Young, Energetic, Enthusiastic, Inexperienced, Short Term: The Model School Teacher?

On August 26, Motoko Rich, in the New York Times, reported At Charter Schools Short Careers by Choice.  I shared my own concerns about the subject of her piece here,  Yesterday, Mike Rose, professor in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA and a respected writer on education and teaching, published a second reflection, Forever Young  (his first is here), as a guest writer in Valerie Strauss’s Washington Post column, “The Answer Sheet.”

In yesterday’s piece Rose concludes, “Given that the focus of so much school reform is rightly on poor kids in underserved schools, and some charter organizations and Teach for America are particularly concerned about making a difference with such children, this advocacy of brief teaching careers gets perilously close to moral quicksand.  Poor communities need jobs, decent housing, and health care, and they need stable institutions staffed with people who are invested in them, have made connections in their communities, are trusted by them, and operate with the best accumulated wisdom to serve their needs.  Therefore, it seems irresponsible to argue that a substantial number of teachers in these communities can come in straight from college or another career and rotate through their classrooms, giving them two, three, four years and leave.”

I urge you to read carefully Rose’s concerns, because Mike Rose is among the most thoughtful people writing today about the need for excellent public schools and strong teachers in every community to expand opportunity.

He notes one other particularly important side point in yesterday’s piece, however:  “The leaders of high-profile charter organizations and especially of Teach for America have a huge megaphone, lots of influence and media connections.  People listen to them.”  In fact Congress has listened to them, having created what many people call “the Teach for America exemption” to the “Highly Qualified Teacher” requirement in the federal education law that we continue to call No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

On August 27, Valerie Strauss posted a guest report on this topic, How the Public Is Deceived about ‘Highly Qualified Teachers,’ by Kenneth Zeichner, a teacher educator at the University of Washington.  Zeichner explains that, “Our federal government supports a practice of putting the least-prepared teachers in the highest-need classrooms—classrooms that are most often filled with children from low-income families, English language learners, students with disabilities and students of color.  There are powerful players in the education reform world who are advocating for the Obama administration and Congress to maintain a federal policy that promotes this practice.”

In December of 2010 in the lame duck Congressional session, Congress inserted into a continuing budget resolution an amendment that labels teachers-in-training in alternative certification programs to be Highly Qualified Teachers under the requirements of NCLB.  These are teachers who, while they may have completed a five-week summer training course, are not trained or certified as teachers.  While they have completed a college degree, they have not completed college work in education, nor have they experienced supervised and mentored student-teaching.

California has recently strengthened its own requirements for teachers entering the classroom from alternative programs, but the U.S. Department of Education (that has been mandated by Congress to gather data on the number of alternative teachers placed “as highly qualified” and the location of classrooms where they are being placed) has been dragging its feet in the collection of this data that Congress asked to see by December 2013.  A coalition of 90 national education, civil rights, and community organizations has been actively pressing the Department to collect the data but to no avail.

This is an important issue.  All children need well-qualified and experienced teachers, and our society needs a permanent, qualified, credentialed teaching profession.

In his newest article Rose gets at some of the underlying assumptions:  “To argue that teaching should be done by an ever-changing corps of energetic new recruits converts teaching into a kind of entrepreneurial and experimental enterprise suited more for Silicon Valley capitalism than the development of children.  Another analogue is that teaching becomes volunteer or rescue work—intense but short-term.  And yet another comparison is missionary work…  this kind of talk about a few years of dedicated service in a community that is not your own reinforces the comparison.”

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