In an Oct. 22, 2010 speech to teacher educators at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan proclaimed that revolutionary change in the education of teachers is essential if we are to solve the problems facing U.S. society and U.S. schools. Toward the end of his speech, he declared that a standardized performance-based system for assessing teachers was key to bringing about this change.
Punctuating his speech with military and corporate metaphors, Duncan declared that the supreme purpose of public schooling is to keep America competitive, and that the decline in our standing in the world order can be attributed to the fact that the institutions that prepare teachers “are doing a mediocre job.” Duncan’s conclusion: “Teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change, not evolutionary tinkering.”
Duncan’s plan to reform teacher education takes as a given the need for corporate, top-down management, a view he shares with virtually every major corporate think tank, the Heritage Foundation, the Business Roundtable, and the Broad, Gates, and Walton Family foundations. According to Duncan, the “core mission” of teacher education programs is to bring about “substantial increases in student achievement.” He proposes to accomplish this by requiring credential candidates to pass a “performance-based” standardized exit exam that will measure both their competence to teach and the quality of their credential program (just as pupils’ scores on standardized tests are said to measure the quality of their teachers and schools). Teacher credential programs whose candidates score well on the exam would be rewarded, while those that do not would be subject to punitive sanctions. Part of the $4.3 billion in Race to the Top funds would provide resources and incentives to construct and promote these assessments.
Near the end of his Teachers College speech, he named the particular exam he had in mind—PACT (Performance Assessment for California Teachers). Few listening to Duncan’s speech had heard of PACT, but it has been a fixture in California for several years, and many teacher educators and teacher credential candidates in California are, unfortunately, quite familiar with it. This article was written in the hope that the rest of the nation might learn from and not replicate our experience.
The Lesser of Two Evils?
In 1998 the California legislature passed a law requiring teacher credential candidates to pass a state-approved high-stakes exit exam. Many credential programs in California, including San Francisco State University (where I teach in the College of Education), chose PACT, devised by members of the education faculties at Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, and several other institutions. The alternative to PACT was CalTPA, a system designed by the state in consultation with the Educational Testing Service. Our College of Education elected to use PACT because it purported to be qualitative, not quantitative, and to assess “authentic” teaching performance in “real-world” contexts.