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NCTQ Letter Grades and the Reformer Agenda– Part XII

February 10, 2013

This is an unusual post for this series.  What makes it unusual is that three of the four NCTQ advisory board members highlighted here are not corporate reformers.  I was hoping to hit on four who were not and make this a completely “clean” post. Alas, ’twas not to be.  I tried to select individuals whose NCTQ bios sounded the least “reformery.” Ironically, the one who is a reformer and whose NCTQ bio didn’t immediately give it away was one whom I found connected to none other than Jeb Bush and ALEC.  Go figure.

Allow me to present, complete with NCTQ [chiefly unslanted] bios, four NCTQ advisory board members:  Daniel Willingham, Suzanne Wilson, Amy Jo Leonard, and Michael Podgursky.

Daniel Willingham

Daniel T. Willingham is a professor in the psychology department at the University of Virginia. He was trained as a cognitive neuroscientist and until 2000 his research centered on the biological basis of memory. More recently his work has concerned the application of basic cognitive principles to K-12 education. He writes a column for American Educator, “Ask the Cognitive Scientist,” and is the author of Why Don’t Students Like School?

What I appreciate about Daniel Willingham is that he evidences no agenda related to the corporate reform movement.  Instead, Willingham is an established educational researcher:

Daniel Willingham earned his B.A. from Duke University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from Harvard University in 1990. He is currently Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, where he has taught since 1992. Until about 2000, his research focused solely on the brain basis of learning and memory. Today, all of his research concerns  the application of cognitive psychology to K-16 education. He writes the “Ask the Cognitive Scientist” column for American Educator magazine, and is an Associate Editor of Mind, Brain, and Education. He is also the author of Why Don’t Students Like School? (Jossey-Bass) and When Can You Trust the Experts? (Jossey-Bass). His writing on education has been translated into eleven languages.
I would trust a man like Daniel Willingham to advise regarding certain aspects of effective teacher training programs, such as coursework in cognitive development. However, Willingham does not hold an undergraduate degree in education; he has neither been trained by any traditional teacher training program, nor has he any resulting experience as a classroom teacher.  Regardless of his apparent distance from the corporate reform agenda, Willingham’s lack of experience as a traditionally-trained classroom teacher places him on the periphery of usefulness in advising regarding teacher training program suitability.
Suzanne Wilson
Suzanne Wilson is a professor and chair of the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. Before joining Michigan State, she taught both elementary social studies and education classes that spanned a wide range of disciplines and levels. She was also the first director of the Teacher Assessment Project at Stanford University. At MSU, Dr. Wilson founded the Center for the Scholarship of Teaching and often advises doctoral students. She has done extensive research and writing on professional development for teachers, education policy and teacher learning, among other topics. She advises and is on the boards of various organizations, including the Center for Proficiency in Teaching Mathematics. Dr. Wilson is the author of California Dreaming: Reforming Mathematics Education and editor of Wisdom of Practice: Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach. She received her Ph.D. in educational psychology from Stanford University.
What I appreciate about Suzanne Wilson that her entire professional life centers around education. Furthermore, it is not a brief professional life but one that spans three decades.  Finally, Wilson has eight documented years of classroom teaching experience in addition to her experience in higher education. For two years, Wilson both served as an assistant professor and a classroom social studies teacher.
Wilson is a trained and credentialed researcher (she holds a masters degree in statistics).  In her 2001 meta-analysis for the US Department of Education of research on numerous aspects of teacher training, Wilson is realistic in her interpretation of teacher training research; she readily recognizes the complexity that is teacher training and does not advocate any simplistic solution.  And here is something I found particularly refreshing: Wilson refers to studies employing value added models; however, these attempt to determine useful characteristics of teacher training and are in no way connected to any judgment of individual teacher “effectiveness.”  Finally, this work by Wilson has numerous references to the work of Linda Darling-Hammond, a respected name in teacher preparation. (Recall that Darling-Hammond brought [deserved] bad press to Wendy Kopp and TFA; see Part VII of this series.)
My only initial concern was Wilson’s connection to the Carnegie Foundation.  Nevertheless, a recently released Carnegie paper by the National Academy of Education’s Teacher Quality working group for which Wilson served as chair shows no signs of corporate reform language or agenda.  Even though the paper notes a need to “recruit the most talented people to the profession,” it is clear that the intent is to keep well-trained teachers in the classroom and offer them ongoing, quality professional development. This runs counter to the TFA agenda of fast training and a brief classroom stint on the way up the educational administrative ladder.
