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James Kirylo: The Selling of Teacher Education (And Why We Should Resist)

February 10, 2016

The following is a guest post by Dr. James Kirylo, professor of teaching and learning at Southeastern Louisiana University. Kirylo’s research interests include critical pedagogy, curriculum theory, teacher leadership, and literacy development.

james-kirylo-e1455130261583  James Kirylo

In his guest post, Kirylo takes issue with the marketing of a teacher education “brand”– complete with cash to entice teacher ed programs to get their respective faculty professionals to “buy in.”

The Selling of Teacher Education (And Why We Should Resist)

James D. Kirylo

All of us have likely been mandated or required to attend a meeting, seminar, or workshop at our places of employment where the objective of the event was to introduce a new concept, or a different instrument, or another way of doing things.

As a participant in those types of venues—particularly at a university setting where presumably democratic spaces are greatly valued—I find it more than annoying when the presenter at some point rolls out that the aim of the event is to get attendees to embrace the new direction, summoning the phrase that “buy in” has to occur.

It seems to me corporate types are fond of that phrase.  Maybe it’s because it gives them wicked pleasure that they are giving the—albeit false—appearance that participants have an element of choice as to whether they care to buy whatever it is being sold.  The notion of buying obviously suggests selling.

As a consumer who lives in a country that is capitalistically driven, and as a citizen who lives in a nation that heralds the value of voice, to “buy” exhorts choice on whether to buy or not.  Hence, when I go to the grocery store, I may buy the fresh vegetables or I may go with the sodium-laden ones in the can.  Both are on sale, and both can be bought.  I make the deliberate choice to buy one or the other.

In that light, therefore, as one who has attended numerous work-related mandated workshops, where “buy in” appears to be the mantra, the thing that always goes through my mind is, what if I don’t want to buy the product that is being sold, no more than I care to buy sodium-laden vegetables in a can.  Truth is, of course, the presenter is not giving me a choice whether to buy or not.  It is more than subtly suggested that I am stuck with the canned veggies.

As most know, Bill Gates, through his foundation, has worked hard in an attempt to disturbingly shape K-12 education in his own image.  Next on his radar is teacher preparation—with the awarding of $35 million to a three-year project called Teacher Preparation Transformation Centers funneled through five different projects, one of which is the Texas Tech based University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation (U.S. Prep) National Center.

A framework that will guide this “renewal” of educator preparation comes from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), along with the peddling of their programs, The System for Teacher and Student Advancement (TAP) and Student and Best Practices Center (BPC).  Yet, again, coming from another guy with bags of money, leading the charge of NIET is Lowell Milken who is Chairmen and TAP founder.

Though a handful of other places could serve as an example, the state of Louisiana illustrates how NIET is already working overtime in chipping its way into K-12 education.  And now that NIET is applying a full-court-press in hyping its brand in the Pelican state, the brand is working its way into teacher education preparation programs, namely through the Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center.

This Gates Foundation backed project involves five teacher education programs in the country (Southern Methodist University, University of Houston, Jackson State University, and the University of Memphis– and  includes one in Louisiana— Southeastern Louisiana University).

Thus, teacher educators must be “trained” in order to propagate the NIET brand.  Because I am a teacher educator at one of the impacted universities that has been recruited by the Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center, I was recently mandated to attend three full days of NIET indoctrination (with continued follow-up training).

Along with my colleagues—who collectively bring a rich background of K-12 teaching experience, in addition to decades of teacher education work, a wealth of post-graduate education degrees, all of whom have made meaningful contributions to the professional community through a wide array of venues—in a teacher education program that has a sterling reputation—yet, all of which was of no concern to the NIET trainers.  That is, because right out of the gate, the NIET officials were off and running, making it implicitly clear that a new teacher education sheriff is in town.

Armed with its “prescription” of success, with the acronym NIET inscribed on just about every page of presentation material, capped with an accompanying dense bounded training manual titled NIET Higher Education Handbook on the cover page, the NIET trainers had their jets on all cylinders selling the NIET brand to us trainees.  In addition, trainees were led to the NIET website with its labyrinth of materials, portals, aids, and how, when, and where one must be—yes—certified in its brand.

