It is with concern that I write about the Gates influence on the University of Michigan’s College of Education and the new program called TeachingWorks. The Gates Foundation is giving $6.8 million to the U of M to influence how they will transform teacher preparation. The Helmsley Charitable Trust Grant also provided $1.1 million. This program will affect how teachers are made in universities across the country.
Valerie Strauss had an interesting piece by Kenneth Zeichner, a professor in teacher education at the University of Washington at Seattle, indicating that the new Every Student Succeeds Act has provisions to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs such as those funded by venture philanthropists. Many of us see these programs rapidly popping up in colleges and school districts near where we live.
Both parents and educators should be concerned about TeachingWorks. It is taking place in a major university that once had a dynamic teacher education program, it focuses on novices, and it will affect the kind of teachers children will get for years to come.
They are using the worn out excuse that teachers are retiring, so they have to make teachers fast, but there has been a push by groups like The New Teacher Project, and others, to drive veteran teachers out of the classroom for years.
TeachingWorks is dancing the cha cha with Teach for America, Teach First (England) and the Relay Graduate School of Education, to name a few, claiming that teacher preparation failed in the past. These are all non-traditional teaching groups.
I never attended the U of M—I attended Central Michigan University a few hours away. But the professors that once taught there, in the area of special education, highly influenced my outlook on teaching, especially when I was a beginning teacher in the ’70s.
So when I watch great changes to, what I consider one of the most elite and best universities when it comes to teacher education, it gives me pause and makes me suspicious and sad.
First, I am trying to understand what the new beginning teacher program at the University of Michigan will actually teach beginning teachers. Like most corporate inspired programs, it seems unclear. I worry the program doesn’t build on past knowledge.
This is especially true in the area of reading and disabilities.
You know Common Core State Standards are going to be at the heart of everything—why else would the Gates Foundation fund this program? Data and assessment will rule.
True to what most Gatesian programs involve, TeachingWorks overuses jargon. The word “leverage” is used a lot, though it doesn’t tell you much about program details.
- They leverage practice.
- They have a commitment to a lever for justice.
- They have high leverage educational practices.
- And they promote high leverage practice and instruction.
They seem critical of coursework. But how many other real professions ignore coursework and go straight to practice? I doubt you can think of one.
Teacher practice experiences are important, especially when future teachers get to observe credentialed veteran teachers who are real teachers. But the heavy emphasis on practice with videos and journal reading seems incomplete.
Here is what really bugs me about the University of Michigan’s new teacher training. I am remembering distinguished U of M professors who influenced teacher education in the past. TeachingWorks is an insult to them.
I own a great book, Conflict in the Classroom: The Education of Children with Problems, co-written and first published in 1965 by U of M professor William C. Morse. William M. Cruickshank, also once a U of M professor, has too many books to list but, like Morse, was a giant when it came to teacher preparation concerning perceptual disabilities and brain damage in children. Fritz Redl’s career began at both the U of M and the University of Chicago. He is known for psychoeducation and his work with residential care and troubled teens. Ralph D. Rabinovitch M.D., who was an Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the U of M, was well-known for his work in reading. He often reported his research findings to the Orton Society. How many parents familiar with dyslexia praise the multi-sensory Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching reading?
These are just a few of the wonderful past professors who helped prepare future teachers.
Great professions build on the good stuff done in the past. I don’t see that happening at the University of Michigan. I sure don’t see this program as a good example for other universities to emulate. I see teacher education becoming more corporatized.
RIP University of Michigan Wolverines teacher education—I only knew you from afar, but I’m glad I knew you when…I hope someday you will make good teachers again.