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The Mechanics
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Education Thu Nov 06 2008

My Endorsement for Secretary of Education

It shocked many education wonks when President-elect Barack Obama announced Linda Darling-Hammond as his campaign's education policy adviser.

Their pick would have more likely been a staffer from one of the big-city school districts that adhere to the a very simple orthodoxy. The formula is simple. Deprofessionalize teaching, hire fresh-faced Ivy-League graduates ready to do their two years of service in the classroom (that they would normally reserve for the non-profit sector), privatize everything from school services to curriculum, and make the bottom line as small as possible.

Darling-Hammond, a critic of the unmitigated disaster known as the No Child Left Behind Act, advocates policies that have been pushed by educators for years, and as they are ignored; the system erodes. Hammond is an advocate for high standards for teacher certification, lower class sizes, and increased funding for the classroom. These are all ideas that were pretty much the norm until profiteers seized the opportunity in informing education policy.

Hammond came under fire for her report on teacher certification where she advocated comprehensive teacher preparation over alternative certification (pdf). Part of the new model of educational infrastructure, pushed by big-city superintendents and the vendors they prop up, increases the number of Teach for America graduates in the teacher workforce. This is a program where a recent college grad devotes two years to teaching in an "inner-city school" without the benefit of a teacher certification program, like one offered to education majors. This keeps the bottom line low in that every two-to-three years, there's a new crop of teachers who are at the bottom rung of the pay scale. Teachers who don't become invested in their union, and don't question questionable practices. Darling-Hammond's report puts the effectiveness of these neophytes under the microscope.

She, along with her team of Standford researches studied 130,000 students in Houston public schools and found that teachers with state-approved certification outperformed their non-certificated counterparts and in many cases, outperformed Teach for America teachers.

The advocates for alternative certification programs like Teach for America employ what University of Illinois-Chicago professor Dr. Kevin Kumashiro calls "common sense framing" of the issue. "Doesn't it just make sense that since test scores are tanking when students are taught by certified teachers that they would be better off just taught by non-certified, Ivy-Leaguers?" There was no debate, no studies, just a "common sense" argument that was used to frame the issue.

Another "common sense" argument that separates Darling-Hammond from the pack is over merit pay. "If teachers' performance was incentivized, like in the private sector, this would spur teachers to do their best." Many feel that these incentives should be based on test scores; Hammond disagrees. She advocates a combination of career-ladder and peer-review as a gauge to merit pay. This approach is actually being considered by leaders from teachers unions.

Linda-Darling Hammond does not drink the anti-teacher Kool-Aid that is disputed by her studies. Although her experiences as a teacher in a public school classroom are limited, her devotion to intellectual honesty puts her far above anyone else speculated to be on President-elect Obama's shortlist. That is why she receives my endorsement.

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Praise / November 10, 2008 11:30 PM

I remember reading Darling-Hammond in Tim Shannahan's class and thinking how great it is to have researchers attempt to implement research-based methods within the teaching field. She used to teach. I'm with you. She understands what education's still all about.

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