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Teacher Education Leaders Speak Out: Kevin Kumashiro on Teacher Preparation, edTPA and Reform

Teacher preparation has emerged as a target of those seeking to disrupt and transform the education system in our nation. In the past I have written about the National Council on Teacher Quality's project to rate schools of education. I also carried a guest post focused on Pearson's EdTPA, the controversial test now being required by teaching credential programs. This week, I am sharing interviews with several leaders of schools of education around the country, who have thoughts about these issues and more. First up is Kevin Kumashiro, Dean of the University of San Francisco's School of Education.

1. Can you tell me a bit about how your school approaches teacher education?

I am the dean of the School of Education at the University of San Francisco.  Our School just launched a five-year strategic plan with an ambitious vision: to act collectively and leverage our resources in ways that are driven by our Jesuit mission and responsive to our constituents' needs in order to have measurable impact in schools and communities, particularly for those most affected by injustice.  Our largest program is pre-service teacher preparation, and this summer we launch a continuing-education program for teachers, both of which are developed in partnership with local districts, schools, teachers unions, and community organizations to ensure that we are preparing educators to be effective, ethical, and engaged.

 2. How does this relate to how you expect the teachers your program graduates to engage in the work of teaching?

We aim to graduate teachers who strike many balances: they are skilled at developing and teaching rich curriculum, even while acknowledging that the gaps in their curriculum and the hidden, unintended lessons can sometimes be the most powerful teachers; they are steeped in the cutting-edge of research and theory on teaching and learning, even as they acknowledge the limits of knowledge and the need to constantly explore answers to questions we haven't yet asked; they understand and value the multiple and competing dimensions of diversity and inequity, even when the relationships that they build with students and families bring to bear cultural assets for academic success and socio-emotional wellness that they couldn't possibly have foretold; and they are teachers of our students, but they know that they cannot be effective without also being active members of communities, which means that "teaching" is never divorced from the more public work of reframing debates and advocating for policy changes.  Education is always at the heart of social change, which is why teachers must always see ourselves as part of movement building.

3. What are some of the pressures your school of education faces in this data-driven paradigm we are in?

Schools of education should be serving our schools, youth, communities, and professions, and if we are truly in solidarity with our constituents, then they would indeed be holding us accountable.  But too often the conversation about accountability is bifurcated to extremes: we too broadly measure against decontextualized, abstract, generalized standards that do injustice to our communities, and we too narrowly measure using instruments that focus on only certain knowledge, skills, and outputs that have little to do with the kinds of learning and development that we want for our children.  Much of education cannot be reduced to numbers, and we need only look at the disparities between the haves and the have-nots to see that the elite schools not only spend less time on test prep, but also are taking less tests: the elite are taught while the masses are merely tested.

4. What do you think of the NCTQ's project to rate schools of education?

I have at least two concerns.  First, what is the purpose?  The history of how this organization was formed, the backgrounds of those who lead it, and then the unsurprising "findings" that disparage and dismiss schools of education reveal that perhaps the purpose all along was to discredit university-based teacher-preparation programs in order to advance alternative tracks.  Second, and relatedly, what is the method?  Numerous national organizations have detailed a range of problems with the methodology of determining these ratings, from a process that lacked inclusion and collaboration, to the limited types and amounts of data collected, to the faulty methods of analysis, and so on, raising fundamental questions about the validity and reliability of this "study."  These ratings, like other popular testing and rating initiatives (high-stakes testing for students, merit pay for teachers, school turnarounds based on AYPs), all continue the trend of educational "reforms" to test-and-punish those whom are already deemed the problem, rather than to view assessments as formative, that is, as processes that use rich data to support collaborative approaches toward improvement. 

5. How has the Pearson EdTPA exam affected your program and your students?

As I listen to educators across the nation, I am convinced that the impact of the EdTPA in my university is not different than in others.  I hear at least five troubling concerns:

First, scoring.  Although sometimes referred to as a portfolio, the basis for evaluation is primarily a limited set of materials, reviewed by one external reviewer, which means that the materials are not inclusive and rich enough to reflect teaching quality and growth, and the review process does not allow for multiple perspectives. 

