Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Alice Seagren Paperwork Reduction Act

A few  DFL legislators, including Sen. Terri Bonoff and Rep. Carlos Mariani, want to relieve an apparently overworked Alice Seagren of the tiresome chore of licensing new teachers for our inner-city schools. Each has authored a bill that would turn this irksome and unimportant task over to an out-of-state outfit over which the state will have little or no oversight.

I’m not exaggerating.

I’ve had an interview to discuss this bill, and to give her a chance to champion it, scheduled with Sen. Bonoff three times, and each time it has been postponed by her office. A call to Rep. Mariani’s office to request an interview was met with a return message that wasn’t, well, encouraging.

Sen. Bonoff’s bill is S.F. 2811 S.F. 2757 (which has apparently passed the Senate Education Committee), and Rep. Mariani’s bill is H.F. 3093. They differ in detail but each contains the central feature of requiring that the Board of Teaching (part of the Department of Education) “must approve qualified teacher preparation programs” that are a “means to acquire a two-year limited term license and to prepare for acquiring a standard entrance license.”

Who may create such “qualified teacher preparation program?” Well, a college or university, which, it may be said, are in the main unlikely to do so when it would mean creating a program that would fall short of approximating any thing close to a degree program. Most colleges and universities are distinctly unenthusiastic about turning themselves into trade schools.

The bill also provide that a non-profit corporation may be formed to create such programs. A non-profit like, oh, I don’t know, a subsidiary of Teach for America? Why yes, that’s exactly what the bill has in mind.

Anybody with a 3.0 GPA, a bachelor’s degree in any field, a 200 hour “intensive program” offered by the non-profit under his or her belt, and passes tests in reading, writing, and mathematics, and some undefined “content and pedagogy” test is entitled to the license. (the license “must issue” in the language of the bills).

The bills assume that you can learn to be a teacher in 200 hours. In fact, most candidates for standard licensure require five years to be qualified, and they student teach longer than the entire training for candidates under programs like Teach for America.

After completion of the program, the Teach for America “graduate” can be given a classroom in a school where “the teaching staff does not reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the student population of the district or charter school, or to “reduce or eliminate an student achievement gap.”

Some of you may remember that I’ve written recently about the rapid resegregation of Minnesota schools, as described by Professor Myron Orfield. When the Teach for America bill (for that is what it is) talks about “racial diversity,” it is being positively Orwellian. What is meant, of course, is not diversity, but segregation.

Don’t believe it? Do you suppose that the authors of the bills see the need to put more black teachers in white suburban schools? (Or that Teach for America teachers would ever be placed in such a school.) And if a school was truly “diverse,” that is, integrated, why would you need to worry about the racial composition of the faculty? Is Don Samuels so upset because there aren’t enough white teachers on the north side of town?

It is a dark, fundamental lie of the bills to say that the raison d'être for them is to deal with “racial diversity” concerns. Here’s Jonathan Kozol in earlier post here on the Cucking Stool:

So, in a description of a 98 percent black and Latino school, the newspaper won't say what would seem to be the most obvious starting point: This is a deeply segregated school. They won't use the word "segregated." They do the most amazing semantic somersaults to avoid calling reality by its real name. "Gritty" is the New York Times' euphemism for segregated; "serving a diverse population with many minorities" -- as though they might be Albanians! Then I go to this "diverse" school and there are 1,000 black and Latino kids, 10 whites and 12 Asians. So "diverse" has actually come to be a synonym for "not diverse."

What the bill really does is to permit the supply of not-fully-licensed teachers to segregated schools.

It is also a fundamental lie to offer the program as a way to close a minority achievement gap. Here’s the lede from a recent article by Colin Greer:

In the United States, 30% of youth fail high school every year, and the vast majority come from poor communities and populations of color. We must acknowledge that this is a problem of proportions that cannot be solved with tests or scholarships alone.

Only around 50% of African-American and Hispanic kids ever graduate. And nationwide, only 50% of everyone who is eligible to go to college ever does. Of these few, only 50% ever graduate from college. So we're not just talking about getting a few more kids into college, but about a serious structural problem that requires a serious structural analysis of the causes. Then we can talk solutions.

He continues:

As long as there have been free public schools, the rate of failure has been more or less the same. At different times throughout the 19th and 20th century this has been of more or less consequence because the nature of the economy has changed.

However, the most reliable predictor of student failure throughout history is the background and education level of parents. [R.T. Rybak said more or less the same thing at his recent DL appearance.] So in order to solve the problem, you have to look at two things:

How do you replicate the benefits that come from the educational background of parents?

And how can you deal with the absence of these benefits as kids struggle to make it through school?

Well, not by populating inner-city schools with a bunch of under-prepared green recruits.

But I digress. Why should this initiative be called the “Alice Seagren Paperwork Reduction Act?” Because there are already 43 Teach for American recruits working in Minnesota.

How did that happen? Well, they’re teaching on waivers from the Department of Education. But poor Alice had to look at each application individually. Think how much easier it would be if we could just import them in batches! Just let Teach for America handle the details.

(YET ANOTHER UPDATE: The point of the above being that there are already ways to “alternatively license” teachers. It isn’t necessary or desirable to relinquish such a degree of state control to do it.)

But what if Teach for America slips up and fails to turn some of the 200 hour recruits into teachers? Will it do character checks? Where is the parents’ redress if Teach for America fails to do its job?

The bills don’t say.

UPDATE: I sent a link to this post to Senator Bonoff. She sent me a note saying that she wasn’t avoiding an interview, an explanation that I accept. She also said that she doesn’t agree with the “premise” of what I have written, but I stand by it.

FURTHER UPDATE: Some readers may know, but most of you don’t know that I was a supporter of Senator Bonoff when she ran for the Third District Congressional seat endorsement two years ago; I sat through seven ballots supporting her; that’s all there were; she then conceded to Ashwin Madia. I take no satisfaction in being critical of her.

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