The Becoming Radical: Guest Post by Peter Smagorinsky: Response to the New NCTQ Teacher Prep Review (by Peter Smagorinsky)

Response to the new NCTQ Teacher Prep Review

Guest Post by Peter Smagorinsky, The University of Georgia

NCTQ’s announcement of its new edition of its Teacher Prep Review predictably exalts its own role in improving public education by requiring colleges of education to raise students’ test scores through the instruction of its teacher candidates once they are members of school faculties. I will briefly respond to a few of the claims that they make, which rely on rhetorical characterizations about “success” and “achievement” that spuriously elevate their belief that standardized tests reflect the whole of learning, a claim that few teachers or teacher educators endorse. In contrast, most teachers and teacher educators believe that the NCTQ’s narrow focus on standardized “achievement” tests undermine an authentic education that prepares students for work or life.

The report claims that “The training that teachers receive has to set them up for success.” Well, who doesn’t want successful teachers and students? The question that many of us within the profession ask is this: How is success defined here? For NCTQ, teacher educators are successful when graduates of their programs teach students who do well on standardize tests. But it’s pretty well documented that the best way to have students get good test results is to teach kids from affluent families. The best way to be a successful teacher educator, then, is to encourage teacher candidates to teach the wealthiest kids possible, rather than those residing in impoverished communities. Given that social justice is inscribed in the mission statement of just about every college of education in the nation, being successful according to NCTQ means betraying the values to which we are committed as educators.

The recent judicial decision to eliminate teacher tenure in California may well negate the claim that tenure decisions will now include data from “student achievement.” NCTQ overlooks the fact that in many “Right to Work” states do not have tenure, collective bargaining, unions, or other job protection rights. In any case, the idea that the only measure of “student achievement” is standardized tests overlooks other ways in which students may achieve in school.

The “troubling ‘capacity gap’ between what teachers were being expected to do and what their training equipped them to do” is only troubling if one accepts the fact that teacher educators reject the idea that they should focus on one thing: training prospective teachers to train children and youth to take multiple choice tests. I use the word “train” here because narrow, tedious learning of this sort involves little constructive or open-ended thinking. These tests, first of all, are often not related at all to the curriculum but instead test students on their ability to get correct answers on test items constructed in relation to brief passages by psychometricians who may have little understanding of curriculum, instruction, human developmentexcitement about learningopen-ended thinkingcreativityartistic expressionkids’ home livesauthentic work readiness, cultural ways of thinking, kinesthetic learningthe needs of learners with special circumstancesthe cultivation of committed writersrelating instruction authentically to students’ lives, and other aspects of school learning.

The emphasis on narrow testing abilities further overlooks the many contributions that teachers make to schools: caring for emotionally needy studentsproviding pathways to persistingmaking a long-term commitment to schools and their communitiesfostering the ability to form healthy relationshipsinvolving community members in school activitiesbeing good colleaguesbuilding the confidence of young people at fragile points in their lives, and other aspects of cultivating the whole person.

The report further claims that “new teachers don’t feel like they can even get to the business of teaching and learning because they haven’t been taught the most basic classroom management techniques.” They are right in that many colleges of education have eliminated classes in classroom management, in many cases because without unruly students present to illustrate procedures, the abstraction of management textbooks are of little value in learning how to manage increasingly large classes of kids who are subjected to a deadly dull curriculum oriented to multiple choice assessments. The NCTQ appears to have little understanding of the relation between an engaging curriculum and student engagement. Rather, colleges of education should train teacher candidates how to prepare kids for standardized tests and manage (i.e., punish) those who find the experience despicable. It’s easy to see why an intelligent, dedicated teacher educator would find that prospect both unappealing and educationally bankrupt.

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Peter Smagorinsky

Peter Smagorinsky is Distinguished Research Professor of English Education in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia.