Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rick Hess Resurrects the “Blow Up Schools of Education” Mantra

cross posted from Public Schools Central

In a recent posting on his Education Week blog “Straight Up,” Rick Hess resurrected Reid Lyon’s now tired assertion that in order to reform education. a good place to start is blowing up colleges of education. Only now Rick Hess thinks he has a better idea — a better “path.” Apparently, Hess spent some time with a few dozen education school deans. He found them to be “smart people and willing to engage with dissenting voices.” However, he has a different view of the faculty members who work within schools of education. We, according to Hess, “as a rule … display strong biases on questions like accountability, use of monetary incentives, and school choice.” And Hess went on to state in a tweet that education faculty members are not only biased, but guilty of venality. Actually, that’s not only outrageous, but actually seems to contradict his own thesis. Hess lauds the University of Arkansas’ “Walmart Department of Education Reform and School Privatization.” While many education department faculty members seem to be biased against the current feeding frenzy of free market corporate education reformers (and, thus, lose out on the wealth that can be accumulated by casting their lot with the charter school operators, test publishers, and data producing machine makers), the University of Arkansas is not accused of venality for cashing in on the Walton family fortune. The Walton family certainly did pay a lot to buy a policy department that would actively promote a free market education reform agenda — a whopping $300 million dollars, the largest “gift” in the history of public higher education!

I think it’s interesting that Rick Hess positions himself and other “think tank” scholars as the downtrodden and oppressed — losing the policy debate to the “tens of thousand of faculty in teacher-preparation programs at state colleges of education.” As one of those faculty members in a teacher preparation program, I think Hess is disingenuous in taking this position. Or maybe he just hasn’t gotten the memo — you guys have won! You got pretty much everything you wanted: education reformers wanted more accountability, “no excuse” policies, more data, more testing, and more school choice. They wanted teachers to be held accountable for their students’ performance on tests. they wanted a debate on teacher tenure, and they wanted more non-traditional teacher preparation programs like Teach for America.

Education reformers started winning the policy debate a long time ago. Republicans promoted your agenda. Democrats promoted your agenda. And Obama placed the laurel wreath on the head of education reformers as the ultimate winner when he and Arne Duncan gifted you with RTTT. Rick Hess, thou protesteth too much! Oh, I know you have been very vocal in your criticism of the Common Core. However, the Common Core was just one of the policies in the gift basket education reformers received from the federal government. And now some free market education reformers want to keep everything else in the gift basket and give back the one thing they find distasteful.

Rick Hess states, “It’s a huge mistake to regard ed schools as implacably hostile. Ed schools are shifting assemblages of individuals, with views that are not preordained. Instead of writing off all the institutional heft that ed schools’ control, it’s time for reformers to get in the ring and work to ensure that some top colleges of education become places that can produce and host a healthy quotient of reform-minded thinkers.” By reform-minded thinkers, it’s obvious that he is referring to free market, corporate, pro-choice education reform proponents.

Law schools, according to Hess, had to address the same “entrenchment” he now cites as a problem in schools of education. The conservatives had to step in and rescue the law schools. Hess is laudatory of Henry Manne who was recruited in 1985 by George Mason University to “build a law school from scratch.” Manne, according to Hess, was free to “launch an Austrian-flavored program free from such constraints. While lacking a significant endowment, alumni network, or institutional brand, the new school soon enjoyed enormous success as a place of refuge for conservative scholars… .”

It is clear, that Hess’ better “path” for schools of education includes creating some supposed refuge for these conservative scholars. First, why do conservatives need a refuge? They seem to be doing quite well in the education policy arena. Second, just what would a school of education that employs conservative thinkers among its faculty look like? I think Hess is woefully unaware of what teacher preparation program faculty members actually do, in spite of the fact that he claims otherwise. Increasingly, our jobs revolve around enacting policies that these conservative free market corporate reformers have been promoting over the years. Regardless of our personal and professional education policy beliefs, we are committed to our students’ success and the success of the students they will teach. In New York, where I work in a teacher preparation program, our education majors take numerous standardized tests to become licensed to teach after graduation. There’s no lack of accountability here. Education professors may question the quality of the Common Core, but we prepare our students to enter a profession dominated by the standards. It doesn’t matter if we are conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican. If we are entrenched as Hess claims, it is not an entrenchment of our choice. It’s an entrenchment foisted on us by “reform minded” policy makers, the kind that Rick Hess admires.