Sure enough at a decisive point the lead trainer predictably pulled out the “buy in” phrase for NIET to work at our setting.  And for good measure, a superficial smattering of change theory was thrown in, evidently providing—although woefully superficial and out of context—explanatory props for the anticipation of those attending training who would be resistant to the NIET brand.  Indeed, it was made clear that there would be “resistors,” as if their resistance to “buying in” was indicative of a problem with them as opposed to the product that was being sold.

No matter. I am a resister. As much as I resist purchasing sodium-laden canned vegetables, there are three fundamental reasons why I am resistant to such programs as the NIET driven aforementioned Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center.

First, the notion of “training” brings me back years ago to my days working at a fast food taco joint when I was laboring my way to pay my way through undergraduate work.  Indeed, I was required to attend training in order to learn the exact recipe how to make a taco, wrap the taco for the drive-thru, and the directive on how to deal with customers.  Despite my rich taco-making background and varied people experience, no deviation was allowed from the mandated formula that was demanded at this taco joint. In the same train of thought—despite my varied educational background and experience as well as that of my colleagues—NIET, through their elaborate rubrics, scoring mechanisms, and ways of doing things—one must be trained to use their formula in order to be certified.  In short, the business model that drives a taco establishment is the same model that is being pushed in teacher education programs.

Second, the narrative that appears to be driving the NIET brand into teacher education programs is propelled by the similar story line that is at work to dismantle K-12 education.  That is, for K-12 education, teachers have been blamed for all that ails society.  From that position of blame, corporate types pounce with their obsessed focus on ratings, scoring, standardization, competition, and privatization.  Similarly, as for teacher education programs, they are under attack with the same blame game for their supposed sub-par operation, paving the way for privateers to swoop once again.  Enter in the NIET Higher Education Handbook and NIET’s purported claim of their proven comprehensive educator model to restructure and revitalize the teaching profession.  Clearly, the proverbial door is open to dismantle the relevance of teacher education programs.

Third, if enough money is thrown their way, it appears that teacher education programs can be bought. Indeed, money is power; money is influence; and, money shapes direction.  This is no truer than the dough that the Gates Foundation is doling out in its attempt to recreate teacher education in a corporatized image. When teacher education programs become the petri dish to cultivate this image, the trajectory not only works to undermine academic freedom, tenure and the professorate, but it also disturbingly contributes to their very non-relevance as teacher education programs.  They become centers for teacher training.  To be sure, there is a difference between education and training.  The former is driven by fostering a rich dialogical environment, deep critical thought, and thoughtful questioning; the latter functions as a top-down formulistic way of doing things through prescription, dictates, and mandates.

In the final analysis, in this particular case, if I had been originally invited to the table to express my concerns how teacher education is being sold by bowing down to the Gates Foundation, I would have argued in more detail the above three points.  And I would have hollered “don’t sell!”  But, I was not invited so now I have been relegated to “resister” to buying into the product that will only take teacher education down a path to its own elimination.

salesman 2


Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?.

both books

Don’t care to buy from Amazon? Purchase my books from Powell’s City of Books instead.

  1. Jill Reifschneider permalink

    Fighting not to be utterly discouraged. I am totally disgusted. Thank you for keeping us all aware. I long for the days when professional development taught teaching strategies based on educational research and informational about child development. Training now overwhelmingly means an overview of a bought curriculum (adopted by a district) or a technology program (again, being pushed by a districts for teacher and student use) since it has been purchased. The further infiltration into teacher education is truly sad.

  2. Notice that NIET looks remarkably like the Russian word “NYET”, meaning “NO”. Just say nyet.

  3. Let us save some of the blame for our sycophantic colleagues and administrators who have, over the past dozen years or so, gushed enthusiasm for every stupid, insipid idea that came down the pike. This has no doubt supported the corporate reformniks notion that educators will swallow anything if it means keeping their jobs.

  4. While similarly disgusted by the invasion of the teaching profession by the business barbarians, and likewise concerned that blaming teachers and schooling for all of societies ills is not only unfair but immoral, I cannot get around the obvious observation, backed by considerable body of research, that many (lets be careful here: let me say – a number significant enough that it impacts schooling and way too many children) of our teachers are not competent. Of the many attempts to elevate the teacher profession, improve its quality, attract better students, create professional incentives, upgrade salaries and working conditions, we seem to have hit a lot of dead ends. It might be a good idea to have at least some spaces for outsiders (even barbarians) to try new things even if it breaks with convention or expectations from the insiders in the field). Sometimes, outsiders, do hit the jackpot of innovation: its happened in fields in science, and also in the arts, perhaps we should be more tolerant about these, at least as spaces for experimentation and innovation.

