Wednesday April 30th must have been a long, grueling day for Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Catherine Nolan, subjected to nearly seven straight hours of hearing how panic inducing, demoralizing, and intrusive the edTPA process has been for educators and their students across the state. Other legislators from the Higher Education Committee and the Education Committee of the State Assembly were present for much of the day, including Steve Englebright, Patricia Fahy, Ellen Jaffee, Barbara Lifton, Chad Lupinacci, Amy Paulin, Edward Ra, Daniel O’Donnell, and Shelley Mayer. The controversies, difficulties, unintended consequences, concerns, and burdens of edTPA went on and on, despite the presenters’ best efforts to avoid redundancy and make last minute changes to their prepared remarks as they listened to their colleagues’ presentations.
I am happy to report some good news: the democratic process is alive and well, and there was no need for Powerpoint. It was good old-fashioned questions and answers, and yes, even dialogue and discussion. At the end, Deborah Glick promised there would be more to come and some next steps announced in the coming days. The message came through loud and clear that the so-called “safety net” compromise reached between the State Education Department and Board of Regents April 29th was completely insufficient to address all the concerns raised, and amounted to little more than a token white flag of political surrender, albeit a welcome one.
The bad news is there is clearly an abyss, a disappointing lack of communication between policy makers, legislators, and educators, and clever corporate profiteers have figured out how to take advantage of this Achilles’ heel. An end-of-day tweet from Deborah Glick pointed out the hearing was “eye opening – corporate involvement in education isn’t going to be an improvement.” When told by Professor Douglas Selwyn of Plattsburgh State University what Linda Darling-Hammond said at AERA, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan lost her patience and said the most recent letter she had received from Darling-Hammond was “wishy-washy and unintelligible” leading her to wonder if she was for edTPA or not. Politics is about making decisions, she pointed out, and it was clear the lawmakers are hungry for helpful information.
At times I felt I was witness to a reunion of sorts, when people who haven’t seen each other in years but know each other well are eager for news and catching up. “Tell me, what about this, and what happened to her, and where is so-and-so now?” I was amazed at the legislators’ insightful questions, and genuine interest in knowing what we thought. For example, Catherine Nolan said she hears a common complaint from teachers that their programs did not sufficiently prepare them for the realities of teaching, and she wanted to know how we respond to that accusation. She then challenged the teacher educators present in the room to speak up and show that there is no crisis of “bad” teacher education programs and that we are doing a good job. She was outraged to learn that a student wishing to contest a failing score on the edTPA must pay a $200 fee to Pearson and called the policy “a disgrace.” She was thrilled to get a 1993 AERJ article by Wilson and Wineburg from Professor David Gerwin of Queens College, and asked for additional feedback on how edTPA is intruding in negative ways on the nationally recognized curriculum of teacher preparation programs. Even when their eyes must have been glazing over after more than five hours, and it was time to hear from some teacher candidates on their experiences with the edTPA, the assembly members demonstrated caring concern in understanding the students’ issues in detail, and how their confidence and feelings of readiness to teach were affected by those experiences.
It’s hard to imagine how those hoping for a full time teaching position in these times can hold up under the considerable demands and pressures of the new requirements for licensure. Catherine Cornbleth, Professor Emerita of the University of Buffalo, has described the changes being imposed on teacher preparation as a “day one” mandate, that is, graduates of programs should be prepared “to teach anyone, anywhere – on day one!” She worries that “to expect expert teaching on day one is expecting way too much no matter how well prepared, tested, and mentored the new teacher might be. I would not volunteer to be the first root canal patient of the new, highly credentialed oral surgeon. Would you?” (2014, p. 106). It’s curious how the medical analogy keeps cropping up, and it leads me to think of scenes from Grey’s Anatomy where the surgeons in training play out their personal dramas, mistakes, and foibles over the open bodies of their patients. I think beginning teachers demonstrate far greater humanity and professionalism, and in my experience at least, they enter the journey to becoming a teacher with a burning desire to bring joy into the lives of children in their charge. It pains me to see their noble ambitions reduced to numbers on a test score, which, at the end of the day, is what they get from edTPA, EAS, ALST, and the CST. That’s why I tell my student teachers to go to graduation, and I go find them before the ceremony to take a group picture of us in our caps and gowns. It may be old fashioned, but it’s easy to put on a genuine smile for that photo.