The NEA’s Penchant for Bad Analogy

Another RI Blogger has caught an interesting bit of the education debate:

Ok, I can understand why the assistant executive director of the teachers’ union would be upset, for one [Teaching for America teachers] are not dues-paying NEA members. If additional teachers are needed, of course he will want more full time, dues-paying teachers employed. Second, many of the numbers and results that these TFA teachers are showing are making his members look bad. TFA injects energy into the schoools that even they admit isn’t sustainable by the same people long term. Yet we keep the teachers in the classrooms for 20 years or more.
One other aside that is wrong with Crowley’s analogy is teaching is an art and being a surgeon is a science. Do we require painters to get an education so they can be professional painters? Do we require singers and other musicians? No. Those are arts that you either can do or can’t do. Either you can teach, or you can’t. An education can get you better at it, but skills in the arts is something that you have.

He’s reviewing an article about the innovative teacher-recruitment organization by David Scharfenberg in the Providence Phoenix, and the comment is from National Education Association Rhode Island Assistant Executive Director Patrick Crowley, who predictably is sour on the notion of expediting the teacher-certification of college graduates from other fields:

To contend that a college graduate with no formal training is qualified to teach, he suggests, is to contend that teaching is something less than a profession; a task worthy of amateurs. It is an attitude, he says, that would seem absurd in other fields.
“I know how to use a knife and I went to college,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I can be a surgeon.”

I’d suggest that Crowley’s analogy is actually flawed in a way that doesn’t require any such distinctions between art and science. Indeed, the art-science duality is an overstated factor in general, since most professions contain elements of both. Even a painter does well to understand the science of art — the theory and history behind the craft. The art of a profession comes in finding a way that one’s own proclivities can be leveraged for maximum benefit of the end goal — whether that is creating compelling canvases or conveying intellectual concepts to children.
To return to the surgeon-teacher comparison, one could argue that teacher education programs are akin to curricula that give would-be surgeons in-depth review of the use of scalpels and patient-relations as their main focus, while a hypothetical Surgeons For America takes biology majors and allows them expedited lessons in the practice of working with an actual human body. Put differently, the question is whether it’s better for a surgeon to know how to manipulate the organs or to know what the organs actually do and where they actually are.
Both routes will work, but in certain subjects, at least, it’s not unreasonable to expect a content expert to be able to master the practice of teaching more effectively than an education-theory expert could master the content. After all, even those educated in the science of teaching have to learn the practice over time.

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Bob in Portsmouth
Bob in Portsmouth
10 years ago

Have you noticed that private schools do not require a “teaching certificate”, while public schools do?

tcc3
tcc3
10 years ago

What is your point Bob? That a teaching cert is some indicator of whether someone will be a good educator. Private schools get rid of bad teachers a lot more easily than public schools.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

The other thing that stands out to me in the Phoenix article is that TFA stresses “keep changing, keep trying until you find the thing that really works”. In talking to my public school teachers, they’re actually told the opposite. They’re being given a program, for example “Investigational Math” and told “Teach this way, do no deviate, because this way works.” Is there any one way to teach something to everyone? Of course not. Some people are better siting and listening, others better with the Socratic Method, others better by doing with trial and error.
I have been a teacher, teaching very technical skills that were both conception and factual. I constantly worked on new and different ways to present the information and often walked into my classroom with at least 2-3 different ways to present the same information, as often one group of students would get it first time around and then later, some others would want more help and I’d re-present it a different way for them. That often helped. It sounds like this is what TFA is trying to do. It also sounds like it is something that some public school systems are trying to get away from.
Teaching is an art. Teachers are artists who are smart and creative. Many of the school districts are trying to take the art and creativity out of teaching. That’s unfortunate. I believe that is the case because of the vast minority who do not belong in a classroom, who are lazy and fail the students but there’s no easy way to get them out of the classroom. Why? Because “there’s no way to evaluate a teacher.” So rather than go down that fight, then standardize and force all the teachers to follow one method.
It’s really a shame.

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

I took Bob’s comment to mean that the teaching certificate is overrated. It is actually no indicator about one’s ability to teach. Private schools have existed for many, many years and a lot of those don’t require a state teaching certificate.
A teaching certificate has a lot to do with CYA by elected public school officials who otherwise would have no idea who to hire to be a teacher, because they’re incapable of judging good teachers from bad.

tcc3
tcc3
10 years ago

Patrick,
if that is what he meant then I stand (sit) corrected.

Glockster
Glockster
10 years ago

Not sure where these facts come from but TFA teachers do in fact pay union dues and in the words of the national AFT president, “They make great union members.” (I was in the room when it was said.) I think the only issue they have with TFA is that sometimes it bypasses their precious seniority process.
As for comparing public and private school teachers, you’re being absolutely foolish. The clientèle is completely different. They can choose which students they keep and push out, they can enforce whatever discipline they choose, and so on. Even the worst teachers can teach a willing student.
I welcome the day when they’ll send the kids from CF high to all the surrounding charters and private schools. We’ll see once and for all if these schools are capable of solving the problem.
BTW didn’t a private company take over the Hartford CT district a number of years ago? Didn’t work out too well did it? They pulled out after 14 years of failure.

tcc3
tcc3
10 years ago

How about we give vouchers and allow for school choice?

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

We need separation of School and State. Give the parents the choice. They can home school, they can go to religious schools, traditional private schools or the incompetent and failed Atheist Left, politically correct AFT and NEA schools.
School Choice needs to be THE conservative issue of the century. Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and the lower income income “base” of the marxist party all love it, while the commissars fear it like a crucifix.

