Tuesday, December 05, 2006

No More Foundations Courses in Virginia?

The Virginia Department of Education is currently considering removing foundations of education coursework from teacher education requirements. This has been a while in the policy pipeline (I have been corresponding with colleagues in Virginia about this for over a year), and it appears poised for passage. The strange thing is that the VA Board of education gives no rationale for this change.

So here is my problem. How are teacher education programs going to meet Virginia’s own regulations (which, as far as I can tell, are accurate as of this summer) that state that programs must provide:
“A sequence of courses and experiences in which candidates acquire and learn to
apply knowledge about the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual
development of children and youth; develop a thorough understanding of the
complex nature of language acquisition and reading; and understand the
historical, philosophical, and sociological foundations of public education,
including school laws, school culture, and contemporary issues;”

If you read further down (to Standard 7), the regulations further state that programs must have indicators such as:
“1. Use of instructional teaching methods that reflect an understanding of
different models and approaches to learning and student achievement;
Teaching that encourages candidates to reflect, think critically and solve
3. Teaching that reflects knowledge and understanding of cultural
diversity and exceptionalities; and
4. Instruction that is continuously
evaluated and the results used to improve teaching and learning within the

Sure, many education courses touch upon these issues, but foundations is the only place where future teachers, principals, and district administrators will ever have the opportunity to carefully and thoroughly grapple with issues of ethics, diversity, and the role of schools in society. There are lots of complex aspects to this issue (the “value added” of licensure, alternative certification pathways, etc.), but I want to focus on two main points.

First, the elimination of a course such as foundations will not be easily reversed in these times of “value added” obsession. Foundations has immense value, but almost all of it is “latent.” Teachers and administrators come to realize the value of foundations long after they leave education schools. The first years are deeply devoted to simply making it through and doing well for the students. It is only later that we start to ask “why?” and “how?” and “when will it change?” The short-term value-added gain of lessening curricular requirements destroys the long-term value-added gain of having thoughtful and culturally competent educators in our schools.

Second, the removal of foundations puts teacher education in exactly the opposite direction of other fields. Medical education has recently realized that doctors need more than codified answers; they need to actually know how to deal with people and how to think about the ethical implications of what they do and say. Put otherwise, foundations courses are the only “opportunity to change” that future educators will ever have. They will still get the “opportunity to learn” content matter; and they will still get the “opportunity to practice” through field experiences and practicum. But removing foundations is akin to stating that teachers don’t need to understand the role of schools in society; that teachers don’t need to become aware of and engaged with cultural diversity; that teachers don’t need to understand that education is a massive organizational bureaucracy. Thirty percent of new teachers drop out in the first three years because of the shell-shock that education is not about “teaching one student at a time.” 80% of principals believe that cultural competence is a critical skill for teachers to have. Look at the curricula of Teach for America, or Connecticut’s BEST program. They all focus on such issues because they work.

So what can you do?

1) Send your comments to the VA Department of Education:
Comments: mail, fax, or e-mail until December 15, 2006, to Dr. JoAnne Y. Carver,
director of teacher education, or e-mail to: JoAnne.Carver@doe.virginia.gov; or
Mrs. Patty S. Pitts, director of licensure, or e-mail to:
licenseregulations@doe.virginia.gov. Mailing address: Virginia Department
of Education, P.O. Box 2120, Richmond, VA 23218; Fax: 804/786-6759.

2) Sign an online petition today: http://www.petitiononline.com/VESA001/.

3) Register to speak at the last open Board meeting on December 7 in Hampton, VA.

4) Tell AESA (the national umbrella organization for the social foundations field) that they need to do a better job of supporting state-by-state and national policy concerning educational foundations.

Finally, if you know that this is happening in other states, please let me know. There is no centralized location where foundations scholars can keep track of such issues. Perhaps we can do this here for now.

