavy on the business and policy degrees (eg., public policy. political science, marketing and finance).

And we haven’t even broached the issue of who is on the NCTQ board and technical advisory panel.

That will have to wait for another blog.

For now, back to the question at the beginning of the post: Why are the reforms to licensure systems “necessary”?

Why, to offer unbridled-albeit-temporary classroom opportunity to TFA’s “best and brightest” at the expense those of us who are “run of the mill,” those who don’t see the classroom as a ladder rung on the chase for the golden, high-power jobs and six-figure salaries. Instead, the run-of-the-mill likes of us contribute to community stability by actually desiring. preparing for, and fulfilling a career in the classroom. If we move into administration, it is not with a preconceived plan to do so after a mere two or three years in the classroom.


Previous posts in this series:

Part I: NCTQ 2012 Letter Grades and Louisiana; reformer use of the op/ed

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