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Back in RI visiting family for the holidays.
Perhaps I should catch up on some of the local headlines. Let’s see… NEARI administrator arrested for impersonating public official… firemen scamming the pension system… bankrupt city of Central Falls teacher union holding “sick outs”… recycled hack politicians being appointed to every post in the Chafee administration… senate majority leader hired directly into lobbyist position… 9% sales tax looming…
Gee, why did I ever decide to leave this wonderful state? Ah yes, because I wanted a job that doesn’t require campaign contributions to get.
You know, I didn’t believe it at first myself, but “elected official” is not synonymous with “made man” in some states. And “municipal employee” is not synonymous with “union thug.”
It’s a big world out there. Do your family a favor and load up the moving van. RI is a lost cause.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
10 years ago

RI is a lost cause. Posted by Dan at December 23, 2010 11:19 PM Likely you are right. Though a part of me wants to believe that after 2 years of “all progressive” governance the suburbs will rise in fury and give the “progressives” the same sort of forced teabagging they endured nationally on November 2. As a Christmas gift to beleaguered taxpayers who have been told for decades that the unsustainable union pensions are somehow “vested” from yesterday’s NY Times-sleep well union thieves: PRICHARD, Ala. — This struggling small city on the outskirts of Mobile was warned for years that if it did nothing, its pension fund would run out of money by 2009. Right on schedule, its fund ran dry. Multimedia Slide Show Where the Pension Checks Stopped Enlarge This Image Meggan Haller for The New York Times Last week, retirees asked the City Council for some help before Christmas. More Photos » Enlarge This Image Meggan Haller for The New York Times After having good credit for years, Nettie Banks, 68, a retired police and fire dispatcher who worked for Prichard for 25 years, declared bankruptcy when her pension checks stopped coming. More Photos » Then Prichard did something that pension experts say they have never seen before: it stopped sending monthly pension checks to its 150 retired workers, breaking a state law requiring it to pay its promised retirement benefits in full. Since then, Nettie Banks, 68, a retired Prichard police and fire dispatcher, has filed for bankruptcy. Alfred Arnold, a 66-year-old retired fire captain, has gone back to work as a shopping mall security guard to try to keep his house. Eddie Ragland, 59, a retired police captain, accepted help from colleagues, bake sales and collection jars after he was shot by a robber, leaving… Read more »

Tom W
Tom W
10 years ago

Ah, similar to Dan (I’m not visiting RI) I’m not working today and decided to look in. All I can say is “ditto.” After over a year out of RI I have no regrets, would never move back to live, and wouldn’t recommend it to others (for those who can afford it, perhaps a “second home” there, but under no circumstances for taxable residency or in which to locate a business operation. Rather we regale people with stories of how screwed up the state is, and to never ever consider establishing residency there (I suspect that this is also true of tens of thousands of other “RI expatriots” and that this is one reason RI has such bad “word of mouth” and so ranks so low in surveys of business climate). At this point, my wife and I only wish we’d escaped RI years (if not decades) ago. The real shame is that it needn’t be this way. RI is a physically beautiful state, is blessed with being strategically located between NYC and Boston, and is small enough so that in theory government could be well run, efficient and responsive. But alas the prevailing culture (not universal, but dominant culture) is to accept corruption, mediocrity (or less) in everything, “working the system” instead of making an honest living, and “screw what’s right, I got mine” not only as acceptable, but almost as badges of honor. For all its potential, RI seems determined to follow the lead of Detroit and Newark and … the cratered roads of RI are but an early and tangible manifestation of the rot that permeates the government and civic culture there. Some have said that it’ll take fiscal collapse before RI wakes up and starts to turn around. Given the prevailing culture, I’m not sure that… Read more »

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

An old time Democrat who owes a close family member of mine a political favor was recently appointed to a high position by soon to be governor Chafee. I got an enthusiastic call from said family member asking me if I wanted him to cash in the favor and get me a job so I could move back to RI. I thanked him but declined, telling him that I was very happy in my current job. I didn’t say the reason I was thanking him, which was for reminding me exactly why I left Rhode Island in the first place. This state is all about who you know, never how qualified you are. To name one example of hundreds, look at judges from neighboring states: Harvard Law, Boston College Law, Chicago Law, etc. I saw recently 5 or 6 judges were appointed in RI, all New England Law, Suffolk Law, and that incestuous bottom tier spawning pool Roger Williams pops up everywhere you turn. And you can bet your bottom dollar they had maxed out Democratic campaign contributions for several years running. I was told point blank by the hiring official when I applied to the Attorney General’s office: start making Democratic campaign contributions early. They remember their friends. Nobody even sees anything wrong with this in RI, it’s just how it’s always been, and how it always will be. This is a pay to play state, and that will NEVER change because everyone in power benefits from the status quo and the Feds don’t want to touch this rotting, complacent, and entirely unnewsworthy state with a 10 foot pole. The strange thing is that you’d never in a million years suggest that somebody move to RI from another state, because RI has so many obvious problems and so little… Read more »

Dan
Dan
10 years ago

Say, that would make a good New Years resolution for the producers and uncorrupted left in this state: get out of RI by 2012.

EMT
EMT
10 years ago

Not sure where these facts come from but TFA teachers do in fact pay union dues and in the words of the national AFT president, “They make great union members.”
Not surprising, considering that so many of them are Ivy League grads (40% of the Yale Class of 2008 applied, by way of example).

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