Finally, the fine print: This is the verbiage in the present proposed legislation:

8 VAC 20-542-80. Professional studies requirements for early/primary education, elementary education, and middle education; and
8 VAC 20-542-120. Professional studies requirements for prek-12 endorsements, special education, secondary grades 6-12 endorsements, and adult education.
• Removed coursework on Foundations of Education;

Kurt Stemhagen (at Virginia Commonwealth University) sent me the timeline below to track how this proposal got the stage it is at:

History of Committee Work Related to SFE Elimination Proposal
Meeting Date
Summary of Pertinent Actions
Key Language
Sept. 14, 2004
Decision to begin to think about possible changes to teacher licensure
“An additional task force will be convened to make proposed recommendations…”
Nov. 15, 2004
Discussion of potential revisions generated a list of possible actions (no mention of SFE)
“The committee was asked to consider a rationale for discontinuing the requirement for individuals who pass the MLA to take Praxis II.”
Jan. 24, 2005
A bulleted list of possible revisions was presented to the full ABTEL committee (no mention of SFE)

Mar. 21, 2005
The sub-committee continued to hone its list (no mention of SFE)

May 11, 2005
A motion was presented to recommend to the Board of Education a series of revisions, including revision #8 (eliminate SFE is a part of this revision)
“Revise professional studies (Reduce Curriculum and Instruction to 3 semester hours; delete Foundations of Education; and add 3 semester hours in Instructional Design Based on Assessment Data and 3 semester hours in Classroom Management).”
Sept. 12, 2005
Announcement that the proposed regulation changes are working their way through the system
“The regulations have not yet been released for public comment; however, the regulations continue to proceed through the procedures of the Administrative Process Act.”


Anonymous said...

The very essence of the name Foundations of Education speaks volumes. If the Virginia BOE removes the Foundations requirement what will future teachers build upon? It is absolutely true that early in a teacher's career the overwhelming issue is just getting through the lesson plans, grading, and paperwork. It is only after the first five or six years has passed that teachers can objectively assess exactly what they do and why they do it. It is at this juncture that the Foundations of Education coursework comes into play. Foundations creates the perspective for educational decisions. Laws like NCLB can be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Educational programs swing back and forth like a pendulum throughout time. The Foundations Program provides an avenue of understanding and comprehension that helps educators cope with the bureaucracy. We can "see" what certain mandates can and cannot accomplish and are able to continue educating children based upon sound research as we've learned from the Foundations Program. We cannot lose this valuable tool for new teachers. They would be unduly handicapped and unable to cope in the face of insurmountable legislation.

Dan W. Butin said...

Thanks Mary for your support. As an outsider to what is happening in Virginia, it is hard for me to guess as to the outcome. But I dare say it is probably sympotmatic of what is happening in many other places as well.

Anonymous said...

AESA is one member of the Council for Social Foundations of Education. In the past few years, I know that Joe Watras has been concerned with NCATE's dropping CSFE from the Board of Visitors, but I wonder if CSFE might be more effective by taking a definitely non-humanities approach by "grading" the accrediting groups, states, alternative certification programs, and major institutions for how well they incorporate social foundations into educator preparation (including school counselor, school psychologist, and administration programs as well as teacher education). Because CSFE has written standards, it wouldn't be making things up out of whole cloth.

A. G. Rud said...

I like Sherman's idea and think that his contact with Steve Tozer will open up a discussion of perhaps doing this. It would certainly get attention.

Dan W. Butin said...


That’s a great idea. I have been arguing for several years now that CSFE needs to be the driving force behind securing foundations nationally and state-by-state. Steve and I brainstormed an idea of a kind of rapid-response toolkit for social foundations departments who are under pressure or who need to prove their worth in front of NCATE or other accrediting agencies. I have always wanted to see CSFE develop an online database of teaching resources for new scholars and graduate students (syllabi, review of textbooks, experiential activities, etc.). And raise the national profile of the foundations field. Steve likes to talk about how AESA was a direct outgrowth of Maxine Greene and several other scholars’ concern over the marginalization of foundations in the 1970s. A grading schema, which has become extremely popular with think tanks, is great. I think we need a new compact and vision. Sigh…

Anonymous said...

