Teachers of all backgrounds

Our restless efforts to promote multicultural education include to better serve the growing student body of color in the U.S (Banks, 2006). But it seems that hiring teachers of color is not so easy. According to the article “Tough Tests for Teachers, with Question of Bias” in NY Times regarding new teacher licensing exams, “Minority candidates have been doing especially poorly, jeopardizing a long-held goal of diversifying the teaching force so it more closely resembles the makeup of the country’s student body.” It brings our attention to whether the test itself is discriminatory. The Brown v. Board of Education case demonstrates our historical mistakes about segregating schools. After the decision which mandated non-discrimination in schools, certification exams were used as “a tool kit used to force black teachers out of the profession.” Are we repeating the same mistakes we made before?

Why is it important to have a teacher of the same race? Teachers are not just teachers who transfer their knowledge to students. They are mentors and role models. Sharing similar cultural beliefs, values, and norms would be a great tool for teachers to build such relationships with students. Accordingly, hiring racially and ethnically diverse teachers will ensure minority groups of students to have equal educational opportunities.

As Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford, argued, “We need to be clear about what skills are necessary, rather than just trying to eliminate people from the pool.” From this perspective, teacher licensure tests alone cannot be a major qualification of teachers. Although it might be true to an extent that “rigorous entrance requirements” for teachers are crucial to ensure a good quality of education, it does not mean that so called smart teachers better teach students. Having an appropriate level of knowledge in a subject is important, but the way of teaching is as critical in meeting students’ needs. It is a time for policy makers to carefully examine what is truly beneficial for students of all backgrounds.

Reference

Banks, J. (2006). Multicultural education: Characteristics and goals.

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Some thoughts on Vietnamese education after listening to Diane Ravitch’s talk at Lehigh University

The talk by Diane Ravitch at Lehigh University made me reflect on Vietnamese education system. Though I have been working as a teacher in Vietnam for 12 years, attended numerous training courses, and listened to a myriad of talks about education reform in Vietnam, I have never had an opportunity to listen to any educators who can vehemently express disapproval of the current education policies. What I heard about school reform in the US in Diane Ravitch’s talk brought me a refreshing experience and helped me better understand Vietnamese education.

Since “Doi Moi”(renovation) process in 1986, together with the economic reform, Vietnamese education has undergone significant reforms in education and has seen certain achievements. However, teachers and students who implement and are supposed to benefit from these reforms are almost always voiceless. There are articles in the media criticizing some aspects of the education system. However, in Vietnam, it is nearly impossible to find an education activist like Diane Ravitch or Sir Ken Robinson who can overtly criticize national education reforms, arguing they are killing students’ inquiry, creativity, and critical thinking, and propose that drastic measures should be taken to transform education rather than reform a failing system. There was once a high-school teacher in Vietnam who quite often publicly fulminated against the corruption in the Vietnamese education system. However, his debating points were not well-received by most people who were used to taking the negative sides of the public education system for granted. After several years of being the lightning rod of criticism, his voice in the fight against education corruption is no longer heard.

Quite different from public education in the US, Vietnamese public education is not threatened by educational privatization because public schools are recognized to be of higher quality than private ones.  However, there is still a need to protect public education as the ‘civil rights issue of our time’ in Vietnam. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by UNESCO,  which was passed nearly seven decades ago, states that “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” However, that right is not entirely ensured in Vietnam. Because public schools are underfunded, some students cannot enjoy free K-12 education.  Tuition and other hidden fees can become a burden for many households of students, including even primary students. The dropout rate after primary education is high, especially among students in rural, mountainous areas because their families cannot afford their education and/or child labor is more valuable than school attendance. Diane Ravitch is absolutely right when stating that poverty is among the root causes of low education standards.