Hess may decry those who wish to “blow up” schools of education. However, his attack is no less vehement. He concludes his article by saying: “‘Blow up the ed schools’ is the disgruntled cry of the defeated. The goal shouldn’t be to silence other voices, but to break the monopoly and insist on a fair competition of ideas.” There is no monopoly, Rick Hess. There is no public school monopoly and there is no monopoly among schools of education. The reality is this: there are those in dominant positions of power who want to destroy the democratic institution of public schools through free market policies under the guise of “choice.” On the other hand, there are those of us who are actively working to preserve the long honored and beneficial system of public education. It shouldn’t be surprising that many of us proudly work in teacher preparation programs.

by Deborah Owens

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Intrinsic Motivation in the classroom: Meeting standards while promoting learning

The role of Intrinsic Motivation (IM) Theory in teaching has been growing in education research. This is particularly important as a tool for education reform that goes beyond training teachers on how to improve teaching methods but also focuses on learning. IM, as a new learning resource, is student-centered and encourages new teaching methods yet still being mindful of standards. It is for that reason that IM is particularly important as a tool for education reform because it embraces a wide range of teaching methodologies and focuses on effective learning as a high quality transformative experience. IM, which has been largely viewed as a personal choice or purely individual choice, has great potential as a pedagogical tool both in P-12 and college classrooms as it moves away from external motivator (grades and tests) for student success and towards learning. Extensive research has shown that external motivators do not support high quality learning, curiosity, persistence, well-being, and confidence (Deci, Vallerand, Pellitier, & Ryan, 1991; Ryan & Golnick, 1986).

Enter IM in education, not only as a way to only engage potential teachers in the classroom, but also often leads to a more critical, integrated, analysis of the lasting implications of course material. In IM theory it is assumed that students want to learn and will do so if allowed to connect to content in ways that are personally relevant and meaningful. Although academic standards remain important, students are encouraged to make choices that align learning to personal interests and goals. Data from an intrinsic conversion course in it’s fourth iteration under the leadership of Education Researcher Dr. Judith Sunderman shows that IM fosters self-driven conditions in the classroom that promote competence, autonomy, relationships, and a sense of purpose among pre-service teachers. Sunderman (2014) has explained that pre-service teachers can learn standardized content in non-standardized format. Following research that suggests that certain conditions in the classroom can promote fulfillment of the needs for competence, autonomy, relationships, and purpose, IM seems to be an important point of intervention, a way to think about creating conditions that support student engagement, sustained interest, commitment, and optimum performance.

Having been involved with an IM course conversion, I have focused on changing my classroom and teaching methods to creatively center students learning experiences by making connections between the historical, statistical, and policy-based information that they learn and everyday teaching practices. Students are in given maximum freedom, while still setting parameters based on the state ad course requirements. This process has promotes students’ intrinsic motivation in their own learning but also as they prepare to teach in the future. While still meeting teaching standards, IM can help teachers effectively and efficiently use their limited time and create lasting learning outcomes based on different learning paces and styles. The process, which still in its infancy is exciting to consider alongside students as they research and learn about the current and potential future state of public education particularly with regards to funding and the pressures that emerge from meeting state standards. In my course, the pre-service teachers have made meaningful connections to their research as it pertains to their future classroom management. In the end, students focused on the direction of their study and on learning as opposed to grades. You can learn more about the iFoundry Intrinsic Motivation Project through publications featured here.

by Brenda Sanya

Brenda Nyandiko Sanya is a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Sanya holds a dual B.A. in Philosophy & Psychology, and an interdisciplinary M.A. in Gender and Cultural Studies. Broadly, her research explores education, race, gender, sexuality, citizenship, and immigration. She interrogates formal and informal structures (such as schooling and education) as spaces where citizenship performance and performativity are produced and reproduced, and circulated in and through global landscapes.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.


Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627-668.

Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: Self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(3&4), 325-346.

Ryan, R. M., & Grolnick, W. S. (1986). Origins and pawns in the classroom: Self-report and projective assessments of individual differences in children's perceptions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(3), 550-558.

Sunderman, J. (2014). Executive Summary - Supercool School: Learning through Play for Teacher Education Majors. Intrinsic Motivation Pilot Summary & Findings. Unpublished.

The Problems of Standardizing an Individualized Education

This past summer, the U.S. Department of Education announced an overhaul to the evaluation metrics used to judge the effectiveness of special education programs for students with disabilities who receive services through an Individualized Education Program (IEP). In announcing the new accountability framework, dubbed Results-Driven Accountability (RDA), Secretary Arne Duncan repeated the oft-heard rhetoric behind other accountability-based policy shifts under his tenure, saying, “We know that when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to the general curriculum in the regular classroom, they excel. We must be honest about student performance, so that we can give all students the supports and services they need to succeed.” Of course, “being honest” entails evaluations based on standardized test results, including state assessments and the NAEP.

The problem with this, according to many experts in the field of special education, is that standardized tests like the NAEP are horribly inaccurate measures of learning outcomes for students with disabilities and often produce more negative consequences than they seek to resolve. IEPs are developed based on a student’s individual developmental and skill level by a team composed of the student, parents, teachers, and special education service providers. They are developed after taking into account multiple perspectives and assessments tailored to the individual student. The student then spends the next year progressing towards goals crafted to develop her individual academic needs. To then judge the effectiveness of the academic program working towards meeting those needs through a test that takes none of the students individual needs into account, and is instead standardized and administered by grade level, makes absolutely no sense.

Supporters of standardized testing adopt the language of disability rights advocates in arguing that exempting students with disabilities from the same tests their peers are taking for no other reason than the student’s disability status is discriminatory. Testing proponents point to studies claiming that excluding students with disabilities from standardized testing has the effect of increasing overrepresentation as school staff push low-performing students into special education to shield their school from the negative consequences of test-based accountability (for examples of this body of research, see here, here, here, and here). These arguments, however, miss the point entirely. Testing advocates misappropriate research that is an indictment of test-based accountability to serve their cause. The research cited above does not conclude that excluding students with disabilities is unjust, but rather that test-based accountability schemes create perverse incentives to further marginalize students who do not perform well on tests. There is no evidence this marginalization of low-performing students will end by forcing students with disabilities to take these tests and then judging their teachers based on the results. Further, recent attempts to compel students with profound disabilities to take standardized tests exemplify how “disrespectful” the process can be.  

The pushback against RDA should not been seen as an argument against measuring learning outcomes for students with disabilities. Instead, the argument here is for individualized assessments tailored to the goals in a student’s IEP, which is something that a standardized test is incapable of doing. If the concern is improving the education of students with disabilities, then the focus should be placed on addressing teacher shortages that help create illegal caseload sizes in many states, making sure schools––especially charter schools––are providing a continuum of services, and improving professional development so more students have access to evidence based supports, amongst other urgent areas of need. However, to proceed in this way would be to admit there are at least some areas where standardized tests are inappropriate and ineffective, and many of the barriers to student learning have nothing to do with being held to “high standards” and access to a rigorous curriculum tied to state or federal assessments, as Secretary Duncan claims. Such an admission and reversal of policy can serve as a demonstration that the current administration sees improving the education for all students as more important than an unwavering adherence to neoliberal orthodoxy.

by Ian Scott

Ian Scott is a PhD student in the program on Education Policy and Social Outcomes. His research interests center on the impact of incentivist and market-based education reforms on special education programs and access to mental health services in schools. His work attempts to answer broader questions about how social perceptions of difference are legislated, problems of distributional politics, and the political economy of education.

The Forum on the Future of Public Education strives to bring the best empirical evidence to policymakers and the public. The Forum draws on a network of premier scholars to create, interpret, and disseminate credible information on key questions facing P-20 education.