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Education Reformers Without Classroom Experience Lack Credibility

on Jul 10, 13 • by • with Comments

In these days of education reform, teachers want one of their own, someone who has been in the classroom, to make the important decisions that impact the policies they must implement. They want someone who has taught a lesson with content, assessed that lesson, retaught that lesson, reassessed that lesson, and...
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In these days of education reform, teachers want one of their own, someone who has been in the classroom, to make the important decisions that impact the policies they must implement.

They want someone who has taught a lesson with content, assessed that lesson, retaught that lesson, reassessed that lesson, and evaluated that lesson for future use; and they want someone who performed that cycle every day.

They want someone who has red ink embedded in the callous of an index finger, someone who has graded papers into the wee hours of the night to meet a marking period deadline, someone who knows the agony of a bad lesson plan and the joy of a spontaneous student driven activity.

They want someone who, as a teacher, has faced an angry parent, the contentious student, and the frustrated administrator.

They want a credible reformer.

Two separate tweets (June 28-29, 2013) underlined this “hands-on classroom” credibility of education reform and education reformers.

The first tweet came from Randi Weingarten, current president of the American Federation of Teachers. The second tweet came from Diane Ravitch, educational policy analyst and former Assistant Secretary of Education.

The underlying question for both tweets was, “How credible is someone in education if he or she has never been in the classroom as a teacher?”

Weingarten tweeted the following on June 29, 2013:

Teachers were part of the development of #CCSS from the beginning http://youtu.be/y1DlNpaKW38

She was putting up a link that demonstrated that teachers, real classroom teachers with hands-on experience, had been involved in the standards from the beginning. The link was to a video on YouTube featuring an ELL classroom teacher Lisa Fretzin who reflects how she “…was part of the review process starting in August looking at the the first draft”:

While Ms. Fretzin certainly has classroom experience to qualify her to participate in developing the CCSS, her participation was not exactly at the “beginning” of this process. According to her statement on the video, she was not present at the creation; she was asked to “review” which is different than “from the beginning”. Furthermore, her name is not on the list of participants who did create the CCSS for English Language Arts (or feedback group) which clearly identifies only four of the 50 participants as “teachers”. The remaining 46 participants are identified with titles such as: “author”, “consultant”, “specialist”, “professor”,  “supervisor”, “director” or “senior fellow.” In all fairness, perhaps many of these participants had worked in the classroom before moving into higher ranking positions as one would hope, but their hands-on classroom work experience is unclear.

The classroom work experience of lead authors for the English Language Arts CCSS, Susan Pimentel and David Coleman, is zero. Pimentel has a law degree and a B.S in Early Childhood Education from Cornell University. Coleman, (termed “Architect of the Common Core”) classroom experience was when he tutored students in a summer program at Yale. He later founded Student Achievement Partners and is currently serving as the President of the College Board.

Weingarten’s tweet is disingenuous when she indicates that “teachers were part of the development” when, to the contrary, there is much more evidence to prove that the ratio of teachers to individuals bearing “education titles” was disproportionately in favor of those without classroom experience. There is even evidence that entire grade level experts (pre-K to Grade 3) were not included. Ultimately, experienced teachers have had limited say in the standards they would be implementing day in and day out in their classrooms at every grade level, and maybe that is why there has been pushback from teachers who will be held accountable for having students meet these same standards.

The second tweet from Ravitch dealt with a Judge Barbara Bellis’s decision to remove Paul Vallas from his position as Interim Superintendent of Schools for Bridgeport, Connecticut, where he has served for 17th months in the 21,000-student school system. Before coming to Connecticut, Vallas had served as the Superintendent of the Recovery School District of Louisiana; and the CEO of Chicago Public Schools and the School District of Philadelphia.

Connecticut, however, is the “land of steady habits” and takes its teachers certification system very seriously. Administrative certifications are specialized (Administration-092, Literacy Specialist-097, Superintendent-093) with requirements of extensive graduate coursework of 30 credits or more. Vallas had none of these requirements.

Ravitch tweeted on June 28th:

The Inside Story on Vallas’ Ouster http://wp.me/p2odLa-59L 

The link on her tweet went to her post explaining Vallas was ousted by a Connecticut Superior Court Judge because he lacked graduate coursework and that the “alternative program” created for Vallas by the State Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, fell far short. Pryor’s letter certifying Vallas’s credentials was not accepted by the judge who ruled:

“There is no doubt that Vallas received preferential treatment,” the judge wrote in her 27-page decision.

The judge also noted that Vallas lacked the required prerequisites to enroll in the regular UConn [University of Connecticut] program in the first place, and that such an independent study hadn’t been approved for anyone else in the last decade. Additionally, the university’s governing board had never approved an independent study program.

“Ultimately, the course standards were reduced,” the judge wrote. “The court accepts Vallas’ testimony that the work, although done over the course of 10 weeks while fulfilling his employment as acting superintendent, could have been completed in a week.”

To those teaching in Connecticut, or for those who wish to, there is no surprise that teacher certifications at the entry level in Connecticut require extensive coursework. Even the state run Alternate Route to Certification for those entering the profession with degrees other than education is demanding; classroom experience and classes in educational philosophy, strategies, assessment, and evaluation are included.

Ultimately, the judge ruled that Vallas’s BS in Political Science/History and MA Political Science from Western Illinois University were not comparable for a certification in education according to Connecticut’s Department of Education. While his experience as the Executive Director of the Illinois Economic and Fiscal Commission, revenue director and budget director for the City of Chicago provided him the experience to deal with Bridgeport’s financial woes, he lacked training as an educator.

At the heart of Weingarten’s and Ravitch’s tweets is an underlying problem of classroom credibility. In these days of education reform, teachers want one of their own, someone who has been in the classroom, to make the important decisions that impact the policies they must implement.

They want someone  who in an emergency has located a custodian, pacified a school secretary, or accessed a website looking for an alternate to a missing substitute’s lesson plans.

They want someone who knows first-hand the difference in classroom management for 9, 15, 24, 30 or (heaven forbid) 37 students in a class.

They want someone who who has managed to surmount the disruptions of the school day including PA announcements, field trips, pull-outs, drop-ins, assemblies, and students who go on vacation at critical points in the school year.

They want someone who has sat through hours of professional development for the “initiative of the year… or month… or day”.

They want someone who had all of these experiences and who also has the necessary coursework, undergraduate or graduate, in education.

In this current state of educational reform, teachers want reformers to come from the ranks of their own. In this current state of education reform, classroom credibility counts.

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