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Richard Milner, (615) 322-4503,
Dan Quinn, (517) 203-2940,

Policies Undermining Teacher Professionalism

Policy brief finds three education policies, now in vogue, have the likely effect of de-professionalizing teachers and teaching

EAST LANSING, Mich. (Feb. 28, 2013) – According to a recent PDK/Gallup Poll, Americans believe that that teacher preparation should be as rigorous or more selective than programs in engineering, business, pre-law and pre-medicine. This leads to the expansion of America's belief that teaching should be viewed as a profession. On the other hand, according to the recent MetLife survey results, teacher job satisfaction has dropped considerably over the past dozen years.

A new policy brief released today points out, such outcomes are the result of three of today's most trendy policies: (1) policies that evaluate teachers based on annual gains in students' standardized test scores, (2) fast-track teacher preparation and licensure programs, and (3) the use of narrowly focused curricula. This new policy brief concludes that those three policies have the likely effect of de-professionalizing teachers and teaching.

The brief, Policy Reforms and De-professionalization of Teaching, was written by Richard Milner of Vanderbilt University. It is published by the National Education Policy Center, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Milner is currently the Lois Autrey Betts Associate Professor of Education and Human Development and associate professor of education and founding director of the Learning, Diversity and Urban Studies Program in Vanderbilt University's Peabody College of Education and Human Development.

Milner points out that each of the three policies he examines can be rationalized as both increasing teacher professionalism while also lowering of the professional status of teachers.

Policies that evaluate teachers based on annual gains in students' standardized test scores, for instance, might seem to elevate teachers by emphasizing their role in fostering student achievement. But evaluating teachers based on their purported "value added" pressures them "to mechanically teach to tests" while "systematically devaluing the broader yet essential elements of teaching."

Similarly, fast-track teacher preparation programs like Teach For America (TFA), because they recruit from academic elites, may be framed as elevating teacher professionalism. But because they cannot build up deep teaching skills and because they assign inexperienced teachers to the most challenging schools, they effectively de-professionalize teaching. The two-year stint expected by TFA is also problematic; professionalism is undermined when teaching is viewed as a short visit between college and true profession.

Lastly, narrowly focused, highly scripted curricula, while providing a concrete definition of what teachers should cover, undermines professional status "by not allowing teachers to rely on their professional judgment to make curricular decisions for student learning."

Weighing the positive and negative effects of each reform policy, Milner concludes, "Taken together, these three policy reforms seem to undermine teaching as a profession."

In response, Milner recommends the following actions be taken: (1) a moratorium should be placed on the use of test-based teacher evaluation systems until a satisfactory level of accuracy has been achieved, (2) halting the expansion of fast-track teacher preparation programs until the broader, long-range effectiveness of existing programs is understood, and (3) the broadening of the curriculum and the decoupling of high-stakes consequences from test scores, which compel a narrowed curriculum.

Find Richard Milner's report, Policy Reforms and De-Professionalization of Teaching, on the GLC website:

Also find the brief on the National Education Policy Center website:

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