Search This Blog

Oct 27, 2011

Dear Regents…

This is not an attempt to influence your vote, but an attempt to influence your deliberative process.

You are asked to regulate a professional community with an internal disagreement. One group of well-meaning and well-qualified people believe in A, and others believe in B. Both are committed and passionate. Who do you trust to make a decision? You do not have the luxury of time to examine the conflicting claims on their own merit. For example, RIDE believes that the certification system should no longer require professional development; it will be handled better by the new evaluation system. Others argue that this would be an unprecedented move, in sharp contrast with other states’ policies. Another example: a professional organization (RIMLE) believes teachers working in middle schools should be required to be certified in this area. RIDE staff believes these should be local hiring decisions, rather than centralized certification rules. How should such disputed be adjudicated? There are two ways, both developed within our democratic tradition.
  1. The first is to ask both sides to tell their own stories, and decide which is more convincing. RIMLE, for example, would have told you something like this: We are concerned that any middle level job opening can be claimed by any high school teacher with seniority, and principals may little say. RIDE has another story, also compelling: one district has recently decided to move its sixth grade into the middle school, and suddenly all their 6 grade teachers become unqualified to teach the same kids in a different building. The problem is that you heard the latter story, but not the former. RIMLE members cannot directly engage with the Board, and their input is actually summarized and responded to by RIDE, a party to the dispute. This is a conflict of interest. 
  2. The second way is to invite a third party, an expert who knows as much as both of these professional groups, but has no stake in the outcome of the debate. Courts do that all the time when judges and jury lack specialized training to weigh the evidence. Invite someone familiar with educational policy research from a neighboring state's university or a research center to testify. It is faster, and although you may not learn as much detail, at least you have another party checking the facts and conflicting claims. 
The same approaches can be taken with the evaluation/certification debate. Both sides are equally compelling; both can commandeer research evidence, arguments, anecdotes, and metaphors. We can (and did) debate those for hours on end, going into more and more professional nuances, imagining more and more intended and unintended consequences. Each side has its biases, and interests in the outcomes of the debate. This is why a non-professional citizen board like yours is so important; the interests of the public should be protected, and no profession should have a monopoly on running its own affairs. But protecting public interest also requires weighing in on disagreements among the professionals.

In the end, you would have to agree with one or the other side. But in a deliberative democracy, the process is more important than the outcome. And can you honestly tell what exactly does RIMLE have against the change? Do you know why do teachers object? Are you sure you understand the Higher Education community’s position before deciding it is wrong? If you can and do, cast your vote. If not, perhaps another look is warranted.


For those unfamiliar with the debate:

Rhode Island Department of education has developed a proposal to revise the State’s educator certification policy. It is due to be voted on by the Board of Regents on November 3, 2011. Many of the provisions were supported by various professional groups, but some were also strongly objected. See, for example, RIC’s Feinstein School of Education letter, and the Resolution of the Certification Policy Advisory Board. There is also the RIDE-compiled Summary of the public comments and recommendation, which in my view, does not do justice to representing the opposing arguments. The three public hearings were recorded. The controversy is mainly around three items:

  • Teachers object to the immediate link between the new teacher evaluation system and the certification policy. Union leaders and many teachers actually support exploring the idea, but feel that the evaluation system (which makes student achievement an important part of teacher evaluation) is just too new, it has not been piloted, and we don’t know if it can generate reliable data. RIDE responds that the actual decisions are a few years away, and if the evaluation data is no good, they would be the first to pull the plug on using it for certification decisions. The issue is – should the safety mechanism be statutory or administratively decided. 
  • Institutions of Higher Education object to removal of professional development requirements from the certification policy. They believe de-valuing graduate education removes an important teacher quality assurance mechanism and sends a wrong message about the value of educational credentials in general. RIDE team believes teacher PD should all be embedded into curriculum work, and is best determined locally, by principals and districts. The issues is – should teachers keep going to school, or their professional growth can be self-directed and employer-directed. 
  • The proposal keeps the Middle Level Certification area, but no longer requires teachers working in middle schools to have it. Secondary teachers will be able to teach 7-12 grades, and Elementary teachers – 1-6 grades anywhere, in any school setting. The issue is whether teacher qualifications are only age-specific, or also setting-specific.

No comments:

Post a Comment