Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Teaching and Learning
Peter S. Hlebowitsh
Following up on the educational reform initiatives of the 1990s and early 2000s, which are centered on the notion of accountability, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's Race to the Top initiative strives to bring such accountability down to the level of the individual teacher through the use of advanced statistical parsing of student achievement data. Through the calculation of "teacher value-added," a given teacher's "effectiveness" can be measured and ranked, hence assigned a value. Duncan's rhetoric around the issue, and the assumptions visible in the studies of teacher quality and effectiveness that he and other reformers cite, suggest that at long last we as a society will be able to know and to communicate just who our best and our worst teachers are. Such an ability will allow us as a polity, on this view, to direct public funding much more efficiently than has heretofore been possible: armed with this new knowledge, we can reward the best teachers to ensure that they do not abandon the profession for higher-paying employment, and cull the worst teachers so that they may be replaced with more effective personnel.
The newfound ability to distinguish between good and bad teachers also has transformative implications for teacher training programs. By analyzing the practice of the highest-quality teachers, one might discover "what works" in classrooms, the specific behaviors, skills, or mental states involved in highly effective teaching. Once discovered, these behaviors, skills, or mental states might then be given to pre-service teachers, which would dispense with what Duncan considers to be the overly theoretical and largely abstract curricula of current teacher education programs.
The problem outlined above is obviously philosophical in nature. The method of investigation involves a conceptual analysis of Race to the Top's teacher-quality and achievement-data initiatives, comparing the policies to the Secretary of Education's public rhetoric employed to market the policies to the public. Taking the public rhetoric as an expressing the various needs to which the policies will be responsive, this thesis tests the coherence of the underlying assumptions about teaching and learning, and assesses the conceptual fit between the needs visible in the rhetoric and the outcomes sought and measured according to the proposed policies. The thesis finds that Duncan's public rhetoric expresses largely unproblematic needs, fears, or disquietudes around questions of teacher quality, but that the policies intended to answer those needs are wholly insufficient to the task. At issue is a misconception of teaching as a skillful endeavor, a mistaken idea about what teaching is. This thesis concludes that the needs and desires expressed in Duncan's rhetoric do necessitate a response, but that any adequate response will require a different view of teaching and learning entirely. The thesis offers the fundamental requirements of a different notion of teaching and learning, one better suited to the needs of the public, as the Secretary of Education expresses them.
accountability, effective teaching
vi, 408 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 400-408).
Copyright 2013 Derek Gottlieb