    • anonymous permalink

      As for offering ‘outsiders’ a space to experiment… Are you offering up your children and grandchildren to be the guinea pigs? Your tax dollars? Is the disruption to the children and neighborhoods worth it? Bring research, a solid plan and then pilot it, monitored closely. That’s not what’s happening. There are so many get-rich-quick games being played, we have learned to be more cautious about change. That’s a shame, but true.

      I don’t see a drop in quality of new teachers, but that may just be my local area. With my own kids, I’ve found the best teachers were not necessarily the ones with extensive subject knowledge, but ones who nurtured and pushed them past their comfort zones – qualities that don’t show up on Praxis tests or Danielson ratings. I’m not sure you can even teach someone to be a good teacher, just teach them to ignore the BS and go with their instincts.

    • 2old2tch permalink

      ” …I cannot get around the obvious observation, backed by considerable body of research, that many (lets be careful here: let me say – a number significant enough that it impacts schooling and way too many children) of our teachers are not competent.”

      I have not seen this research. Please do not direct me to VAM studies. The research has been thoroughly debunked. Even while I agree that there are some incompetent teachers, I would dispute the magnitude of the problem especially when you consider that half of new teachers leave the profession in the first five years. A district that is burdened by an incompetent teaching staff is also burdened by an incompetent administration, and it is amazing how fast a building can turn around when competent leadership is brought in. Since most of these so-called incompetent teachers seem to be clustered in lower socioeconomic communities, I would suggest that perhaps addressing some of the out of school factors that impact school success should be recognized. I don’t mean to argue that there are no teachers who need to find other careers, but I do question the motives and the methods of those driving this latest narrative. Dr. Kirylo’s observations are echoed by educators, both pre- and post secondary. We are all tired of “buying in.”

    • Carbide Scribe permalink

      What you say about the so called innovators discovering something useful rings false on its face. They have no capability to improve anything in education, a thing they have a wrongheaded understanding of to start with. I don’t care how much money the corporate monkeys throw at typewriters spewing their theories and lies, they’re not going to produce a copy of “War and Peace” anytime in the future.

  5. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    THANK YOU Mercedes and Dr. James Kirylo, Gabriel, I respectfully disagree with your view that this invasion could be in the best interests of education in the United States.

    I have been looking at all five of the Gates “Teacher Transformation Grants,” each for 33 months and just shy of $4 million for each grantee. All of the press releases are filled with jargon about “elevating” the teaching profession. The interlocking networks and complementary funding by other foundations of these new Gates investments is amazing.

    In October 2015 the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education received a 33 month grant for $3,928,656 from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to support the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) “teacher transformation” effort: The Elevate Preparation: Impact Children (EPIC) center. This is an addition to a separate Gates grant in October 2015, $ 300,000, “to launch, execute, and utilize implementation data collection at the state-level.”

    On other blogs, I have commented on this takeover of 71 “providers” of teacher education in Massachusetts, where a large administrative unit in the state department of education is functioning as one of Gates Foundation’s Teacher Preparation Transformation Centers.

    Why Massachusetts? Massachusetts has already imposed industrial strength surveillance systems on teacher prep programs. The Gates grant will complete the so-called “EPIC System” including tracking the “performance outcomes” of graduates of 71 teacher prep programs insofar as their graduates are employed by the state. Among the measures of performance (in addition to those already required in the state) are surveys of employers, parents, students, and all of the candidates who have become teachers—tracked for a minimum of three years.

    In addition, Massachusetts and six other states are part of the Network for Transforming Educator Preparation (NTEP), with a focus on teacher licensure, program approval, and data systems—an initiative of the Council of Chief State School Officers. The CCSSO is so dependent of the Gates Foundation for operating support is should be regarded as one of many subsidiary operations of the Foundation. Here is a summary of the press release

    Also, Massachusetts knows how to make a pitch.

    Here is the new (and grandiose) target for teacher education: “The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) believes that educator preparation can and should produce teachers who are ready to be effective on day one. We are working toward an ambitious goal that by 2022, candidates prepared in Massachusetts will enter classrooms and demonstrate results on par with peers in their third year of teaching.”

