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Policy Reforms and De-professionalization of Teaching

This brief discusses how three recent popular educational reform policies move teaching towards or away from professionalization. These reforms are (1) policies that evaluate teachers based on students’ annual standardized test score gains, and specifically, those based on value-added assessment; (2) fast-track teacher preparation and licensure; and (3) scripted, narrowed curricula. These particular policy reforms are considered because of their contemporary prominence and the fact that they directly influence the way teaching is perceived.

This analysis demonstrates that these three reforms, on the whole, lower the professional status of teaching. The pattern is nuanced, however. For instance, value-added teacher evaluation policies could be viewed as increasing professional status by their heavy emphasis on the role teachers can play on student achievement. To the contrary, value-added policies can be considered de-professionalizing: pressuring teachers to mechanically teach to tests while systematically devaluing the broader yet essential elements of teaching. Alternative, fast-track teacher preparation programs, such as Teach For America, purport to recruit from academic elites, which can be seen as a step towards professionalization. At the same time, fast-track teacher preparation and licensure programs de-professionalize teaching by the lack of focus on pedagogical training, the small amount of time dedicated to preparing teachers to teach, the assignment of inexperienced personnel to the most challenging schools, and the itinerate nature of these teachers. Scripted and narrowed curriculum could be said to move teaching closer to professional status by defining what should and will be covered. To the contrary, scripted and narrowed curriculum moves teaching away from professionalization by not allowing teachers to rely on their professional judgment to make curricula decisions for student learning, with the consequent sacrifice of higher-level learning, creativity, flexibility, and breadth of learning.