Thursday, October 12, 2006

EduCracy Running Amok

Some teachers with doctorate degrees and top students are being considered unqualified to serve in public school classrooms reports The New York Times:
Jefferds Huyck stood in a corner of the gymnasium, comfortable in being inconspicuous, as the annual awards ceremony began one Friday last May at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, Calif. He listened as the principal named 16 of Mr. Huyck’s students who had earned honors in a nationwide Latin exam, and he applauded as those protégés gathered near center court to receive their certificates.

Then the principal, Andrew Goldenkranz, said, “And here’s their teacher.” Hundreds of students and parents and colleagues rose unbidden in a standing ovation. In that gesture, they were both celebrating and protesting.

As virtually everyone in the audience knew, Mr. Huyck would be leaving Pacific Collegiate, a charter school, after commencement. Despite his doctorate in classics from Harvard, despite his 22 years teaching in high school and college, despite the classroom successes he had so demonstrably achieved with his Latin students in Santa Cruz, he was not considered “highly qualified” by California education officials under their interpretation of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Rather than submit to what he considered an expensive, time-consuming indignity, a teacher-certification program geared to beginners that would last two years and cost about $15,000, Mr. Huyck decided to resign and move across town to teach in a private school. And in his exasperation, he was not alone.

Two other teachers with doctorates left Pacific Collegiate this year at least in part because of the credentialing requirement, Mr. Goldenkranz said. (One of the departed teachers, Barbara Allen Logan, said she left largely out of concern that the school was not diverse enough.) Nine other faculty members who already hold doctoral degrees or are working toward them are taking the teacher-certification classes, stealing time away from their own students at Pacific Collegiate.

TO call this situation perverse, to ascribe it to the principle of unintended consequences, is to be, if anything, too reasonable. With the quality of teacher training being widely assailed as undemanding, most recently in a report last month by the Education Schools Project, a nonpartisan group, Pacific Collegiate in 2005 had what certainly looked like the solution. Out of a faculty of 29, 12 already had or were nearing doctoral degrees, primarily related to the subjects they taught.

And if the performance of the school mattered for anything, which unfortunately it does not in the credentialing issue, then Pacific Collegiate could show results. Admitting its 400 students in Grades 7 through 12 by lottery rather than by admissions exam, it recorded an average of 1,982 out of a possible 2,400 on the three-part SAT and sent graduates to Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Swarthmore and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other elite universities.

Yet when Mr. Goldenkranz became principal in September 2005, he was informed by the Santa Cruz County Office of Education that, as he recalled in a recent interview, “in no uncertain terms, we had to develop a path to compliance with N.C.L.B.” Once the teachers were certified, Pacific Collegiate itself would have to pay $6,000 per teacher to the state for their enrollment in a program devised to improve retention of new faculty members.

Mr. Goldenkranz had Pacific Collegiate’s lawyers poke for any loopholes. The word came back from the county. If Pacific Collegiate failed to have every one of its supposedly unqualified teachers enrolled in a certification program within two years, it would risk losing its charter to operate or its stream of public financing.

Under California law, a teacher must successfully complete a certification program to fulfill the mandate of No Child Left Behind that there be a “highly qualified” instructor in every classroom. Marilyn Errett, an administrator with the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing, said California did offer a fast-track route for experienced teachers in the core subjects of English, science and math, as well as a path that combined a teaching internship with 100 hours of college course work.

She was not sympathetic, however, to the notion that teachers with doctorates and instructional experience at college get some kind of waiver. “Certainly, no one is questioning their grasp of the subject matter,” she said. But she added that they need to learn how to work with children in immigrant families who have limited English skills and students being moved from special education classes to regular ones. “Those are skills we think they need to have,” she said.

Mr. Huyck had watched his wife, Sarah Whittier, also a faculty member at Pacific Collegiate, plod through a certification course. At the age of 53, after receiving a doctorate in English literature and winning a statewide award for excellence in teaching — both at the University of California, Santa Cruz — she was racing most afternoons straight from Pacific Collegiate to teacher-certification classes 90 minutes away in the Monterey area. There, seated among classmates in their early 20’s, some of them headed for positions in elementary school, she received lessons in such topics as writing a lesson plan and maintaining classroom order.

“To me, it’s a badge of shame,” she said of the teaching certification. “It’s an embarrassment. It’s infantilizing.”

Having witnessed his wife’s humiliation, Mr. Huyck decided to leave Pacific Collegiate rather than comply with California’s requirements under the federal law. Going against his characteristic modesty, he also made certain that people around the school knew what he was doing and why he was doing it. “I wanted my position to be known,” he said in an interview. “I think knowledge in this case inspires indignation.”

CONNIE TCHIR has stayed at Pacific Collegiate as a Spanish teacher, but she shared that indignation. She is taking 17 hours of teacher-certification classes every week, even though she has a joint doctorate in Spanish literature and women’s studies, and a dozen years on college and high school faculties.

Those 17 hours, and the time she spends commuting and doing assignments, have come at the expense of her commitment to her Pacific Collegiate students. She gets up at 4 a.m. on weekdays to catch up on their work, and even so, she said, she does not have the detailed sense of each student’s skills and progress that she always had in the past. She has given up the after-school tutoring she used to provide and the extra field trips to Spanish-language films and Day of the Dead celebrations.

“I’ve just about had it,” she said in an interview. “I know the state is under constraints, but they’re driving out teachers.”
This is the kind of cluelessness that prevents so many truly qualified people from even considering a career in public education.
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