THE BLOG
11/09/2015 07:12 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2016

Battle in Illinois Over the 'McDonaldization' of Teacher Education

Bob Sanders is the vice president of content and scoring management at Pearson North America, part of Pearson Education, which brags it is the "world's leading learning company" but is also the largest high-stakes testing company. Last summer Sanders was quoted in the New York Times comparing the scoring of high-stakes standardized Common Core-aligned exams to making hamburgers at McDonald's. "McDonald's has a process in place to make sure they put two patties on that Big Mac. We do that exact same thing. We have processes to oversee our processes, and to make sure they are being followed."

Just to make sure our children are processed like hamburgers, Pearson is busy using the same "process" to evaluate prospective teachers using a test called the edTPA, or Teacher Performance Assessment. Some of my student teachers forced to submit a video and portfolio to Pearson for evaluation think TPA really stands for Toxic Pearson Affliction.

I teach at Hofstra University in the New York metropolitan area and most of my commentary on Pearson and edTPA has focused on New York State teacher certification. There has been a lot to write about because state certification exams have been tossed out by the courts as racially biased and the Board of Regents, the accrediting agency, has been forced to offer waivers and substitutions for edTPA and other Pearson exams. On October 28, 2015, the deputy commissioner for the Office of Higher Education had to rescind an edTPA memo issued in July 2015 because it directly contradicted official test instructions. Of course the new memo was issued as a clarification without any acknowledgement of the earlier error.

Recent research by professor at Northeastern Illinois University published in the Teachers College Record highlights anti-Pearson, anti-edTPA outrage in Illinois and points to the national scope of the campaign to rescue teacher education in the United States from the testing companies. They must have hit the mark because Pearson's edTPA partners at Stanford University felt compelled to reply.

In March 2015, Alison Dover, Brian Schultz, Katy Smith and Timothy Duggan of Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago challenged the outsourcing of teacher evaluation to Pearson. They concluded that edTPA and Pearson were "undermining teacher preparation by marginalizing the local experts best situated to evaluate candidates' performance" and at the same time were promoting "cottage industries -- including those related to the 'tutoring' and scoring of edTPA -- that are entirely unregulated." edTPA, developed by Stanford University's Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning and Equity (SCALE), the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE), and Pearson Education, is now a required for teacher certification in twelve states and is being considered in a number of others.

Student teachers in their first few weeks in the classroom are required to create and submit a video and assessment package that might -- they and I both emphasize might -- make sense for evaluating teachers with multiple years of experience, but certainly not for the rawest pre-beginners.

Meanwhile, the entire system has been corrupted by the privatization of the process. As part of their study, the research team posed as student teachers seeking assistance and contacted a private company that claimed to offer "step‐by‐step support" and "constructive feedback" to candidates completing the edTPA process. The company asked for $885 "to rewrite part of a candidate's edTPA portfolio, help the candidate select video clips, and continue revising the portfolio until the candidate passed. Moreover, they indicated that they had already assisted 50 candidates with edTPA and had a "100% pass rate," in part because some of their tutors were SCALE‐trained edTPA scorers who knew how to effectively align portfolios to the official rubrics." The research team found "similar services are advertised on Craigslist, YouTube, and a growing number of personal websites."

These "tutoring" groups so bastardize the certification process that New York State is threatening to check portfolios for plagiarism and cheating. But of course the State Education Department never sees the portfolios because they are submitted directly to Pearson.

The Illinois researchers also discovered that "Despite Pearson's claim that scorers are well qualified, training for edTPA scorers consists primarily of calibration activities." I am not sure what that means but I think it is part of the McDonalds-Pearson standardization process to make sure every hamburger, I mean teacher, is cooked exactly the same.

One member of the research team applied for a position scoring edTPAs for Pearson. According to their report Pearson targets as reviewers "current or retired P‐12 teachers, university faculty, and student teaching supervisors -- the same people considered unqualified to evaluate their own candidates." The researcher/applicant was offered the job by Pearson "after a five minute telephone interview that included no discussion of curriculum, pedagogy, student learning, or any other aspect of teacher preparation." Pearson promised to provide "19‐24 hours of calibration training (compensated at $10 per hour), after which time she would have to spend four to six hours per week, over a period of at least three months, scoring edTPAs." Pearson pays its edTPA graders "$75 for each 50‐ 80 page portfolio" and "suggests scorers spend two to three hours on each portfolio." The low pay rate more than ensures that graders moonlight with the test prep companies.

Pearson's SCALE partner launched the academic counter-offensive against the Illinois group, also publishing in the Teachers College Record. The SCALE team claimed, "Based on our deep and long‐term involvement with the initiative, we counter their assertions drawing on a range of scholarly and experiential evidence that suggests their analysis is partial at best." They also defended the recruitment and training of scorers as "rigorous." While the response offers little in the way of evidence, it does claim, "edTPA, in intent, architecture, and scoring, is modeled directly on the processes used by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards for certification of accomplished teachers."

The SCALE team apparently missed the irony in their own statement. National Board certification is for accomplished teachers. They want to employ the same process and standards for candidates at the start of their training who are not yet certified in the profession.

Anyone for a Pearson Big Mac?