When students in the University of Massachusetts’ teacher training program in the School of Education learned last spring they would be required to undergo a new assessment of teaching skills to gain their licenses, they weren’t quite sure what to make of it.
The assessment, called the Teacher Performance Assessment, was developed by Stanford University and the private education company Pearson. The UMass students were shocked to find that rather than be evaluated by their UMass professors or the local public school teachers who had observed them in the classroom, they would instead have to submit two short, ten-minute videos of themselves teaching to Pearson, along with a 40-page test.
The students resisted what they saw as an inadequate evaluation of their teaching skills, and petitioned the School of Education for the right to opt in or out of the Teacher Performance Assessment. Aided by Professor Barbara Madeloni, a senior lecturer in the School of Education, the students prevailed and the assessment was made optional; ultimately, 67 of the 68 students in the program chose not to take the test. The story made waves in the education community, and was covered by the New York Times, which featured Dr. Madeloni and included critical comments she made of Pearson.
Two weeks after the New York Times story was published, Dr. Madeloni received a letter of non-renewal from the Dean of the School of Education, Christine McCormick. Her quick dismissal after her and the students’ public defeat of Pearson’s assessment is no coincidence; Pearson is the largest and most powerful education company in the world, and it was likely there would be consequences for standing up to it.
It is outrageous, though, that UMass would simply remove a very talented and respected professor like Dr. Madeloni. The non-renewal of Dr. Madeloni’s contract runs contrary to the mission of the School of Education as promoters of social justice, leaders in education policy, and providers of the highest quality possible education to UMass students.
Dr. Madeloni is well-known for her support of students of color in her classroom and in the education system as a whole. On the website for Can’t Be Neutral, the campaign to have Dr. Madeloni reinstated by the University, can be found letters effusive in their praise for her commitment to social justice. One letter states that Dr. Madeloni “is – in particular for us, students of color – a mentor, role model and inspiration. Dr. Madeloni is one who helps us make sense of our peculiar struggles.” The fact that UMass would willingly part ways with such a gifted instructor is absurd, especially given the School of Education’s supposed “fundamental commitment to social justice and diversity,” as stated in the School’s mission statement.
In standing up for her students as they fought the Teacher Performance Assessment, Dr. Madeloni has shown that she is a compassionate educator who is committed to her students – the kind of professor that UMass should be proud to have amongst its faculty. The students needed allies and support as they resisted Pearson and the School of Education; for example, they were put in a considerable bind when the Amherst school district initially refused to allow their students be filmed for the purposes of the assessment. Rather than fight with Amherst schools over the matter – when it was clear Amherst was merely trying to protect the privacy of its students – Dr. Madeloni supported the decision of her students to resist Pearson and advocated on their behalf to the administration.
Dr. Madeloni’s dismissal is not without context – it is the result of the growing influence of private corporations on public higher education in America. Pearson, as a private publishing and technology company headquartered in New Jersey, has no inherent interest in the training and licensing of Massachusetts teachers other than profit. As the New York Times reported, students in states that use the Teacher Performance Assessment will have to pay Pearson a $300 fee to take the assessment. Pearson then outsources the work of scoring the students’ submissions to contract labor, who are the ultimate decision-makers on the student obtaining their teaching license.
It is downright farcical that contract workers, basing their decisions on two 10-minute videos and a test, are allowed to decide on teacher licenses rather than the University professors and classroom teachers who have observed the students teach for hundreds of hours. It is not as effective a way of licensing the best teachers, and therefore bad for education as an institution. This is the negative way in which corporate intrusion into higher education is affecting education as a whole in America, and Dr. Madeloni’s dismissal is a result of opposition to that intrusion.
In light of both her personal contributions to UMass and the meaning it has for higher education as a whole, it is imperative that the School of Education rescind Barbara Madeloni’s letter of non-renewal and extend her contract. Such an act would truly establish UMass as a leader in higher education and do nothing less than bring back a gifted professor into the UMass faculty’s ranks.
Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at email@example.com.