    You have to look at all of the tests and forms and surveys to determine the meaning of “results.”

    In addition to scooping up 71 teacher preparation programs and a large administrative unit in a state department of education (charged with approving “providers” of teacher preparation), the Gates Foundation sent about the same amount of money to TeachingWorks, housed at the University of Michigan School of Education.

    TeachingWorks is developing a performance-based path into teaching based on mastering so-called “high-leverage” strategies for success in teaching. Among other initiatives, Educational Testing Service and TeachingWorks are refining the use of virtual classrooms with interactive avatar students, in partnership with Mursion™. Mursion™ provides a mixed-reality teaching environment with about six to eight simulated students. The avatars are animated by trained, “calibrated” human “inter-actors” using standardized protocols. There is evidently pride at TeacherWorks in saying that teacher preparation should be standardized, scripted, and automated as possible.

    Some of the Gates money for the EPIC center in Massachusetts will be used to hire someone who can manage contracts with providers of avatar-based training. There is gold in this form of training. “”

    Another of these grants for “centers” went to Relay Graduate School of Education. In this case, Relay seems to be conduit for money for an ancillary operation TeacherSquared or Teacher2. At present TeacherSquared is not much more than a social media space. But… I tripped on a job opening for the Gates foundation that suggests this “center” for teacher transformation is envisioned as one part of a surveillance and a data mining operation focussed on teacher practices, enthusiasms, sentiments, and so on. It appears to be part of a portfolio of projects which a new hire at the Gates foundation will manage and expand.

    The U.S.PREP National Center housed at Texas Tech University, is advertised as a transformation center ready to prepare “classroom-ready teachers.” I judge that the six universities and their “partner school districts” will be also be doing competency-based programs, with a lot of online “modules” introduced as tests of mastery. The dean and key Texas Tech faculty in education are in-migrants from Arizona State and will push that model for teacher prep. Texas Tech “partners” with Lubbock ISD, Southern Methodist University with Dallas ISD, University of Houston with Houston ISD, Southeastern Louisiana University with two parishes, Jackson State University with Jackson n public schools, University of Memphis with Shelby County schools ( many are charters).

    Even before U.S.PREP entered the scene, members of the University of Memphis faculty were in turmoil because the President there: (a) introduced Relay Graduate School of Education as a competing path for teacher preparation, (b) dismissed discussion of questions of the plan in the faculty Senate, and (c) used Relay’s PR as a reason to threaten cuts to existing faculty in teacher education.

    As I understand the intent and effect U.S.PREP, a lot of authority over teacher ed is relocated in those partner districts (many populated with TFA and charter schools), and other “trainings” that will try to make faculty in teacher education think a Gates-funded brand of teacher education is best, especially for teachers entering “high performing, high minority, low-income schools” in partner districts.

    In addition to the four Teacher Transformation Centers, the Gates Foundation awarded $3,248,182 (Term: 33 months) to the Teacher Preparation Inspectorate, US (TPI-US). TPI-US is a new entity that will evaluate the progress of the four Teacher Transformation Centers and their respective networks of “providers” and a lot more.

    TPI-US is led by Dr. Edward Crowe, co-founder of Teacher Prep Analytics (TPA). Beginning in the fall of 2013, Crowe initiated and oversaw the first pilots of this inspection process, modeled on the British inspection system. This pilot program was started in 2014, before the current Gates grant. At that time, TPA organized four “trial inspections” of elementary preparation programs. These inspections were conducted at Southern Methodist University, the University of Houston in Texas (two targets for transformation), New Mexico State University, and Eastern New Mexico University. In 2015, inspectors checked out programs in Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, and North Carolina. (I have not found the names of these institutions).

    Here is the shocker: TPI-US will use a process similar to one used in the United Kingdom, but the specific criteria for rating programs are from the National Center for Teacher Quality (funded by Gates and others). These criteria are so prescriptive that they down-grade programs unless they clearly focus on seven specific ways to teach and two specific Pearson texts for courses. At last check, Pearson’s own Sir Michael Barber was a “technical advisor” for NCTQ. See and

    I think that these latest initiatives from the Gates Foundation are designed to eliminate academic freedom among faculty engaged in teacher preparation, to by-pass/overide faculty governance of content and requirements for programs, eliminate preparation grounded in scholarship in favor of multiple tests and triage of candidates, and fend off justified criticism of unrelenting quests for standardized and increasingly de-humanized educationeducation.

