BUFFALO, N.Y. -- An increasingly influential national
organization evaluating and grading teacher education programs
misleads its audience by claiming to be "non-partisan" when, in
reality, the group is part of a growing movement of "corporate
education" reformers pushing an agenda of standardization and
privatization at the expense of meaningful teaching and learning,
according to a professor in the University at Buffalo's Graduate
School of Education, author and longtime teacher advocate.
"And the same kind of stifling of public schools, teachers and
students that we have seen for several years is now being directed
against college and university-based teacher education as well,"
says Catherine Cornbleth, professor of learning and instruction who
has been a vocal supporter of exemplary teaching throughout her
career at UB.
The organization rating teacher education programs is the
self-styled National Council on Teacher Quality, according to
Cornbleth, and the problem with NCTQ's evaluation model, she says,
is its superficial and arbitrary nature.
"I'd describe it as akin to evaluating restaurants on the basis
of their menus and your own preferences," says Cornbleth. "If a
restaurant doesn't provide their menu for your evaluation, you
either give them an F or estimate their menu and grade. Then you
publish your 'findings' so consumers can make informed choices.
Colleges are being threatened and bullied by NCTQ to
Cornbleth has earned a reputation as a researcher and champion
of the perennial value of good teaching -- which defies cookie
cutter production. Her latest book on effective teaching is about
teachers who have found ways to reach individual students within
strict, standardized test-driven environments. Before that,
Cornbleth's work with life-changing but unconventional "maverick"
teachers attracted national attention and praise, connecting with
Americans' familiarity with teachers who have been portrayed in
movies and well-known literature.
Now she is taking aim at the NCTQ and other corporate education
reformers, especially those who insist on accountability for
schools and teachers but evade accountability for their own
"Longer term, if NCTQ and other corporate reformers get their
way, public school teachers would pass corporate-provided subject
matter tests for certification and follow so-called scripted
instructional programs provided by corporate publishers," says
Cornbleth. There would be little or no room for individualization
to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population,
she adds. "It's the old factory model for manufacturing automobiles
that even Ford doesn't follow anymore.
"In too many cases," Cornbleth continues, "the phrase 'teacher
quality' has become code for corporatizing teacher education and
teaching." Teachers would have no union protections and limited, if
any, health insurance or retirement pension. Students would be
subject to even more standardization and testing in the "basics" --
unless their parents could afford private schooling.
Cornbleth's admonitions fly in the face of current trends. She
reveals the actual workings of the NCTQ, a nonprofit that claims to
be non-partisan. "It may be non-partisan in a Democratic-Republican
sense," Cornbleth says, "but it is not independent. Just look at
its foundation funders and the members of its Advisory Board, as
well as its activities." That is just what Cornbleth is doing in
her ongoing research project.
"NCTQ's charade (like the wolf posing as Little Red Riding
Hood's grandmother) is significant because, in the guise of
providing information and evaluation, it spends large sums of money
undermining public education, teachers and teacher education, while
doing nothing to foster their improvement," says Cornbleth.
"Getting a C- on a paper (without teacher comments) doesn't tell
you what's wrong with it or how to improve. In the case of teacher
education, participation also wastes the limited resources of the
programs being scrutinized."
NCTQ has a track record of evaluating teacher education programs
in about a dozen states and is now attempting a nationwide
evaluation to be published in US News & World Report next year,
she says, although independent and for-profit teacher education
programs are not facing such challenges. Fortunately for New
Yorkers, State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and
numerous deans within the system have objected to NCTQ's methods,
according to Cornbleth. Most SUNY campuses, she says, probably will
not participate and risk getting an "F."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.