Sixty-seven of the 68 graduate students in education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst are refusing to participate in a pilot program that is testing the effectiveness of a new teacher licensing system currently being developed by Stanford University in partnership with Pearson. The pilot program asks student teachers to send Pearson two short videos of themselves teaching as well as a filled out 40-page exam. The students' main point of dissatisfaction is the opinion that the current licensing system, which involves up to 6 months of observation by experienced teachers, is superior in identifying good teachers and evaluating their skill levels.
"This is something complex and we don't like seeing it taken out of human hands," said Barbara Madeloni, who runs the university's high school teacher training program. "We are putting a stick in the gears."
Although the new system is being tested at over 200 college campuses across the country, according to the Stanford development team, UMass was the only school that expressed reservations about participating. It's hard to say if the refusal to participate will have an adverse effect on the student teachers down the road, especially as it is predicted that, contrary to developers' assurance that the new system is supposed to be a supplement to the current licensing practices, many states will make it a mandatory part of getting a teaching certification. Failure to pass the exam would mean the teachers wouldn't be eligible to teach in the state.
Six states have already committed to adopting the new system once it goes live, including New York, Illinois, and Washington. The education authorities of Massachusetts have yet to make a decision about the adoption.
Another concern expressed by the UMass students is the lack of strong privacy controls. Teaching videos inevitably also contain footage of the students, and while parents haven't expressed reservations about allowing academics from the university to view them, they might have second thoughts when they learn that the videos are being collected by a large corporation instead.
However, those working on the project believe that the privacy issue is overblown.
Raymond Pecheone, a Stanford professor, said he had worked closely with Pearson to ensure extensive confidentiality protections. He said the student videos can't be downloaded or duplicated by scorers, nor used for marketing and promotion or training teachers.
If the Teacher Performance Assessment is adopted as a requirement, complying with it will not be cheap. It costs $300 per person to participate, and the cost is expected to be covered by the candidate.