Though there are no incentives and sanctions imposed on schools and teachers based on the results of high-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam. These tests not only drive teachers to teaching to the test, cause hierarchy among subjects, and lead to feeling “shame” and further marginalization among marginalized youth (Rich, 2003), but also make most students resort to purchasing private tutoring and consequently create “teacher corruption” (Dang, 2007). Unlike the US where low-performing students are offered free tutoring, private tutoring is a thriving market in Vietnam in which students (and their parents) – whether they are low achievers or high achievers – are the eager buyers of tutoring services, hoping to enhance their children’s academic performance and teachers are enthusiastic sellers, aiming to supplement their low income (Dang, 2007; Kim 2013). Private tutoring in Vietnam is not borne by the government’s encouragement to enhance the quality of public education like in the US. Its existence instead may threaten the quality of mainstream education. Private tutoring may “create disaffection” at school because students are bored with over-learning or they have learn the contents in advance during tutoring lessons. In addition, tutoring can decrease the effectiveness of teachers. Teachers may teach less during the school day to save their energy for the after-school tuition (Buchman, 1999) and students may have to attend lessons to please teachers (Dang, 2007). High-stakes standardized testing in Vietnam indeed directly or indirectly creates a fertile ground for private tutoring, which deepens the social inequalities between the rich and the poor, the rural and urban areas, and becomes a financial burden for many families.

I am totally convinced by Diane Ravitch’s argument that testing is “undermining education” and students’ academic performance and achievement should be evaluated through a process of learning rather than merely the test scores.  In order to improve education, we need to enhance the quality of teachers’ professional lives and increase their salaries rather than threaten to fire them. Above all, tackling poverty-related matters is the key to improving educational standards.

Sources:

Buchman, C. (1999). “The State and Schooling in Kenya: Historical Development an Current Challenges.” Africa Today, 46 (1), 95-116.

Dang, H. A. (2007). The determinants and impact of private tutoring classes in Vietnam. Economics of Education Review, 26(6), 683-698.

Kim, H. K. (2013). An analysis of the causes of shadow education in the era of the schooled society. The Pennsylvania State University.

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. NY: Basic Books.

Rich, W. (2003). Historical high‐stakes policies relating to unintended consequences of high‐stakes testing. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice,22(1), 33-35.

Teaching for America versus Teaching for Life: How the teaching profession is being undermined

Diane Ratich had a heated debate with herself on Tuesday night, as she took a playful approach to presenting both sides of the education reform debate. As someone who is relatively new to the educational field and reform debate, this type of presentation of the subject conveyed how truly frustrating finding common ground for real reform is and will be. Current leaders in policy are basing their arguments on false premises, arguing that our low test scores contribute to us falling behind as a nation. However, dropout rates are lower than ever and graduation rates are higher than they have been throughout history. However, that does not mean our schools are in good condition as right now our public school system is being undermined by privatization and by devaluing teachers as a profession.

As a student, I did not realize how heavy the results of my test scores weighed in measuring the success of my teachers. However, I do know I became a pretty good test taker rather effortlessly. This is one of the main takeaways that struck me from Ravitch’s talk. She notes how teachers are evaluated based on students they never taught and are a highly inaccurate measure of an effective teacher. She stated that teachers only have about 1-14% of an influence on students test scores. These are facts that decision makers are ignoring. Instead, they use test scores to justify firing teachers when in fact we need to figure out a way to retain teachers. The way we have gone about valuing our teachers throughout history must change, and she suggested the only way to do so is to ensure professionals are occupying the field. This led to another interesting aspect of Ravitch’s lecture – Teach for America.

As a college senior just last year, I was completely clueless as to where I would be heading in the next year and Teach for America had been sending a consistent influx of e-mails to me until it finally seemed like a pretty viable option for a person who did not know what she wanted to do. It also seemed like a good opportunity to do some good while figuring it out. While the motivation for pursuing Teach for America are often sought after with good intentions hoping to help with the shortage of teachers, I did not realize how profoundly  this undermines the teaching profession and our public schools. My degree was in environmental studies with a global studies where as teachers spend an intense 4-5 years during their undergraduate education learning and becoming masters of the profession. What does this portray to those who want to teach for life and for their career? Additionally, there are plenty of recent graduates who have an extremely hard time finding teaching positions which is where I do not understand the disconnect. Should Teach for America only hire education majors or people that want to continue in this field?

Thankfully, I was not accepted into the program because even with the five-week intensive program, I was in no way prepared to teach in front of a class. Most Teach for America members talk about how they struggle through their experience. However, they come out with a valuable experience that demonstrates their persistence and commitment to the cause, which definitely looks good on a resume for the next job. But what about those students who had that teacher? How are they effected by a par time teacher playing such a large role in their education. Overall, this is just a Band-Aid for the system, and ignores the larger problem at hand – poverty and inequality.