Almost as striking as the removal of Foundations is what is being added in its place, as noted in the May 2005 Motion you listed:
"Add 3 semester hours in Instructional Design Based on Assessment Data and 3 semester hours in Classroom Management).”

This combination speaks volumes about the current climate of high stakes testing. I do see the value of using assessment to revise instruction and the importance of creating safe, productive classroom environments. However, if students do not have a broader foundational perspective to engage critically in these 2 courses (e.g., "does student performance on my assessments vary by ethnicity, class, or gender?" or "what do we mean by 'managing students'?"), then the enterprise of education will grow only more technocratic and alienating.

Kathryn M. Benson said...

I am going to revise my syllabi over break to include the CSFE standards and link those to specific readings, assignments, projects in order to give myself some support for the types of thinking and writing experiences planned for graduate students in curriculum and instruction in the spring. Yes, the organization needs to step up its up-front presence in the face of louder and more demanding official educational agencies. Dan's idea for the online database of an online database of teaching resources for new scholars and graduate students (syllabi, review of textbooks, experiential activities, etc.)is on target.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher of a social foundations course at a university in Florida,I am troubled to hear that the state of Virginia would even consider doing away with social foundation courses. Social foundation courses expose students to a wide range of issues that they would otherwise not be privy to in other classes they are required to take. In an era when young teachers are entering the workforce dominated by the accountability movement and shaped by sweeping demographic changes, it become ever more critical that pre-service teachers understand and conceptualize not only the the types of students they will teach but also the environmentthey will teach in.

Anonymous said...

What is happening in Virginia is just one more state-level example of the attacks and restrictions on various aspects of teacher education, most particularly the social foundations of education, that date back to the passage of the Ryan Act in California in 1970. The Ryan Act restricted all study in education, other than student teaching, to nine units. While this was an attack on all aspects of professional educational study, the result was a major reduction in study in the foundations of education. In the four decades since, many colleges and universities in California have found ways to maintain some foundational study, both because of a professional commitment in that direction and because of national accreditation standards (NCATE) that require foundational study. If the new legislation in Virginia simply drops a requirement for foundations, but does not limit or prohibit such study, then the onus will fall on the colleges and universities to maintain what we know to be an important part of teacher education. As Dan Butin notes, we can't expect much help from other segments of the education community, since the "latent" value of foundations (Dan's term, which I like) is not that apparent to others. All of this, of course, is part of the reason that I have been a strong advocate for the past several decades for the involvement of foundations organizations and individual scholars in NCATE, because the NCATE standards that call for foundational study serve as a safety net against individual state actions such as that now afoot in Virginia. Hopefully NCATE will maintain those foundational standards even though the Council for the Social Foundations of Education has dropped its formal membership in NCATE.
--Alan H. Jones, Caddo Gap Press,

A. G. Rud said...

Alan, thank you for your comments, as someone heavily involved in these issues over the years. Why did CSFE drop its formal membership in NCATE? We need our voice at the table, and with TEAC too.

Craig A. Cunningham said...

I am not sure that Foundations are being undermined because "others" don't perceive their latent value (or effect). Rather, my guess is that "others" know that the latent effect is *opposition* to the "technocratic" and alienating tendencies of contemporary educational policy. Foundations courses, when effective, provide a kind of simmering resistance to ALL of the trends of such policy, making teachers harder and harder to "train" into their mindless roles in such a system. If social foundations courses had a neutral effect with regard to such policies, there wouldn't be as much opposition to them. Thus it isn't the latency that works against foundations; it's the direction of said latency. So we might call it a "democratizing latency," or a "humanizing latency." Or, better, "latent humanism"?

Anonymous said...

There is a similar sentiment circulating in the state teacher education department in Connecticut. It hasn't come to pass, as many of the state's deans of colleges of education reacted strongly against the suggestion that foundations be dropped.

However, I suspect that it will continue to be pressed as a way to accomodate more courses that are going to be needed to meet a lawsuit mandating inclusive education in teacher preparation.

I'll keep you posted, but for now we still have foundations courses on the books in Connecticut. I was impressed with the vehement response from the deans in the state who think that foundations courses are essential to a quality preparation program.

