The True Cost of Looking the Other Way
June 18, 2013
By Domenic Giandomenico, Legislative Director
This is what happens when we turn a blind eye to the performance of our schools.
The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) unveiled their mammoth new report, The Teacher Prep Review 2013, detailing how well our teacher colleges prepare their students to become educators. More than 40% of programs for secondary education received the equivalent of a D or worse. That number jumps to nearly 70% for elementary education teacher prep programs. Just four out of the 1,200 programs evaluated by NCTQ received the highest rating of four stars, with 18 more receiving 3.5 stars.
This shouldn’t come as a major shock. We’ve known for years that first-year teachers tend to struggle mightily in the classroom. NCTQ’s comprehensive, eight-year study merely quantifies just how poorly prepared they are before they walk through the schoolhouse doors. And, it’s fair to assume that in the wake of NCTQ’s enlightening report, many will ask what should be done to solve the problem, and rightfully so.
The bigger question, however, should be, “If teacher prep programs are this universally bad, what’s going on with the rest of higher education?”
We take for granted—largely on faith alone—that we have the best colleges and universities in the world. But, what if that weren’t the case? What if the decay and neglect we see in teacher preparation isn’t isolated and the miasma of indifference has spread to areas we’ve not only relied upon for a better future, but literally and substantially indebted ourselves to in pursuit of prosperity?
How would we really know? It’s not as though we systematically track outcomes in any way in higher education. We barely report on graduation rates, and even there, we only get information on first-time, full-time students—a rapidly decreasing share of the college population. And we certainly make no effort to measure how much students actually learn while they’re in college.
To me, the NCTQ study is just the tip of the iceberg. The performances of the institutions of higher education in the study—which encompass both prestigious universities and tiny state schools—didn’t happen on accident. It follows literally centuries of minimal oversight. The system of accreditation in higher education barely evaluates educational quality, focusing largely on best financial and institutional practices rather than on what goes on in the classroom or on how well students fare once they graduate. It’s the only result that can be expected when the institutions themselves are placed as the gatekeepers to the hundreds of billions of federal dollars they receive.
As Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation observed in a December 2012 New York Times op-ed:
“Grade inflation, even (or especially) at the most elite institutions, is rampant. A landmark book published last year, “Academically Adrift,” found that many students at traditional colleges showed no improvement in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing, and spent their time socializing, working or wasting time instead of studying.”
Which brings us back full circle—this is what happens when we turn a blind eye to our schools. This is why we have accountability in K-12 education. We already know the consequences of inaction, of turning the other cheek. Children were denied the opportunity to learn. Systemic inequities buried themselves even deeper into the fabric of our nation. Economic disparities between the haves and the have-nots grew, with social mobility and the promise that it holds straying ever so gently out of reach for millions of Americans. And we, as a country, got a little bit weaker with each and every year that passed.
This is also why the proposals laid out by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Congressman John Kline (R-MN) for ESEA reauthorization are so dangerous. Each of these bills would gut federal accountability for our schools. Each of these bills would place states as the gatekeepers to funding that they themselves will receive and distribute. These proposals would turn back the clock to a day where we didn’t pay much heed to all the warning signs and let each fiefdom of education rule—or abdicate responsibility, as was often the case—as they deemed fit. Thankfully, despite enormous pressure from those benefitting from the status quo, Senator Harkin and other Democrats put clear accountability guidelines in the ESEA bill passed out of Committee last week on a straight party-line vote.
Ultimately, NCTQ’s excellent report should inspire action. For the sake of our nation, our students, and the next generation of students, it must. But the steps taken to resolve these problems cannot and should not be limited to just teacher preparation programs. We have to begin the process of diagnosing that which ills our entire higher education system. And we must keep making progress in our elementary and secondary schools, which can only be accomplished by strengthening—not diminishing—the accountability that we have.
Domenic Giandomenico joined Democrats for Education Reform in 2013 after devoting more than a decade of his career to ensuring that every student of every age, background, and aspiration has access to the excellent education they deserve. Read his full bio here.
DFER News Roundup
June 14, 2013
DFER News Roundup
By Devin Boyle, Director of Communications
DFER Seen & Heard:
- Christina MartÃnez, DFER AZ's state director, writes "An 'A' Should Be an 'A' no Matter Where You Go to School," for the Huff Post.
- DFER’s Joe Williams says, "Teachers themselves will push unions to better models." (redefinED)
- "After standing for diploma, it's time to deliver," writes Gloria Romero for the Orange Country Register.
- DFER's Barone comments on Motoko Rich's The NY Times piece, "GOP Bill on Schools Would Set Fewer Rules."
- "Union-backed teacher discipline bill inadequate," says DFER's Romero.
- DFER's Barone weighs in on Harkin bill to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.
- When it comes to the upcoming mayoral race in Boston, DFER's Liam Kerr says, "We’re looking for strong leadership & accountability." (NPR-WBUR)
Advocacy, Policy Briefs, & Such:
- DFER's statement on Senate HELP Committee's mark-up of ESEA.
In TX, House D's vote to kill bill to develop Achievement School District
June 11, 2013
In Texas, House Democrats vote to kill a bill to develop a statewide Achievement School District for underperforming schools due to pressure from the teachers' union.
There is a lot of finger-pointing going on about who is to blame for killing this bill, but the bill's author, State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), kept his pointed within the Party.
He had this to say about the bill's derailment:
"My friend’s enemy is not my friend, and Democrats should be the best friend of children in failing inner city schools. And if anybody — including the teachers’ union — places their interests above these children, Democrats should not just say no to them - they should say hell, no."
DFER Releases Statement on Senate HELP Committee Mark-Up of ESEA
June 11, 2013
June 11, 2013
In Today's Senate HELP Committee Mark-Up:
Democrats Want States and Schools Accountable for Student Achievement;
Republicans Say Aim for Student Success Not Required
Two very different visions of public education will be competing today at the Senate HELP Committee's mark-up of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
Saying goodbye to a New Jersey leader
June 7, 2013
By Kathleen Nugent, DFER NJ State Director
This week, New Jersey lost a respected leader with U.S. Senator Frank R. Lautenberg’s passing. Lautenberg’s five terms of service for the state were marked with notable achievements. He successfully made 21 the national drinking age, designated the .08 blood alcohol level for drunk driving, banned smoking on flights and in federal buildings, denied gun ownership to those who were convicted of domestic violence, and championed funding for Amtrak, among other accomplishments.