THE BLOG

New York University Betrays Teaching and Education

02/01/2016 06:37 am ET | Updated Feb 01, 2016
  • Alan Singer Social studies educator, Hofstra University,my opinions, of course, are my own

It may call itself "a private university in the public service," but NYU is a multi-national big business and New York City real estate mogul whose previous president earned $1.5 million a year. Its latest "offering" puts NYU on the list of bottom-feeders trying to make a fast-buck with online teacher education programs that supposedly will prepare the next generation of teachers in the United States.

According to a recent press release, "NYU Steinhardt, the country's oldest university-based school of pedagogy" plans to offer a "new residency-based teacher education program that will deliver its courses 100 percent online" if it receives state approval. The program will enable "students to earn a graduate degree by combining online coursework with immersive on-site experiences in high-needs schools." "NYU Steinhardt will partner with HotChalk, which will provide the need technology and a New Orleans-based startup named Torsh, Inc. NYU Steinhardt may not have noticed but HotChalk is tied to Jeanne Allen and the Center for Education Reform, major players in campaigns promoting charter schools, ending teacher tenure, and undermining teacher unions. Allen actually helped create the NYU program.

The program involves NYU Steinhardt "faculty" observing and commenting on "classroom instruction at a distance" using video and working "one-on-one with the students to hone their teaching skills." Of course everything will be "rigorous" and data-driven, although there is no data that something like this will actually work. The plan is to enlist students working as "resident interns" in high-needs urban schools. However it is not clear how students will be placed, who will select the schools and cooperating teachers, and whether any of this will actually benefit the high-needs urban students in these classrooms.

NYU's move should not surprise anyone. Dominic Brewer, the new dean of the Steinhardt School of Education, was hired after helping to develop a similar online education program at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education. Brewer is a Labor Economist with no actual experience as either a teacher or teacher educator.

According to at least one former student who commented on the Rossier online program, "My colleagues agree, the online MAT at USC is a disaster. We all feel robbed of our time and money. I know many students who are not returning to the program after two terms because they are unhappy with the quality of the education and the lack of professionalism by the instructors. If all you're interested in is continuously studying theories, this may be the program for you. Anyone can access scholarly articles and become researchers without this program. You end up paying 50k+ for little support, oh wait... telephone support is available Mon-Fri from 8-5, if that works for you. Which by the way, that is technical support. This program is simply rolled over from the on-campus program- It is not working. The material and assignments are all predetermined. The professors have no control in altering their classes to fit the needs of their students. I could go on and on. Seriously, do not believe their promises. USC is simply a business trying to sell this no good product. I love teaching and the field of education."

I worry about the proposed NYU model because there actually are seriously flawed programs in place that it emulates. One involves charter schools hiring unqualified teachers and fast-tracking them through certification programs. It looks like NYU is trying to tap into that market. The other is the edTPA certification portfolio with video created by Stanford University's SCALE and administered by Pearson.

Since 2012 the Success Academy charter school network has partnered with Touro College in New York City. Under the partnership agreement, which is funded by Success Academy, Success staff teach Touro courses as adjuncts to the network's uncertified teachers. The program is designed so that enrollees earn master's degrees and teacher certification. According to Success CEO Eva Moskowitz, "Our intensive, immersive, school-based teacher training program could eventually become a formal graduate school program." Moskowitz also accuses traditional teacher preparation programs of being "completely inadequate."

These may really be better ways to educate teachers, although I do not think so. But if they are they should be introduced through thoughtful discussion and decisions should be based on research into their impact on children in schools, not on the latest whim of corporate reformers or universities seeking to expand into profitable markets.

I teach at one of Moskowitz's "completely inadequate" traditional teacher preparation programs. We focus on such antiquated concepts as teachers as curriculum creators and classroom decision-makers, planning lessons based on respect for and engaging the interests of diverse student populations, and continuous informal assessment so teachers can better address the needs of different learners. But in Moskowitz's Success Academy and teacher certification programs all students are the same, curriculum is scripted, teachers are not allowed to plan lessons or divert from prepared material, and students are continually prepped for tests. Teachers and students are interchangeable parts in a mass production factory system designed for control and to produce higher standardized test scores. In addition to the Success-Touro partnership, the Uncommon Schools, KIPP, and Achievement First charter school networks are offering similar fast-track certification and degree programs through something called the Relay Graduate School of Education.

In a number previous posts I have described the Stanford SCALE-Pearson edTPA teacher certification test. Its electronic portfolio includes lesson planning, a discussion of student teaching placement sites, videos of candidates interacting with K-12 students, their personal assessment of the lesson, and documentation of student learning. While each piece by itself makes sense, the package, which focuses on just three lessons and can be sixty pages long, takes so much time to complete that it detracts from the ability of student teachers to learn what they are supposed to learn, which is how to be effective beginning teachers who connect with students and help students achieve. The NYU intensive online evaluation of teaching looks suspiciously like edTPA.

With its new online program NYU joins such other academically suspect institutions of "higher education" offering teacher education programs such as the University of Phoenix, a football stadium without a team and a college without a college, Grand Canyon University, which has a website but apparently no actual physical address, and Western Governors University, a virtual university where students are expected to teach themselves with virtually no faculty support. Phoenix is currently on probation by the U.S. Defense Department for recruiting violations and under investigation by the Justice Department and federal Department of Education. Grand Canyon is the process of transitioning its status from for-profit to non-profit, a move that will allow it to avoid federal regulations, millions in taxes, and earn an immense pay-off for its principal investors.

I do not think New York University faculty or the New York State Board of Regents want to be identified with these programs. The Regents should deny approval for an online teacher certification plan and NYU faculty should make it clear that they will not participate in a bogus money-grabbing scheme.

To support my nomination to the New York State Board of Regents contact Steven McCutcheon, the State Assembly Program and Counsel Staff at mccutcheons@assembly.state.ny.us.

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