    I also think the Centers are designed to reduce the influence of professional associations as sources of knowledge about the work of teachers—ranging from the American Educational Research Association to the associations organized around content areas—reading, mathematics, social studies, sciences, the arts, and so on—almost all of these with new standards.

    The only standards mentioned in connection with these grants for transforming teacher preparation was a request for evidence of some fealty to the Common Core—largely funded and marketed by the Gates Foundation.

    You have to credit those who work on educational projects at the Gates Foundation. They have Machiavellian instincts, deep pockets, and not enough critics of what they are undertaking on a grand scale.

  6. Harlan Underhill permalink

    I earned my 15 credits to gain Teacher Certification way back in 1975 (I already had the requisite liberal arts major [in English] and two minors [history and French]). The five three-credit education courses I took were the weakest courses I ever encountered in all my educational experience (only a short unit on statistics in the Ed. Psych course was substantive and therefore exciting). The reading lists were unfocused, the actual teaching execrable, class sizes (60 plus) anti-models. My experience confirmed for me the painful joke: “Those who can do. Those who can’t, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.” I doubt the Gates initiatives will change anything. But what kind of contemporary teacher education is Kirylo defending? I hope it is better than what I had 40 years ago.

  7. Very well said. What can we hope for?

  8. felixfelix permalink

    As a former resident of Seattle, I always love telling people what Bill Gates’s grandfather did: he sold furniture. And Bill Gates is still selling furniture, only this time it is mental furniture and it is defective but it is wrapped in a sales pitch that carries overtones of a tent revival and, sadly, it appeals to people who want to be able to blame someone (else). This kind of approach, in my view, contributes to the kind of instructor bullying that is on the rise and to a clear decline in students’ and parents’ views that the student bears responsibility for learning. Anything that goes wrong in the learning process is now easily dumped on the instructor who, it is claimed, failed to teach properly.

    • Harlan Underhill permalink

      Some teachers DON’T teach properly, including my son’s 3rd and 5th grade teachers. As individuals I have empathy for their short comings and circumstances; as so-called “professionals” they were a total bust. The 3rd grade teacher was in her first year, sometimes brought her baby to class with her, should never have been hired and was gone the following year. The 5th grade teacher was old, crotchety, near retirement, did 5 minutes of intro each day and put the class to work on workbooks, but she did not teach. I seriously doubt Gates’ initiative will be able to fix people like that, but public schools need to acknowledge that incompetence and deadwood do exist and recognize that such people wouldn’t last two days in private business. The scorn of business is the disgrace of the public school ethos. After all, business pays their salaries. The fulmination against business is marxist cant and permeates the entire public school world. That’s why so many who pay the taxes would prefer to see wholesale privatization of education. That won’t solve the problems of education either, probably, but public education really does have to pull up its socks and stop justifying bad job performance and blaming it all on confused and ineffective management, although that’s where the rot starts, at the head of the fish, as the cliché has it.

  9. Terrific post and will keep watching. Suffice it to say, what is happening in your neck of the woods is happening everywhere, in every segment of teaching education. My PhD program in NYC is studying this with a critical lens wherever possible, and I speak to my own grad students about this regularly, but the question remains: How much silencing takes place under the neoliberal hegemonic machine until collective action takes place? One of the most frustrating parts of such a story is the cultural and political-economic implications thereof, which you well said: capitalistic values have infected us to the core, even in the most dignified, humble, and committed scholarly pursuits, viz., educating teachers. What is “normal” today is what, according to viewpoints even 50 years ago, would be seen as the corruption of education and the teaching profession by corporate greed. We need to remember our country’s educational, philosophical, and social history.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Laura H. Chapman on Gates’ Efforts to “Transform” Teacher Training | deutsch29
  2. James Kirylo: Gates’ Plan to Take Over Teacher Education Advances | Diane Ravitch's blog
  3. Ed News, Friday, February 12, 2016 Edition | tigersteach
  4. James Kyrilo, Alvin Burstein | coldhearted scientist وداد

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