Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Weber and NCLB

Weber's (1946) article on the bureaucratization of society applies to NCLB, specifically with respect to the law's requirement of "highly qualified" teachers, as assessed via examination.

In California, prospective K-8 multiple subject teachers must pass two examinations - the CSET (California Subject Examination for Teachers) and the CBEST (California Basic Educational Skills Test). The CBEST assesses reading, math, and writing skills and costs $41. The CSET assesses multiple subjects (those elementary teachers teach) and costs $70 per subtest (there are 3 subtests: reading, language, literature, history, and social science; math and science; and physical education, human development, and visual and performing arts). If you don't pass one subset, you must re-take it (and pay the fee again). Therefore the total cost (if you pass all tests the first time) is $251.

Prior to NCLB, prospective teachers could either pass both tests OR pass the CBEST and request a waiver for the CSET because they had completed a specified number of coursework units (I think it was 45 semester units) in a variety of subjects. Liberal Studies majors often took this second option. When NCLB was passed in Jan 2002, it required passage of a subject matter test as the ONLY avenue for demonstration of multiple subjects skills. Thus, waivers were eliminated. PROSPECTIVE TEACHERS MUST NOW PASS BOTH TESTS IN ORDER TO BE ADMITTED TO MOST CREDENTIAL PROGRAMS IN CA. (If students are admitted on a provisional basis without passage of CSET, they must pass it in order to apply for the preliminary multiple subject teaching credential).

This has had an important impact on teacher education. My 10 years of experience in teacher education is that certain populations of students are more affected by this aspect of the law than others, in particular students in financial need and students whose first language is not English. This particularly affected students in the bilingual teacher education program, in that many of these students were the first person in their family to graduate from college and many of these students have financial responsibilities that make payment of test fees a burden. This aspect of the law has differentially affected students of color and has resulted in people, who otherwise may have been great teachers, being excluded from entrance into the teaching profession based on financial and testing reasons. As you know, some students do not take tests well. This was not as much of a problem prior to NCLB, because these students could take the coursework and request a waiver.

I agree with Weber that this type of bureaucratization both serves as a sorting mechanism or gatekeeper and as a way to de-personalize the teaching institution. Whereas before individual cases were considered vis-a-vis the options of examination or coursework, now there it is simply a matter of you pass the test or you don't.

Another interesting thought is that the current administation often proposes making it easier for "professionals", such as retired engineers, to enter the teaching profession (e.g. skipping teacher education classes altogether). I find this interesting in light of the fact that younger people are currently being excluded by the law, people whose perhaps life-long career amibitions are to teach.


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