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Policies Now in Vogue are Undermining Teacher Professionalism

Policy brief finds test-based evaluation, fast-track certification,
and scripted curriculum harm professionalism

William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,
Richard Milner, (615) 322-4503, rich.milner@Vanderbilt.Edu

URL for this press release:


BOULDER, CO (February 28, 2013) – According to the recent MetLife survey results, teacher job satisfaction has dropped considerably over the past dozen years. Moreover, the least-satisfied teachers are those in schools that experienced recent declines in professional development and collaboration opportunities. As a new policy brief released today points out, such outcomes are the foreseeable result of three of today’s most trendy policies: policies that evaluate teachers based on annual gains in students’ standardized test scores, fast-track teacher preparation and licensure programs, and the use of narrowly focused curriculum materials.

Education reform advocates frequently assert a desire to increase the professional status of teaching, but this new policy brief concludes that these policies have the likely opposite effect of de-professionalizing teachers and teaching.

The brief, Policy Reforms and De-professionalization of Teaching, was written by Professor Richard Milner of Vanderbilt University. It is published by the National Education Policy Center, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Rich Milner is Associate Professor of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University and is an expert on urban teacher education. 

Milner points out that each of the three policies he examines can be rationalized as increasing teacher professionalism. But in practice these policies result in a lowering of the professional status of teachers.

Policies that evaluate teachers based on annual gains in students’ standardized test scores, for instance, might seem to elevate teachers by emphasizing their role in fostering student achievement. But evaluating teachers based on their purported “value added” pressures them “to mechanically teach to tests while systematically devaluing the broader yet essential elements of teaching.”

Similarly, fast-track teacher preparation programs like Teach for America (TFA), because they recruit from academic elites, may be framed as elevating teacher professionalism. But because they cannot build up deep teaching skills and because they assign inexperienced teachers to the most challenging schools, they effectively de-professionalize teaching. The two-year stint expected by TFA is also problematic; professionalism is undermined when teaching is viewed as a short visit between college and a true profession.

Lastly, narrowly focused, highly scripted curricula, while providing a concrete definition of what teachers should cover, undermine professional status “by not allowing teachers to rely on their professional judgment to make curricular decisions for student learning.”

Weighing the positive and negative effects of each reform policy, Milner concludes that each does far more to undermine professionalism among teachers than to enhance their professional status. He recommends:

  • A moratorium on the use of teacher evaluation models built on growth in students’ test scores until their accuracy can be significantly improved;
  • Ensuring all teacher training programs – traditional and fast-track – adequately prepare teachers to make professional judgments, meet the full range of student needs, build positive working conditions, and “negotiate and balance multiple layers of bureaucratic pressures;” further, policymakers should not expand existing fast-track programs or create new ones without solid evidence of their long-range effectiveness; and
  • Broadening curriculum rather than narrowing it, along with a corresponding shift away from the high-stakes, test-score based policies that have prompted the growing use of scripted and narrowed curriculum.

Find Richard Milner’s report, Policy Reforms and De-professionalization of Teaching, on the web at:

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence.  For more information on NEPC, please visit

This policy/legislative brief was made possible in part by the support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice (