Study: Trendy ‘reforms’ harming teaching and education support professions

Trendy education “reforms” being pushed by special interest groups are harming the teaching and education support professions at a time when the public demands greater professionalization of educators, according to a new policy brief.

The public views public education as a profession: A recent PDK/Gallup poll revealed that 75 percent of Americans believe teacher preparation should be at least as rigorous as programs in engineering, business, pre-law and pre-medicine.

However, three of today’s most popular education policy reforms — evaluating  teachers based on annual gains in students’ standardized test scores; fast-tracking teacher preparation programs; and implementing narrowly focused curricula — can actually de-professionalize teaching.

Here in Michigan, proposals like these come on top of attacks made to school employees’ wages, health care benefits and retirements.


In his policy brief, “Policy Reforms and De-professionalization of Teaching,” Vanderbilt University education professor Richard Milner said each of those three popular reforms can be rationalized as both increasing teacher professionalism while also lowering of the professional status of teachers.

For example, policies that evaluate teachers based on annual gains in students’ standardized test scores might seem to elevate teachers by emphasizing their role in fostering student achievement.

But evaluating teachers based on their purported “value added” ratings pressures them “to mechanically teach to tests” while “systematically devaluing the broader yet essential elements of teaching,” Milner said.

Similarly, fast-track teacher preparation programs like Teach For America may be framed by proponents as elevating teacher professionalism, since they recruit from academic elites.

However, because they can’t build up deep teaching skills and they assign inexperienced teachers to the most challenging schools, programs like Teach For America effectively de-professionalize teaching, Milner said.

The two-year stint expected by Teach For America is also problematic, Milner said, as professionalism is undermined when teaching is viewed as a short visit between college and “true” profession.

Lastly, narrowly focused and highly scripted curricula may provide a concrete definition of what teachers should cover, but it also undermines professional status “by not allowing teachers to rely on their professional judgment to make curricular decisions for student learning,” Milner said.

While these reforms seem very “teacher” focused, they also impact ESP and higher education members who are part of the broader education community.

Milner said education policymakers should take the following actions to stem the de-professionalization of teaching:

1.      Institute a moratorium on test-based teacher evaluation systems until a satisfactory level of accuracy has been achieved.

2.      Halt the expansion of fast-track teacher preparation programs until the broader, long-range effectiveness of existing programs is understood.

3.      Broaden the curriculum and decouple high-stakes consequences from test scores, which compel a narrowed curriculum.

Milner’s policy brief was published by the National Education Policy Center, with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.