Second, outsourcing.  As a result of outsourcing to Pearson, student teachers must pay a high fee and have already voiced legitimate concerns about privacy regarding videotaping of their students and ownership of reviewed materials, all raising questions about whether outsourcing to Pearson is ethical. 

Third, curriculum.  We have ample evidence that high-stakes testing leads to a narrowing of curriculum, and that is indeed what we hear about the EdTPA, namely, that student teachers are "teaching to the test." 

Fourth and relatedly, social justice.  Students choose to come to the USF School of Education because of our explicit commitment to working in solidarity with underserved communities and struggling students, but when working towards the EdTPA, they have expressed that they feel resigned to present a more palatable lesson, because a lesson that is rattling common sense, challenging biases and privileges, and causing discomfort can look unpredictable, filled with conflict, and emotion-laden--qualities that might be reviewed negatively by someone operating in a different paradigm. 

Fifth, inclusion.  Although the genesis of the EdTPA was meant to be grassroots and profession-driven, the reality is that many teacher educators feel that this assessment is being imposed top-down and that attempts to raise critical questions are squelched.  As a result, I hear teacher educators saying that they have never felt more demoralized--not merely because the EdTPA overlaps with other problematic "reforms," but also because it is being advanced by leaders of our profession who should be leading the push back.

6. There is a growing trend of alternative avenues to teacher credentials. There are even charter schools beginning to host their own programs, and even offer Master degrees. What do you think of this?

In my recent book, "Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture," I describe the history of the attacks on university-based teacher-preparation programs, which in recent decades has gone hand-in-hand with the rapid expansion of alternative routes to teaching that involve comparatively less coursework, supervised fieldwork, and assessment.  The neoliberal rhetoric about the value of these alternative routes emphasizes the role that alternatives in a market can play to foster competition, which is assumed to increase motivation, effort, innovation, and growth.  But the reality is quite different: the alternative routes are far less regulated than the university-based routes; the alternative routes have not proven to be more effective than university-based routes but are nonetheless receiving increased funding, accolades, and even priority slots in hiring; and perhaps most significant, the alternative routes serve as a pipeline to the schools with highest needs, placing teachers with the least preparation and often without communities ties to teach for only a short period of time.  We should be skeptical whenever someone says that they have a great reform for other people's children, but it's not one that they would want for their own. 

7. Are there signs that schools of education are beginning to push back against these changes?

Bold and inspiring examples of resistances do exist: from students who protest and boycott the teacher assessments (starting most notably with students in Amherst), to faculty who speak collectively and publicly about problems with teacher evaluations that rely on student test scores (including the Chicagoland Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education, or CReATE), to organizations that speak on behalf of schools of education about the problems with faulty ratings (such as the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities). And the National Association for Multicultural Education has released this position paper on edTPA.

But a movement has not yet emerged that collectivizes the resources of schools of education to reframe the debate and impact policies and reforms.  One of my mentors, the late Eric Rofes, once said that academia has created an assimilationist profession, one that places most value on speaking to ourselves and that actually discourages the doing of scholarship in ways that change policy and practice.  This needs to change.  Imagine a school of education, as well as a collective of schools, that take public stances on local and national educational policies--that is the direction that we must move.

8. The Obama administration through Arne Duncan has proposed holding teacher education programs "accountable" by using VAM scores as one way to rank teacher education programs.  What are your thoughts?

The idea seems commonsensical: value-added measures are ways of looking at whether a student's achievement goes up over a period of time, and if we account for all other factors, we should be able to attribute those gains to the teacher that they had, and by implication, the program that prepared them.  Such is the thinking behind the wave of state legislation that ties teacher evaluations to gains in student test scores, and is the thinking behind the U.S. Department of Education's proposal.  But such conclusions are not backed by research, and in fact, several leading research organizations, as well as collectives of leading researchers on educational assessment, have already issued statements that warn against using VAMs to make high-stakes decisions about teachers.  So why, then, would we take this one step further and use VAMs to make decisions about the institutions that prepare those teachers?  Rather than focus even more narrowly on what we mean by "accountable" and "assessment," we need to be thinking with much more complexity, informed by the latest research, framed by a commitment to equity and ethics, and un-seduced by what has become the "common sense" of today.

What do you think? Is it time for schools of education to become more active in the debate over education reform?

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