I have examined the credentials and associations of 23 NCTQ advisory board members thus far, and I am pleased to write that Suzanne Wilson is exactly the type of teaching professional who should fill the board of an organization that reviews teacher preparation program quality.  Thank you, thank you, Dr. Wilson.
Amy Jo Leonard
Amy Jo Leonard has worked on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation for more than 12 years. Ms. Leonard currently works at the Turtle Mountain Elementary School (TMES) where, for the past three years, she has served as a Reading Coach for the Reading First Program. Along with these duties, she has co-chaired a school improvement team and organized professional development in scientifically-based reading instruction for the past six years. Her teaching experience also includes classroom instruction in grades K-5 and Special Education classroom instruction. As a Program Specific State Expert for Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, Ms. Leonard worked as a reading consultant for a variety of schools across North Dakota and New Mexico. In 2004, KXMC, a North Dakota televisions station, selected Ms. Leonard for the “Golden Apple Teacher of Year” award in recognition of her unique integration of literature instruction into the kindergarten curriculum of her classroom. Ms. Leonard earned an undergraduate degree from Valley City State University and her Masters in Special Education from Minot State University.
Like Suzanne Wilson, Amy Jo Leonard is the genuine article.  She is not a reformer.  She is a teacher.  Her career has centered on classroom teaching.  Furthermore, unlike the reformer’s “weekend credentialing,” Leonard’s education has been earned over time via traditional outlets.  There is nothing “fast track” or “fly by night” about Leonard, including her Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning from the University of North Dakota.  A big thank you to Amy Jo Leonard for her honest interest and investment in children.
It’s funny how those who really are in it “for the children” don’t go around constantly saying so.  They simply live it.
Michael Podgursky
Michael Podgursky is Middlebush Professor of Economics and Department Chair at University of Missouri – Columbia. He has been Department Chair since 1995. Prior to that he was on the faculty of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (1980-1995). He earned a B.A. in Economics from the University of Missouri – Columbia (1974) and a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Wisconsin – Madison (1980). He has published numerous articles and reports on education policy and teacher quality, and co-authored a book, Teacher Pay and Teacher Quality. His research has been supported by grants from the U.S. Departments of Education, Labor, and Agriculture, and several foundations. He has served as a consultant on school finance litigation to numerous states. He is a member of the American Economic Association and the American Education Finance Association, and the editorial board of Education Finance and Policy. 
Michael Podgursky is a contributing writer for the online publication, Education Next. On the Education Next page are sponsor links for the Hoover Institute (as in fellow NCTQ advisory board member Erik Hanushek); Fordham Institute, and the Harvard Kennedy School Program on Education Policy and Governance.  I knew where this was headed.
In his article, “Is There a Qualified Teacher Shortage?”, Podgursky writes that “better teacher pay does not mean better student outcomes” and advocates for “performance or field based pay” and “flexibility” in state licensing standards.
Podgursky is a corporate reformer.  He has assisted Eli Broad in composing this 2003 manifesto advocating the removal of credentials in order to place “talent” in educational leadership. He has served as a conference panelist for the 2006 National Center on School Choice. And, more importantly in the climb of the corporate reformer, Podgursky was a panelist for the Foundation for the 2010 Excellence in Education (FEE) summit (Jeb Bush’s group, featuring such “visionary leaders” as Eric Smith of Florida, Paul Pastorek of Louisiana, Deborah Gist of Rhode Island,and Tony Bennett from Indiana). ( I wrote of FEE’s Patricia Levesque email adventures on behalf of Jeb Bush in my last post.) Fellow NCTQ advisory board members Michael Johnston and Michael Barber were present.  Keynote speaker was Chris Christie, and lunch keynote was Arne Duncan.
And, wouldn’t you know, Podgursky sits on the board of directors for the Show-me Institute, which has ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
But back to Jeb Bush’s FEE summit:
Here is an FEE summit summary of the panel discussion including Podgursky, as written by Ira Paul, president of Independent Voices for Better Education:
The myths discussed concerning the education profession focused on the effectiveness of class size, whether a degree in education really determines the effectiveness of a teacher, the effectiveness of social promotion, and whether more money equals a better quality education.

