My academic department is once again in the process of filling out matrices to satisfy the Michigan Department of Education. I did this several years ago and had to do it again last spring because MDoE changed them. The ones I did last spring were apparently lost by our particular faculty member who was in charge of coordinating our Teacher Education programs with the MDoE, and who left us without warning in the middle of the summer. But it’s not clear that these current matrices are the same as the ones I just did–there seem to be some new wrinkles. Fortunately I’m non sabbatical, so I don’t have to deal with the BS.
The matrices list the competencies Teacher Ed students in the social sciences are supposed to have, and we have to show which of our courses satisfy each competency. The list of competencies is ridiculously long. It’s almost impossible for a student to actually take enough courses to learn all of them. As it is, taking all the necessary courses to get a teacher education degree almost invariably takes more than 4 years, and that’s with many of those competencies not appearing in the courses they’ll take.
MDoE just tacks on new competencies each time someone says, “Oh, wouldn’t it be good for social studies teachers to know X, Y, and Z, also?” They never–never–review the whole thing and try to figure out whether it’s coherent and whether everything is needed. It is always a purely additive process.
Further, many of the competencies are of the “civics” variety. In my department, we don’t teach civics. Civics is K-12 level material. I remember staring at a poster with the “core values of democracy” on it in my daughter’s third-grade classroom, and laughing when the teacher said, “Oh, you teach political science, so you probably know that better than I do.” No. No, I don’t. But those “core values of democracy” show up in the competencies. My colleague, who has the misfortune of having to deal with this crap this term and who teaches democratic theory, contemporary democracies, and democratization, responded to that concept with the pithy rebuttal, “which democracy?” Sorry, folks, it’s not my job to turn out good patriotic citizens.
I think I mentioned all that before, on our dear departed Positive Liberty. But what has me steamed today is that now we have to attach our syllabi to demonstrate that our courses do indeed include the competencies we say they do.
First, I don’t teach in the teacher education department. Teacher Ed is a flea catching a ride on this dog’s back. What the high-school teachers and bachelor degree bureaucrats think I should teach in my college courses, and what I, with a Ph.D., think ought to be taught in my college classes, are different things.
Second, certain elements of what I teach change from year to year, and they will certainly vary from person to person teaching the class. We offer more sections than I can teach, to meet demand, so I have an excellent adjunct who does a great job, but teaches the course differently than I do. The syllabi I give them today is not his syllabus, nor will it necessarily be mine three years from now. There is more content to be taught in an American Government class than I can properly cover in a semester, so some of the elements get rotated in and out as my interest in them waxes and wanes. Apparently nobody in the MDoE has ever worked in a college classroom.
In general, MDoE takes absolutely the wrong approach to ensuring competency. In one of her books, animal science expert Temple Grandin discusses the way a particular bureaucracy (USDA, iirc) set up standards for slaughtering cows humanely. There were multiple individual steps that a slaughterhouse had to follow precisely. Grandin argued that instead of a process-oriented approach, they should just use a simple outcome-based approach: the proportion of clean kills. Require a sufficiently high proportion, and whatever methods the slaughterhouse used to get there would obviously prove themselves.
Ironically, MDoE has a simple outcome-base measurement, the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification in Social Science. It uses that to judge colleges’ and universities’ Teacher Education programs, so it has already set what it determines to be a sufficient pass rate. But instead of satisfying itself with that, it wastes resources (including my college’s and my own) by detailing the process leading up to that outcome measurement.
If they had confidence in their process, they wouldn’t need the test. If they had confidence in the test they wouldn’t need to define the process.