Allowing unqualified, inexperienced young people who have no real inclination to continue in this field to be put in places where there is often more unfavorable conditions, like poverty and inequality, offers little help to the students and suggests that anyone can teach. This also contributes to the devaluation of teachers in society, when really they should be valued the most.

It seems people in power have used this in addition to other methods, like charter schools, instead of addressing more macro issues, like poverty and leadership in schools. Ravitch suggests making sure principles are qualified in order to hire qualified teachers that are assessed based on their performance in the classroom, not on student’s test scores. This puts more pressure on the decision makers and the leadership of schools for improving our public schools as opposed to putting all the blame on teachers. Overall, policy makers must start addressing root problems instead of making decisions based on false premises that do not improve the landscape for public school systems in the long run.

Thoughts in Anticipation of Diane Ravitch’s Visit to Lehigh

Diane Ravitch Speaks at Lehigh on her Books, Experiences, and Opinions involving Educationhqdefault

There is so much pressure for change that it actually hinders change. The requirements outlined in the curriculum and standardization are tools for measurement, results, and comparing different demographics. However, the emphasis on the results of those tests has been so great that the curriculum no longer promotes education quality and creativity.

I am writing this blog in anticipation of Diane Ravitch’s visit to Lehigh University. After reading some of her work including chapters from her book, Diane Ravitch was the Assistant Secretary of education during the George H.W. Bush administration. She was involved in the process of creating and implementing the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001. The act proposed that all states have to ensure that all students would meet the national standards through testing. By raising the bar each year, the goal of NCLB was to ensure that all students were passing by 2014 (last year!). 14 years ago the proposal sounded great and possible; however, here we are one year after the expected year of success and nothing has changed in education. Let’s ignore the name of it and just focus on what it proposed.

The first issue, as with many educational reforms, is that it sounds so perfect that it is almost impossible to argue against it. Especially with a name such as “No Child Left Behind”, anyone who attempts to critique it sounds inhumane. After all, who would want to leave any children behind? There were some good amendments in the law, but the bad ones outweigh the good. For instance, there is no time or funding for the tutoring that is mandatory for children that are below standards. Teachers do not have time to focus on helping the students that are behind because they have to ensure the entire class is following the curriculum. Teachers have to choose between spending extra time with students who are behind or spend that time moving everyone else forward by following the curriculum. Both choices are not possible. In either case, the teacher is not meeting a standard.

Another issue is that the law allows for each state to set its own educational standards to meet. Some states’ standards are so low that nearly everyone can pass them to ensure they receive their state funding. Although the school may be technically passing, that does not mean that all of the students are on a proficient learning level for their grade. Teachers have to teach to meet these low standards which hinder the quality of education. On the other hand, states that actually have high standards for their schools are at risk for having more schools that do not pass. A failing school does not receive federal funding or state funding. As a result, the school does not have the funds to purchase resources or programs needed to help these failing students, which attributes to budget cuts such as firing teaching, cutting programs, and increasing the class size. Either way, the children the law claims will not get left behind, are indeed getting left behind

In The Death and Life of the Great American School System, Diane Ravitch quotes Donald T. Campbell who states that “the more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.” In other words, the more value placed on standardization and testing to make decisions such as enrollment, classification, and acceptance the more corrupt that system becomes. Standardized tests are used for benchmarking and comparing students, but they have lost their innocence.

There are now teachers teaching to the test or cheating rather than teaching their students information to prepare them to learn, understand, and succeed. Now looking at the Act, without the context and innocence of its name, the amendments seem nearly impossible. This is the problem with curriculum, standardization, and educational reform in society. There is more focus on creating a proposal that sounds good than actually taking time to make sure it IS good. As Diane Ravitch stated, “there are no fads, no shortcuts, no utopias, no silver bullets” in terms of reforms for fixing educational issues. Teachers have to follow a state or national schedule of teaching rather than teaching based on need. Students learn through at different speeds, styles and have different interests so why teach all kids of various cultures, states, social classes, backgrounds, intellect, and who are so simply different through the same methods?

