Related: Education, In the Media, Living, Politics

Note to Congress: Fix Your Own Mess!

 
 

Congress has done so well with its own work — why am I so afraid that they want to do my work, too?

Bad enough that they want to make laws that micromanage colleges and universities on everything from the timing of emergency notices to the definition of a credit hour to listing textbooks in course schedules to the starting salaries of recent graduates heedless of the often-tenuous link between a student’s choice of major and actual choice of jobs later on (…lots of us law school grads are squeaking by happily in other fields…while French majors rake in the dough as computer programmers…).  Ill-conceived laws governing higher education have spawned thousands of mind-numbing regulations and compliance demands that have driven up costs without improving teaching and learning one bit.

But wait, there’s more.

Now Congress wants to by-pass the whole deal of higher education — I mean, really, who needs a qualified faculty, a library and classrooms? — and allow just about any entrepreneur with a storefront or internet access to offer the equivalent of a degree.

Not just any degree — a master’s degree.

Not just any master’s degree — a graduate degree in TEACHING.

For goodness sakes.

Yes, folks, we’re going to improve teaching in this country by eliminating the colleges and universities, instead, allowing states to authorize non-academic organizations (called “academies”) to provide teaching credentials that would be the equivalent of master’s degrees.   I’ve heard these referred to as “pop-up master’s degrees” sort of like the Target pop-up stores that appear on corners in New York.  Or, maybe like flash mobs.

Don’t believe me?  Read this article on insidehighered.com Among other things, we read in the article, these teacher preparation programs authorized by Congress and the states “…would not be required to hire faculty with advanced degrees, faculty members would not be expected to conduct research, and the academies would not need to be accredited.”

We have such organizations in this country already.  They’re called “diploma mills.”

Why does Congress think this is a good idea?  Who knows?  Congress also thinks it’s a good idea to cut unemployment benefits and slash Medicare, so what do we expect?

We do know one or two things, however.  Follow the money.  Considerable sums of money are behind the K-12 reform movement — see this excellent report by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post.  Guess who will be some of the major beneficiaries of the Congressionally-designed “pop-up masters” academies?  The same organizations that are reaping millions from the wealthy conservative organizations that are also funding K-12 reform AND many political campaigns.

Now, I do happen to think that Teach for America is a valuable organization that offers some interesting and worthy opportunities for smart college grads to perform an important service for children in our nation.  But TFA is not the permanent solution to the ills of urban public schools.  Nor will organizations like TFA be the only “academies” that this legislation will support in opposition to legitimate schools of education.  You don’t need a Harvard degree to figure out the opportunities for corruption inherent in any plan that disregards the essential idea of an appropriately credentialed faculty teaching a curriculum that has some external vetting through accreditation.

But these days, anyone who raises even a polite question about the direction of K-12 reform and the criticism of teachers in this country is accused of being an apologist for the scandal of K-12 education.  Too bad those zealots skipped class on the day they taught about Robespierre and what happens when moderate questions and rational debate is cut off at the guillotine of intolerant revolutionaries.  Intolerance — being closed to any questions at all — eventually destroys itself.

The zealots of school reform are making a bad situation much, much worse.  Higher Education has been marginalized for many years now in this discussion.  Pop-up organizations like the new National Council on Teacher Quality make up and issue reports trashing schools of education that the media seize upon with gusto, promoting the rhetoric of decay with sonorous seriousness with scant mention of the serious flaws in such reports.

And, dare I mention — speaking of doing such a good job in your own industry that you have a right to sit in judgment of all others — dare I mention that U.S. News and World Report could not sustain its own print news magazine — so it created the infamous “best” ranking reports instead.  The “news” in U.S. News is now only online — not counting the “news” (and $$$) it makes when it issues rankings.   I mention it here because that same New Teacher Quality Project has teamed-up with U.S. News to rate and rank Schools of Education in the same way and for much the same reason that the magazine ranks colleges — to make money — over many strenuous objections from people who know a thing or two about education.

The objections were, of course, dismissed as rants from self-interested educators.  A little knowledge, it seems, is an irrelevant thing these days.

Congress should fix its own mess and stay out of the business of creating more chaos in education.  And education reformers should be wary of dismantling teacher education entirely — who will be left to teach when the educational flash mobs move on?

See Arthur Levine, How to improve teacher education

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: president@trinitydc.edu