Outsourcing licensing of teachers a bad idea

Sunday May 13, 2012


This gives "teaching to the test" new, and very disconcerting, meaning.

Believe it or not, Pearson, an international, for-profit education conglomerate with a San Francisco office, is working with Stanford University to outsource teacher licensing by developing a standardized, national program.

All but one of the 68 student teachers at the UMass Amherst campus, along with their instructors, are protesting the Pearson-Stanford field-test requirement to send in a pair of 10-minute videos depicting them in the classroom, as well as a 40-page take-home test. Six other states, including New York, are about to adopt the system.

This seems as absurd as the notion that a great orchestra such as the Boston Symphony could hire new players through sample videos and essay questions.

Indeed, as reported by The New York Times this past week, the UMass student teachers argue that already-licensed teachers and university professors do a better job judging their abilities by observing them for six months in actual classes than a distant corporation.

As Barbara Madeloni, in charge of the UMass high-school teacher training program, put it: "This is something complex and we don't like seeing it taken out of human hands. We are putting a stick in the gears."

The pair of 10-minute videos submitted to Pearson are culled from 41 2 hours of recordings. Scorers are paid $75 per assessment to edit the videos and submit them -- the company advertises work available seven days a week to retired or current licensed teachers or administrators.

The Teacher Performance Assessment is being tested by 200 universities in the states considering it. Though it's depicted as a supplement to traditional classroom observation, student teachers who don't take and pass the video test would not be licensed.

The UMass participants complain that the administration did not seek their consent to take part in the field test, nor were adequate confidentiality protections for videotaped school kids adopted.

"As a parent, I wouldn't give my permission to videotape my child and send it off into the twilight," Kristin Sanzone told The Times.

Defenders of the pilot program argue that it would weed out weak candidates and that the 40-page take-home test requires teachers in training to prepare and submit lesson plans, explain how they measure learning, and outline how they would adapt their classrooms to special-needs students.

Pearson is described as North America's biggest for-profit education company. If a state chooses the Pearson-Stanford partnership to oversee licensing, the student-teachers have to pay the company up to $300 each to take the qualifying test.

In New York state, Pearson will have the final say not only on licensing new teachers but is also developing a system to score current teachers' annual performance.

While California has been testing faculty along similar lines, teacher-bashing is rampant among politicians and businesspeople there, according to Times education writer Michael Winerip, who commented: "There is a whole education industry that is flourishing because it is built on the denigration of public school teachers."

There's time for Massachusetts to abandon this ill-advised scheme.

Teachers have been among my most influential role models. The same is already the case for our third-grader. Of course, professional standards must be used to weed out a few under-performing faculty members. Lifetime tenure as a matter of routine is troublesome. But if we want to attract the best and brightest to our classrooms, the Pearson-Stanford method scores a failing grade.

Clarence Fanto is an Eagle staff writer.
He can be contacted at


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