Sunday, February 10, 2008

Speaking of Merit Pay, How About a “Teacher Test” Delivered Under False Pretenses by Voucher Supporters?

The next few posts will be fairly critical of some legislators and their philosophies of education. My last post talked about the Merit Pay Task Force and my hopes and fears for what it will accomplish. Merit pay proposals may indeed bring some sort of positive effect, but there are LOTS and LOTS of real questions about how to evaluate, who to evaluate, who evaluates, standards, remediation, paying a certain percentage of teachers or paying for meeting certain requirements, etc. Merit pay proposals are seen by many as a veiled attack on the value of teachers in general, and specifically as retribution for their opposition to last year’s voucher bill. Rep. Last says the task force was created to bring together legislators and educators to try and reach "consensus" on the standards, alleviating some of those concerns about top-down regulations.

So why is Senator Mark Madsen running SB0091, a bill that institutes merit pay under the guise of a teacher qualification, instead of contributing his input to the task force as they consider all the alternatives and ramifications of merit pay? I’m afraid the answer is that it’s about retribution and corporatization of education, as well as another attempt to weaken the bargaining role of the UEA in teacher compensation.

The bill proposes paying for teachers to obtain a special certification and then paying them more salary afterwards. At first glance, while still puzzled as to why the proposal wouldn’t be wrapped into the Merit Pay Task Force, I thought the bill was just recognizing the merit of a widely respected teacher training program, know as the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). This organization was founded by education professionals in 1987 and is known for its broad, rigorous requirements for showing classroom mastery. Teachers have to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter and an understanding of classroom and community principles through extensive evaluation and a portfolio of their work. Here are the standards for a Junior High English Teacher.

But the bill is about another organization, The American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. The similar sounding name is just a coincidence of course. Founded in 2001 as a “bargain” teacher headhunter, the organization tries to address the national teacher shortage by recruiting applicants, “certifying” them as teachers through the rigorous, yet quick and easy, $850 online text and test offered (see Utah’s special page and how easy it is! “Become a teacher and have a classroom of your own in less than a year!”), and then aggressively shopping them as “better” than normal teacher applicants to school districts desperate to fill positions. Because of course, one online course is all you need to be a teacher. Now, ABCTE is trying to offset this inherent cheapening of what the teaching profession requires by offering a “Distinguished Teacher” certification, which is the subject of SB0091.

This distinguished award is less than a year old and “is being piloted right now in several school districts in order to ensure the requirements will be measured in a valid and reliable way.” That certainly inspires confidence that our tax money will be well spent. Currently, they are so anxious to establish their award as legit that they will actually pay you to go through the process. (I would assume that Sen. Madsen knows this and just proposes paying for it because he knows the company will charge hundreds of dollars once they’re off the pilot program...) The process consists of 1. Passing an online test on the subject matter. 2. An evaluation by the principal. 3. An evaluation by someone else using a rubric that is similar to what Utah already uses, but must specifically come from another for-profit education corporation. 4. The test scores of your students.

In other words, almost a carbon copy of some of the merit pay proposals, but under a different name to fly under the radar and avoid any input from concerned educators. I see this as ideology over integrity. The program is voluntary, but Senator Madsen is hiding its true intent. But how did Senator Madsen even hear about this company and formulate the bill? The national, corporate “school reform” web strikes again! I need to find the campaign donor records of Senator Madsen and check them out. I wonder how much he received from large educational testing companies or pro-voucher organizations. The big corporate money and pro-voucher connections are everywhere.

The President of ABCTE, David Saba, is a businessman who spent much of his career working for Kaplan, another expensive testing and tutoring company. He takes quite a few potshots at the union in his blog and makes it very clear that he supports No Child Left Behind, especially the provisions about shutting down schools. Wouldn’t that worry Utah Senators who constantly worry about federal encroachment, especially one who actually sponsored a bill rejecting NCLB money? (Senator Margaret Dayton heads the Senate Education Committee and already passed the bill out of committee with a favorable recommendation.) Apparently not if big money and vouchers are involved.

The Board of Directors of ABCTE contains some impressive looking names and titles, but also some revealing ones. One director is the president of the Texas Institute for Education Reform. “Education Reform” is the rightwing codeword for pro-voucher, pro-merit pay, pro-privatization. Another director was actually hired away from the Alliance for School Choice and holds a simultaneous position doing research at the Goldwater Institute, another rightwing, explicitly pro-voucher advocacy group. Another lady works for ETS, the “non-profit organization” (I know it’s Wikipedia, but the NY Times article and blog quoted are solid.) that has “non-profit” monopolies on the SAT, TOEFL, GRE, and others including the CRAPI…I mean PRAXIS. The PRAXIS is ETS’s response to the “highly qualified teacher” requirement of NCLB. This test is the easiest way for a state to claim their teachers are “highly qualified” while spending no money and exerting no effort. Instead, teachers pay close to $300 to take two multiple-choice tests that “prove” they know both their subject matter and how to teach: a. Work with your student to find solutions to the problem. b. Belittle your student each time he misbehaves. c. Blame the government. d. All of the above. ETS makes a killing, the state checks off a box on their NCLB form, and the prospective teacher jumps through the hoop, rolls over, sits up, and begs for mercy. The American Board “Distinguished Teacher” test is almost identical: 4 hours of torturous bologna consisting of 5% multiple-choice questions about Instructional Knowledge and Professional Skills.

It would appear that Senator Madsen and the other members of the Senate Education Committee had to answer for themselves two basic questions about this legislation. Should we in good faith commit resources, information, and proposals to the Merit Pay Task Force…or try to pass an arbitrary, one-sided proposal via a deceptive out-of-state mechanism? And second, should we define merit as a rigorous examination of all aspects of teaching by a well-known and respected teacher organization…or as passing a multiple-choice test and receiving a “pilot certification” from a front organization for “education reform” groups? Apparently, the answers come pretty easily if money and vouchers are involved. I wonder what the simple, multiple-choice test to become a legislator looks like?

1 comment:

Paul in Provo said...

Good article. Sen. Madsen and his ilk want to destroy public education. They see good money to be made in partnerships to build leaking-roofed charter schools with taxpayer money (he's not one of the crooks/legislators on the take in that particular school)or to turn the whole business over to private schools supported by vouchers from the rest of us taxpayers. One way of driving out the teachers is with this sort of "merit pay" scam that demoralizes teachers since they are not in charge of how the merit pay works. Please help change this state from a one-party state ruled by such arrogant Republicans.