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Education Letter to the Editor

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May 19, 2004 5 min read
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Teacher-Quality Group’s Partisan Ties Obscured

To the Editor:

In response to your article describing a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (“States Receive Poor Marks for Teacher-Quality Standards,” April 21, 2004):

The report focused on “the quality of the standards [states] have set to assess whether teachers now in the classroom have adequate knowledge of subjects they teach,” as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The report focused on 20 states; averaged together, the states had a D-plus, according to the report.

Your reporter wrote that the NCTQ “is a prominent backer of alternative routes to certification and helped found the controversial American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, which has produced a test that could be used for licensure.”

What you failed to explain is that both the NCTQ and the ABCTE are largely creations of Bush-aligned Republican Party operatives and officeholders. “The National Council” sounds impressive, but it’s entirely self-appointed. It was created by Chester E. Finn Jr. and an array of right-wing academics and operatives. Mr. Finn served in the Reagan administration’s U.S. Department of Education and runs foundations that spend a lot of right-wing, Republican money on research and policy development designed to further Republican Party causes.

Mr. Finn would probably claim that the NCTQ is nonpartisan. In a classic propaganda touch, Andrew Rotherham is the chair of the board; Gaynor McCown is the vice chair. Both are Democrats who worked in the Clinton White House. But everything else about the NCTQ is of, by, and for the George W. Bush Republican Party.

The NCTQ’s main project is the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. The bright idea here is that people will take multiple-choice tests in subject knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. If they pass the tests, they will be certified to teach. No student teaching, no internship, no practicum, no prior classroom experience of any kind, no actual experience with children, and no evaluation of their ability to interact with young people in positive ways.

The ABCTE is a joint project of the NCTQ and the Education Leaders Council. The ELC was formed by right-wing Republican chief state school officers and state board members in 1995: Lisa Graham Keegan (Arizona), Eugene Hickok (Pennsylvania; now U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s No. 2 man), Linda Schrenko (Georgia), Frank Brogan (Florida), and a few others.

In 2001, the Bush Education Department gave the ABCTE $5 million to begin work on this test development. It was an inside deal. There was no request for proposals, no competitive bids. The Bush administration shares the ideology and goals of the ELC and the NCTQ.

In 2003, the administration gave $35 million more to the ABCTE to develop its tests. Another inside deal.

Mr. Finn, Ms. Keegan, Mr. Hickok, and all the other Republicans involved in the ELC, the NCTQ, and the ABCTE have every right to act as they have. The Bush administration certainly is not shy about spending tax money to further its ideological goals here and abroad.

But why is Education Week unwilling to report on the political basis of all of these activities? Education Week claims to be “American Education’s Newspaper of Record,” but in this case at least, it has failed profoundly to inform its readers about the “who” and the “why” of the NCTQ. You have to wonder why.

By the way, Michael J. Petrilli, an associate deputy undersecretary in the Education Department, was quoted in an earlier article (“Education Dept. Ignored Reviewers in Issuing Grant for Teachers’ Test,” March 17, 2004) as saying about the $35 million grant to the ABCTE: “We really believe in this idea. This was not just giving money to our friends.”

Mr. Petrilli, Mr. Paige, and Mr. Hickok may well believe in the ABCTE model. But in this comment, Mr. Petrilli clearly acknowledged who the NCTQ people are: his ideological friends, Bush Republicans.

So when we read the NCTQ’s studies about anything, keep in mind who is giving the grades.

David Marshak
Professor
School of Education
Seattle University
Seattle, Wash.

Defending Philadelphia’s ‘Teacher-Equity Campaign’

To the Editor:

I read with great interest your article “Community Tries to Influence Teachers’ Pact,” (April 28, 2004). The Philadelphia Education Fund has been a strong supporter of the “teacher-equity campaign” in our city. I was therefore deeply disappointed to read Philadelphia Federation of Teachers spokesman Hal Moss’ comments on the campaign, displaying an evident lack of understanding about the many community-based organizations that serve the city’s schoolchildren and their families year in and year out.

Particularly disheartening were Mr. Moss’ dismissive comments regarding Elizabeth L. Useem, a nationally recognized researcher and respected leader in education for the past 17 years. I sincerely doubt that the comments reflect the views of the membership of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

As the readers of Education Week surely understand, there does exist an inequitable distribution of experienced, certified teachers in many school districts across the nation, especially in urban areas like Philadelphia. This incontrovertible fact is not an indictment of the school district, nor of the many teachers who put their hearts and souls into their work, year after year. Teachers’ contracts are bipartisan agreements on work rules that should structure effective environments for teaching and learning, for both teachers and students.

The Philadelphia Education Fund joins with Ms. Useem in encouraging the district’s administration, its civic leaders, and its teachers’ union to examine carefully the contractual language they are crafting to ensure that Philadelphia children with the greatest needs are taught by teachers who have the most to give. It will be to everyone’s credit to put this old problem behind us for once and for all.

Nancy J. McGinley
Executive Director
Philadelphia Education Fund
Philadelphia, Pa.

A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 2004 edition of Education Week as Letters

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