Questions for Diane Ravitch:
• What made you decide to get so actively involved in educational reform through speaking out on your experiences and writing so many informative books?
• With so much emphasis on testing and standards, what do you think would be a good way to measure progress?
• It seems like a major reason reforms do not end up being successful is due to the high demand for fast progress. Quick fixes clearly do not work, but how should an administrator propose and manage an idea that is longer term and avoid the pressure or force of being fired?
• How do you propose a shift in standardization back to being more of a tool for measurement and less of an emphasis in teaching to the test?
• Race to the Top is yet another education law that sounds appealing and optimistic, what are your thoughts on it? What do you think it will take for it to be successful?

Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. NY: Basic Books.

Who Doesn’t Want Permanent Employment?

Teacher tenure has stirred controversy among teacher’s unions, state unions, school administrators, and government officials since the policy first appeared during the late 19th century. A couple of weeks ago, three states and the District of Columbia eliminated tenure, claiming that granting teachers permanent employment may be harmful to students. On June 10th, the Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled, “Teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education.” This is especially significant given that California is our nation’s most populous state. This decree has potential ramifications for education systems across the country.

Nine students from the Los Angeles school district brought forward the lawsuit, claiming that tenured teachers limited their access to equal educational opportunity. In California, teachers are eligible for tenure after just 18 months of teaching, which administrators and policy makers argue is not enough time to observe a teacher’s potential and/or effectiveness. The plaintiffs in the case argued that ineffective teachers are disproportionately placed in schools that serve low-income and minority students. Citing the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, Judge Rolf Treu stated that “all students are entitled to equal education” and that “the current situation discriminates against minority and low-income students.”

 

Though I disagree about Judge Treu’s use of this historic court case in arguing against teacher tenure, I do understand the frustrations of students, parents, and administrators regarding ineffective teachers being granted permanent employment. Tenure laws do make it more difficult to hire and fire, which is concerning in schools that already do not receive enough funding. Struggling schools are sometimes left with ineffective or under-trained teachers, coupled with students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. When the system becomes more rigid and teacher mobility becomes more difficult, the argument against teacher tenure is clear-cut: schools need effective teachers, and tenure has the potential to offer under-qualified teachers permanent positions, affecting students’ access to a quality education.

It may also be important to look at the tenure program from a monetary perspective. John Deasy, the Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, testified during the trial stating that, “It can take over two years on average to fire an incompetent tenured teacher and sometimes as long as 10. The cost of doing so…can run anywhere from $250,000 to $450,000.” This opportunity cost is a significant expense to school districts that already have limited funding.

 

home.isr.umich.edu

home.isr.umich.edu

Though I agree that this is an unnecessary expense, I think that it is important to look at this case from the teachers’ perspectives. Teachers and state unions argue that overturning these laws would allow administrators to make unfair personnel decisions, including firing without legitimate cause. Many believe that the current tenure system preserves academic freedom, something that is slowly being taken away through the increased use of standardized educational tests and procedures. Tenure also helps attract talented teachers to a profession that does not pay as highly as others.

When this ruling is final, it will “prohibit the state from enforcing a law that gives teachers permanent employment after less than two years on the job.” Other states are impatiently watching this ruling to unfold, knowing that it will greatly influence tenure policies across the country.

Recently, the tenure debate was important enough to be featured on the front page of the New York Times website. But I do not think that enough educators, teachers, and professionals are talking about it. The fact that students brought forth the lawsuit proves that those within education policy are too scared to bring tenure into the spotlight. The debate calls for difficult questions and discussions about employment, teacher training, low-income versus high-income districts, and school funding. These seem to be the subjects that cause nightmares for policy makers.

Among all of this current, front-page debate, I still remain conflicted on this topic. I do sympathize with the argument against tenure, especially given what I know about ineffective teachers being disproportionately placed in under-performing schools. However, I also understand the attraction towards tenure in drawing talented people into the education field, providing job protection, and allowing academic freedom. Perhaps the reason why I am still so conflicted is because this issue rarely makes a newsworthy story. Rarely do students learn about tenure, not to mention those in the education field themselves. If this debate encompasses so many other important factors of education policy reform, shouldn’t it be at the forefront of discussion?

The effects of privatization of education on teacher professionalism: evidence from the UK

If universities continue to heed the call of corporatisation, the role of the academic will become extinct.’

