Monday, December 19, 2005

Evaluating the "Disposition" Of Prospective Teachers

The Fordham Foundation has more on the disturbing trend at ed schools of evaluating the so-called "disposition" of teacher candidates.

Let's be clear on the goal here: to weed out people of a conservative bent. Someone doesn't believe that all cultures are equally worthy? Outta there. Someone doesn't support affirmative action or believe in "white privilege" or thinks Stanley Williams should have been executed? Doesn't have the proper disposition to be a teacher.

The entire essay is a good one. Here's the summary:

The standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Excellence (NCATE) are of critical import for America's future teaching corps and for K-12 education in general and will wield disproportionate influence for decades to come. Over the past fifteen years, 25 states have outsourced the approval of teacher preparation programs to NCATE by adopting or adapting its standards as their own; the other 25 have various "partnerships" with the organization. Which makes it all the more disturbing that central to these standards is the call for teachers to possess certain "dispositions" such as particular attitudes toward "social justice." As Professor William Damon of Stanford University explains in Fordham's latest Fwd: Arresting Insights in Education, NCATE's framing of the "dispositions" issue has given education schools "unbounded power over what candidates may think and do." This is leading to (understandable) charges of ideological arm-twisting and Orwellian mind-control. A must-read for state policy makers and others, who might reconsider whether being accredited by NCATE is evidence of quality or something far more sinister.

Here are some important points.

The only protection against the risks of such manipulation is to set limits on the standards of assessment that are used to evaluate teaching candidates. Principles for doing so include:

  1. It is acceptable to assess skills, knowledge, and understandings that are imparted in training and derive from the established knowledge base of education. For example, an aspiring math teacher needs to know math and have the skill to communicate it to novices, all of which can be learned and tested. Such knowledge and skill may be examined.
  2. It is not acceptable to assess particular attitudes and beliefs related to social/political ideologies. For example, a candidate’s belief systems regarding economic redistribution, the politics of multi-culturalism, the implications of religious faith and its expression, whom we should vote for in the next election, or even whether all our national wildernesses should be turned into golf courses, are none of an assessor’s business. General beliefs directly related to the candidate’s capacity and motivation to teach are appropriate to examine: for example, Teach for America quite reasonably questions its candidates about whether or not they truly believe that all children can learn. But when such questioning wanders into the realm of social/political ideology, it is out of bounds.
  3. It is acceptable to assess personal characteristics that are essential to the job of teaching, including character virtues such as honesty, responsibility, and diligence. Assessments of such should be based on definitive behavioral evidence of the presence or lack of the virtue in question. For example, if the candidate has demonstrated a predilection towards dishonesty by plagiarizing his or her own assignments and lying about it, this would be a legitimate part of the candidate’s assessment record.
  4. It is not acceptable to assess personal characteristics that have only a speculative relationship with teaching ability. For example, some candidates are temperamentally shy while others are gregarious, and likely a case could be made for the advantages of one or the other in classrooms or tutorials with students. But (as far as I know) there is no evidence to support such claims, and therefore there is no valid reason to discriminate among candidates on this basis. Where personal characteristics are concerned, only those that affect job performance and ethical comportment in a direct and unequivocal way should be considered, and objective evidence of the characteristics in question must be used.

This seems eminently reasonable to me.

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