Regards, Wendy Kohli
Fairfield University
p.s. at Fairfield, we have the luxury of the Jesuit imprimatur, so that there is a required philosophical foundations course and a required social foundations course. That's one reason I chose Fairfield!

Aaron Schutz said...

I wish I could agree with Craig that people don't want us because they are uncomfortable with our potential to promote resistance. But I doubt that is usually the case. In a technocratic system, I think it is more likely that critical thought and historical/sociological knowledge just doesn't "make sense" to most of these people. Maybe foundations seems like like empty calories to them, the aspartame of the teacher ed curriculum. However, I don't know empirically which is right. Or what the balance is between discomfort (fear?) and efforts simply to clean out useless furniture that is taking up space that would (to them) be better used by a course on standardized assesement or yet another course on methods for doing something useful.

Mary Ann Doyle said...

That's an interesting way to state the case, Aaron, about knowing 'empirically' which view is 'right.' I have heard from students for nearly two decades that the social foundations course was where they learned to plant their feet deep in the riverbed of their own lives as currents rose and fell about them, sometimes fast and assaulting (like NCLB and bullying policies) and sometimes hauntingly absent (low wages and poor resources). How can we collect the evidence better? How do we shape these politics into what Berry would call an ecozoic rather than a technozoic future?

Kathleen Knight-Abowitz said...

I deeply appreciate this discussion. I am probably most sympathetic to Aaron's take that what we do in foundations likely makes little sense to those who can only think of education in technocratic ways, though we should not underestimate the political backlash against schools of education and their "liberal agenda" among the political right.

Here in Ohio, Foundations has suffered a different, and less overt kind of attack. In order to help students at two-year colleges matriculate into 4-year universities, the state has mandated that all state universities create an "Intro to Education" course (or designate it's equivalent among its current offerings.) This is a course whose objectives and content matter have been pretty much dictated. The six "prescribed themes" for this course are 1) standards-based education 2) Professionalization, 3) Diversity, 4) Democratic Issues/social justice, 5) Curriculum and Instruction 6) Legal and Organizational issues.

What's interesting is that in a sense the state has mandated that foundations be part of this "intro to education" course, but in a way that meshes the content with standards and professionalization and all the rest. It constrains those at state Universities who are offering a Foundations class because it dictates that you cover all these areas (the state is reviewing syllabi from all the universities and are seemingly towing the line on full coverage of all six areas, if our example was any indication).

In my department (which is foundations-friendly), we found a way to designate another one of our courses as the mandated "intro to Ed" class, so we have escaped this round. But I'd like to add one more thing here related to making foundations "speak" to students -- related to Dan's points about what our value is as a field to undergraduates. One of the things Dan mentions in this regard is the link between foundations and democracy. We've recently re-vamped our undergraduate 200-level foundations syllabus to be much more tightly focused on the question, "what does it mean to educate for democracy?" Most undergraduate teacher candidates have thought very little about the questions of democracy and what they mean, and I think that's one of the real contributions our field makes -- it has sustained an inquiry around this question for a century and more in the United States and longer if you think globally. And our students, while they may not get the democracy connection at first, seem convinced that this question of "democracy" is worth engaging....no matter what their political/ideological bent.

Dan W. Butin said...

So Kathleen, walk across the hall and tell Dennis (Carlson, that is, President-elect of AESA) to log onto this site and decide whether we can have an all-AESA discussion about this at the next AESA business meeting. Or heck, I'll just email the AESA executive council. Or am I just making a mountain out of a molehill?

p.s., and even more important, tell him to vote for us. Quickly. And often.

Craig A. Cunningham said...

I agree with Kathleen that democracy is still a compelling ideal for most students in America, and can be used as a kind of framework for discussing social and cultural foundations. My students really "get" the differences between "education for capitalism" and "education for democracy." What's troubling to me, though, is that they do not seem to have any hope that democracy will prevail, and they seem resigned to being teachers for capitalism while trying to do democratic education (or education for democracy) on the sly.