Recently I read an interesting blog post on theguardian.com. By comparing oneself with a ‘precious bird’ who is struggling among the ‘bustling sale of cheap, plastic imitation bird-objects around it’, the anonymous author sadly predicts that this bird may face extinction, leaving only its exotic feathers as relics of rapidly fading ideals. The post argues how a ‘wholesale corporatisation’ of the British higher education sector creates inequalities and adversely affects teacher professionalism. In addition to the increases in tuition fees due to the marketisation of higher education, the author argues that unfair pay between senior representatives and junior academics, particularly university support staff, will inevitably lead to more inequality. In an environment where private sector ideals are thriving, the author also feels that students are drawn more to the issues of ‘customer satisfaction’ rather than their commitment to study and academic aspirations. The blog points to the fact that as academics are being asked to undertake more administrative tasks, they have less time to undertake scholarship. Most importantly, academics find the private sector-style environments unsupportive to sustain their professionalism, being treated simply as information providers or sellers of their expertise.

I believe that the author is not the only ‘bird’ who has such a gloomy feeling. In fact, 2013 was seen as the year of marketisation of UK higher education with the government’s complete removal of student number controls. Although the sector is still far from a fully functioning market, a great number of academics in the UK have been expressing their increasing concerns about the consequences of extending market competition in universities’ activities of teaching and research.

In a large-scale strike, which broke out across the UK last year and early this year (2014), many interviewed academics held that education should not be seen as a commodity and be left to the fluctuations of the market. It is true that when education is increasingly viewed in instrumental terms, serving the ultimate for-profit goal of the private sector, the universities are trying hard to squeeze all the costs including the salaries of academics and staff. Meanwhile, the academics are required to work more and more, leading to their overall low morale and satisfaction with their jobs.

Indeed, privatisation of education is a growing worldwide trend, which continues to spread in the context of globalization. The problems it creates remain unaddressed, even in the countries like the UK where marketisation was originally traced back in the 1980s. In the eye of many academics, private, for-profit education in the UK seem to become a big business, causing public universities to reduce the value of a higher education to the laws of supply and demand to compete in the marketplace. As a result, British academics feel a growing sense of frustration and demoralization in a career that they might choose because of their interest instead of the pay it offers.

The impact of privatization of education on teacher morale has also long been documented in different contexts. For example, teachers in New Zealand with the rising administrative functions reported high levels of stress, declining job satisfaction and the desire to leave the profession [1]. In Australia, teachers were found demoralized and deprofessionalized by crude performance indicators such as research output and teaching performance in neoliberal education reforms [2]. In the same vein, the expansion of market principles in education also has negative effects on Chinese professionals in terms of their workload, payment, wellbeing, social status and teaching and living conditions [3].

In addition, it is no surprise that in many for-profit higher institutions, the professionals are not required to engage in advanced research. This is simply because the institutions only hire the faculty on the part-time basis, which can help them drive down the cost and better deal with the changes in the market’s demand. Without doubt, academics in these private, for-profit universities also do not have many opportunities for professional development offered by universities. This is most evident in newly marketised higher education systems in many Asian countries like China, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Where is my professionalism?

I believe that privatization of public services has certain advantage of injecting competition into a market-based playing field. But when it is seen as the primary approach to education reform without proper supervision and outcome evaluation, this playing field turns out to be not at all level and equal, causing great many problems, including adverse impact on teacher morale and professionalism. To me, teaching academics hold a very important and special position in maintaining the goals and values of education as a public good in their communities. When market position places more pressure on them to pursue and construct academic identities in line with corporate identities, education has more negative consequences than positive outcomes.

References

[1] Power, S. 1997. “Managing the State and the Market: ‘New’ education management in five

countries.” British Journal of Educational Studies 45 (4): 342-362.

[2] WELCH, A. (1996) Australian Education: reform or crisis? (Sydney, Allen & Unwin), cited in Chan, D., & Mok, K. H. (2001). Educational reforms and coping strategies under the tidal wave of marketisation: A comparative study of Hong Kong and the mainland. Comparative Education, 37(1), 21-41.

[3] Guo, S., Guo, Y., Beckett, G., Li, Q., & Guo, L. (2013). Changes in Chinese education under globalisation and market economy: emerging issues and debates.Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 43(2), 244-264