Each topic was addressed using research, and the data presented put these myths to rest.  Class size for the most part had little to no impact on improving the quality of education.  Minor benefits were shown in kindergarten and first grade only.  Teachers entering the teaching profession from a non-traditional education background were found to be just as effective as those entering through a traditional background.   [Translation: Credentialing doesn’t matter.  Bring on TFA.]   promotion was proven to be a social experiment whose time has passed.  More money does not equal a better quality education.  Some of the states that spend the most on education have the most disastrous results. [Translation: Let’s cut teacher salaries. Let’s hand schools over to for-profit education companies Let’s bow to test scores.] [Emphasis and commentary added.]

Podgursky’s “findings” are a welcome open door to the corporate reformer.  Podgursky writes, for example, that it is not possbile for districts to comply 100% to having licensed teachers in classrooms.  Therefore, he advocates “flexibility.”  The reformer will take such a situation to its extreme and broadcast that licensing does not matter.  And, of course, all that matters is the “student outcome” of the almighty standardized test score.
In writing that “better teacher pay does not mean better student outcomes,” the reformer does not stop to consider that perhaps the situation is more complicated than simply trying to compare teacher pay with test scores, that human beings are complex and simple “A produces B” expectations will often miss the mark. No, no no.  The corporate reformer will take such information and use it to reduce the richness and dignity of the student-teacher relationship to pay-dependent-upon-test.  It is for this reason that men like Podgursky are dangerous; they willingly publish a partially investigated truth in their blindness to the fact that the classroom is not a business venture.
It should come as no surprise that Podgursky’s work (and Hanushek’s) is cited as support for this Broad-funded study in favor of both teacher pay for performance and penalty for “underperformance”:

Performance increments should be material, and rise progressively (i.e., more than linearly) with peer-outperformance. Ideally, the performance formula would permit not just bonuses for outperformance, but also decrements of base pay for severe underperformance.

And what determines “performance” or “underperformance”?

Test scores, of course.

The author of this paper is an economist, Randall Pozdena.  He cited Podgursky, who is an economist.  The bibliography of this paper is replete with economic and policy studies.  What is glaringly missing?  Input from educators.

Those of the reformer mind will talk at teachers and talk about teachers, but they will not talk with teachers.

In their arrogance, they think they already know.

This report really rattles my cage in its utter ignorance and subtle arrogance of reducing human beings to dollars dependent upon test scores.

All that is valuable cannot be measured with the dollar.  All that is learned cannot be meaured with the test score.

Yep. In the “us”  versus “them,” Podgursky is one of “them.”


Previous posts in this series:

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

Part II: NCTQ Alternative Certification publication

Part III: NCTQ Adivisory Board members Steven Adamowski, Michael Barber, Roy Barnes, and McKinley Broome

Part IV: NCTQ Advisory Board members Cynthia Brown, David Chard, Andrew Chen, and Celine Coggins

Part V: NCTQ Advisory Board members Pattie Davis, Michael Feinberg, Michael Goldstein, and Erik Hanushek

Part VI:  NCTQ Advisory Board members Joseph Hawkins,  Frederick Hess, Paul Hill, and E. D. Hirsch

Part VII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Wendy Kopp

Part VIII:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Michelle Rhee

Part IX:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Joel Klein

Part X:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Michael Johnston

Part XI:  NCTQ Advisory Board member Deborah McGriff

  1. burkekq permalink

    As someone who has worked under (as a graduate student) and with (as a colleague from afar now) Suzanne, I can say that my sense is she took this position with an intent toward the improvement of both education and the quality of the conversation that might happen within the group. She has taken quite a bit of flak for being involved in any way with NCTQ but her position from what I understand has always been, ‘well shoot, if the thing’s going to exist and have a great deal of power, shouldn’t we have experts and careful thinkers there to at least try to change the discussion?’ I trust no one more than her to stand in the way, as best she can, of the ideologues around her. We might quibble about how she’s perhaps being used to legitimate the endeavor (‘look! We have real scholars!) but that strikes me as less worthy of our time than showing some measure of support for people without strings attached trying to do good work in the face of so much nonsense and perfidy.

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