Children all over the country, even small ones, are suddenly finding themselves fretting about whether or not they’re “college and career ready.” The reform community throws this buzzphrase around recklessly and carelessly, primarily to scare the general public into thinking that public schools are not preparing children for their futures—and secondarily to promote the privatization agenda that’s a logical outgrowth of such a claim.
Yet there’s little talk about the ultimate irony of the issue of “college and career readiness”: at the very same time reformers insist that “college and career readiness” is of supreme importance, they diminish and devalue the educations and careers of the teachers who are tasked with edifying our children–and promote the idea that one doesn’t need to be an expert in anything related to education in order to run a school district.
At the forefront of the reform debate is the issue of teacher preparedness, and polluting the public’s perception of what qualifies one to be a teacher are reformers like Jeb Bush, who suggest that traditional university teacher-training programs are ineffective. Teach for America, an organization that trains college graduates who did not pursue coursework in the education field in an intensive five-week summer “institute”—and then places these newly-identified “teachers” in inner-city classrooms—are taking advantage of attacks on traditional credential programs and finding favor with districts looking to reduce costs by laying off career educators and hiring novices. Most Teach for America corps members, as they’re called, teach for a couple of years and then move on to bigger and better careers in finance, law, or even educational administration—as if five weeks of study and two years in the classroom make one an expert in the field. The message TFA sends is simple: anyone can be a teacher, regardless of whether or not he devoted his higher-education experience to studying how children learn, and there is no value in a person’s experience or commitment to the education profession. Further, the fact that TFA corps members land in schools that serve a disproportionate percentage of minority, special education, or ELL students advances the belief that untrained temps are the most equipped people to teach students who need the most help–and that experienced teachers who have spent their adult lives working with such populations are no longer needed.
Reformers who rally behind programs like Teach for America are the same ones who believe that continuing education isn’t important for professionals who seek to improve their craft. Lawmakers in North Carolina, for example, just passed legislation that eliminates pay increases for teachers who earn advanced degrees after they begin teaching. So traditionally-trained teachers aren’t good enough, but they shouldn’t bother trying to get better. How hypocritical must one be to insist that teachers aren’t preparing students for college and career readiness—and simultaneously disrespect one of the nation’s most important professions and the role continuing education plays in teacher improvement?
And in New Jersey, Chris Christie just appointed Paymon Rouhanifard, a 32-year-old former Goldman Sachs investor with virtually no experience in education, as the State Superintendent of the Camden school district. Not surprisingly, Rouhanifard is a Teach for America alum—so he only has two years of experience teaching children. Yet Rouhanifard, who holds undergraduate degrees in economics and political science (no doubt part of what makes him appealing to reformers, who see our children as means for profit and political gain), will earn $210,000 per year at a job for which he isn’t qualified; he’ll operate under a provisional certificate while he participates in a two-year program that will teach him how to be the superintendent of a school district. In the meantime, it seems, Christie and Cerf are confident in Rouhanifard’s ability to politick and number-crunch the district to success. Again, the message is clear: traditionally-trained, credentialed, career educators are the problem—and politicians and non-teachers know better the needs of children and academic communities.
It’s clear that reformers themselves have a very specific definition of what constitutes “college and career readiness,” yet their definition is unclear to the rest of us. For what college does standardized testing prepare students? for what career? From virtually the moment children enter school, they learn that only people who possess a very specific set of skills will ever be “college and career ready.” A child who’s a musical genius but who performs poorly on standardized testing, for example, is not “college and career ready” if he can’t pass standardized tests in English and math–even if he wants to pursue an education and career in music. But instead of helping such students to develop their talents, public schools will be forced to focus their efforts on making sure those students learn how to take tests in order to earn the “college and career ready” stamp.
In such a climate, students have very little reason to even believe that “college and career readiness” is important, particularly when the people who use that phrase consistently devalue and undermine career educators and their profession in general–and particularly when the people who use that phrase determine for children which colleges, subject areas, and careers are important and which are not.