Education is not a consumer product

My response to a Roanoke Times commentary from July 7, 2013, on the NCTQ report:

Education is Not a Consumer Product

Who defines a quality teacher preparation program?

Apparently, the National Council of Teacher Quality does. But under what authority? With what data? And whose agenda is being served? NCTQ is using its unsanctioned bully pulpit to coerce teacher preparation programs to play ball or be pilloried in the national media.

According to Karla Bruno’s July 7 commentary (“How well do Virginia colleges teach the teachers?”), “NCTQ provides a much-needed, outside-in assessment of teacher training.” To give a bit of background information: NCTQ recently sent notices to teacher prep programs throughout the country, more than 1,100 institutions in all, to let them know how miserably most of them scored on NCTQ’s 17 performance standards.

Before you sigh in dismay at the sorry state of teacher education in the U. S., you should also know that NCTQ used such invalid and unreliable research practices to study such woefully insufficient “data” that any “findings” reported become laughable.

In the 112-page report is an exhaustive array of charts, graphs and text supposedly related to methodology and findings, but there are no specific instruments, protocols or data that lend credence to its claims. References to the collection of course syllabi and evaluation of the coursework there included is confusing; how many pieces of student work did they analyze to gain this data? Apparently none. And what about the research related to classroom instruction? Did on-site evaluators visit these programs and use the syllabi to observe for congruency? How many times did they visit? Using what instruments?

NCTQ did not visit; not one site. It did no interviews with college instructors, students, administrators or local schools where student teachers are placed. All data were collected by off-site means, most commonly via FOIA and by searching online for what was already publicly available.

But no matter; how important is evidence when one has assumption, intuition and the opinions of a collective of unnamed authors? As longtime educator Jack Hassard states in a National Education Policy Center article, “The NCTQ is a wonderful example of not only junk thought, but is the epitome of junk science.”

The fact that the majority of teacher prep programs did not give NCTQ access to their data has been construed by Bruno as avoidance of accountability, but these actions do not reveal a program compliance or accountability issue. Contrary to Bruno’s contention that “academe . . . [is] an insular world that protects what information it has and rarely agrees to gather more,” colleges and universities must prove themselves to many constituents, including, but not limited to, accrediting bodies, religious affiliates and licensing boards. In the case of teacher preparation programs in Virginia, yearly reporting requirements include sending data on student GPA, course content (both inside and outside the teacher prep program), field experience hours/activities, instructor credentials and much more to local, state and national education entities.

Teacher preparation programs are not afraid of scrutiny; they are unwilling to participate in poorly designed research that serves no purpose but to drive the political agenda and financial interests of NCTQ.

College and university teacher preparation programs “applauding the NCTQ effort” would be a capitulation to the idea that educators are “trained” rather than prepared. Training implies rote adherence to prescribed doctrine, generally applied to those in need of behavioral controls. Such practices turn education into the “product” of which Bruno says we are consumers.

Herein lies the foundational problem with NCTQ and Bruno’s support of its educational philosophy: Education is not a consumer product to be standardized and homogenized. It is a process built on relationships among the learner, the parent, the teacher and the community. Schools, whether K-12 or college level, are not factories; they are communities of learners. No one is consuming anything; they are creating knowledge. Knowledge is not a commodity to be bartered. People gain it through a process of encountering, manipulating, reflecting on and finally internalizing information.

Public school teachers and administrators have already been hamstrung by the education accountability measures in place throughout the U.S. Colleges and universities must remain the places where individualization is not only allowed, but encouraged. If college faculties become bound to arbitrary guidelines set by those with unseen agendas, education may become completely bastardized by those operating under the auspices of reform.