Monday, August 11, 2008

50 million spent to certify 200 teachers

OK, I haven't written a diary here in a while. I've been teaching nonstop, maintaining 3 other blogs for my classes each semester, trying to be a radical researcher in a not-so-radical world, and engaging in the joys of administrivia as a Summer Chair. But I had to write here. Tonight. NOW.

Like I said above, the Federal Government has wasted FIFTY MILLION DOLLARS to certify 200 teachers. In a day and age when I work with teachers who have to bring their own paper, pencils, and other supplies, I am out of words (almost) after reading this little piece of news.

The Background...

In case you didn't know, Congress passed its latest reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, called the (H.R. 4137). You can read more about it here. I've been following debates surrounding the new HEA for a number of reasons, but mostly because of David Horowitz's attacks on higher education as bastions of liberal thought. OK, so maybe some of them are more liberal, say, when we compare the New School to the University of Chicago, but on the whole, Horowitz's work fails to stand up to scrutiny. However, that is not the purpose of my diary.

I have been particularly concerned as of late about whether Secretary Margaret Spellings would win her way and mirror the HEA after NCLB. In fact, I was convinced that the HEA would be no more than an extension of NCLB. However, Congress surprised me, and instead focused on larger issues than just accountability. This, of course, made the Bush Administration and Margaret Spellings, pom pom girl extraordinaire... I mean Secretary of Education, very mad. They are completely against spending federal dollars without accountability. Their disdain was most clear in a Spellings Op-Ed from earlier this year.

So imagine my surprise when I did a little more digging tonight (as part of my research on a piece responding to the Highly Qualified Teacher Provisions under Title Two of the HEA), when I read the following:

The Federal government has spent more than $50 million on one program, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, that has licensed a total of 200 teachers and is accepted in five states. (p. 6)


The Bush Administration has authorized the Department of Education to develop a certification exam that states could use. No shocker there. After all, NCLB is proof that they like tests. But while reading testimony before the Subcommittee on Higher Education entitled, Preparing Teachers for the Classroom: The Role of the Higher Education Act and No Child Left Behind, I actually had to stop for a minute, put down the mac, and walk away. When I came back a few minutes later, the numbers were still there.

$50 million.

I shouldn't be surprised, I suppose. All politicians spend lots of taxpayer money on pet projects. I think I was shocked more because of what I had heard from a buddy of mine about the test itself. He was actually hired by the feds to do some standards setting and norm the test (he has a PhD in this stuff). The first time my buddy called me about it, he was shocked at the paucity of questions regarding learning, child and adolescent development, and student learning needs. The only questions asked, he noted, focused on content area issues. The second time he called he was outraged that there were no questions about pedagogy, that is, about issues related to how to teach students so they could learn. It reminded him, he said, of all the college profs we had at No Name University who were really smart but couldn't teach their way out of a paper bag. He could not see how this exam would improve the quality of teachers, no matter how "good" the test was, because it focused on the wrong things.

And then I read about the $50 million dollars. Here, in the state of New Jersey, where I live and work, our state colleges and universities have been called to task for "wasteful spending." On the one hand, I agree that we need to be more responsible for our spending. And yet, NJ has one of the worst spending records for supporting higher education. And they have cut state college and university budgets by 20% over the last three years. Tuition is spiking even higher, my GRADUATE seminar courses have 30 students in them (unless I scare them off the first week of class--I am a demanding teacher), and we are told to "do more with less."

Do you know what we could do with $50 million? We could hire more than 1,200 teachers at $41,000 a year, which is about the median national teacher salary. While that doesn't seem like much, in my mind, it's a great start to remedying the many cuts that districts have had to make in their staffing to meet budget cuts (and increasing gas costs, etc.).

Done ranting.