Tuesday, December 5, 2006

No More Foundations Courses in Virginia?

The Virginia Department of Education is currently considering removing foundations of education coursework from teacher education requirements. This has been a while in the policy pipeline (I have been corresponding with colleagues in Virginia about this for over a year), and it appears poised for passage. The strange thing is that the VA Board of education gives no rationale for this change.

So here is my problem. How are teacher education programs going to meet Virginia’s own regulations (which, as far as I can tell, are accurate as of this summer) that state that programs must provide:
“A sequence of courses and experiences in which candidates acquire and learn to
apply knowledge about the physical, social, emotional, and intellectual
development of children and youth; develop a thorough understanding of the
complex nature of language acquisition and reading; and understand the
historical, philosophical, and sociological foundations of public education,
including school laws, school culture, and contemporary issues;”

If you read further down (to Standard 7), the regulations further state that programs must have indicators such as:
“1. Use of instructional teaching methods that reflect an understanding of
different models and approaches to learning and student achievement;
Teaching that encourages candidates to reflect, think critically and solve
3. Teaching that reflects knowledge and understanding of cultural
diversity and exceptionalities; and
4. Instruction that is continuously
evaluated and the results used to improve teaching and learning within the

Sure, many education courses touch upon these issues, but foundations is the only place where future teachers, principals, and district administrators will ever have the opportunity to carefully and thoroughly grapple with issues of ethics, diversity, and the role of schools in society. There are lots of complex aspects to this issue (the “value added” of licensure, alternative certification pathways, etc.), but I want to focus on two main points.

First, the elimination of a course such as foundations will not be easily reversed in these times of “value added” obsession. Foundations has immense value, but almost all of it is “latent.” Teachers and administrators come to realize the value of foundations long after they leave education schools. The first years are deeply devoted to simply making it through and doing well for the students. It is only later that we start to ask “why?” and “how?” and “when will it change?” The short-term value-added gain of lessening curricular requirements destroys the long-term value-added gain of having thoughtful and culturally competent educators in our schools.

Second, the removal of foundations puts teacher education in exactly the opposite direction of other fields. Medical education has recently realized that doctors need more than codified answers; they need to actually know how to deal with people and how to think about the ethical implications of what they do and say. Put otherwise, foundations courses are the only “opportunity to change” that future educators will ever have. They will still get the “opportunity to learn” content matter; and they will still get the “opportunity to practice” through field experiences and practicum. But removing foundations is akin to stating that teachers don’t need to understand the role of schools in society; that teachers don’t need to become aware of and engaged with cultural diversity; that teachers don’t need to understand that education is a massive organizational bureaucracy. Thirty percent of new teachers drop out in the first three years because of the shell-shock that education is not about “teaching one student at a time.” 80% of principals believe that cultural competence is a critical skill for teachers to have. Look at the curricula of Teach for America, or Connecticut’s BEST program. They all focus on such issues because they work.

So what can you do?

1) Send your comments to the VA Department of Education:
Comments: mail, fax, or e-mail until December 15, 2006, to Dr. JoAnne Y. Carver,
director of teacher education, or e-mail to: JoAnne.Carver@doe.virginia.gov; or
Mrs. Patty S. Pitts, director of licensure, or e-mail to:
licenseregulations@doe.virginia.gov. Mailing address: Virginia Department
of Education, P.O. Box 2120, Richmond, VA 23218; Fax: 804/786-6759.

2) Sign an online petition today: http://www.petitiononline.com/VESA001/.

3) Register to speak at the last open Board meeting on December 7 in Hampton, VA.

4) Tell AESA (the national umbrella organization for the social foundations field) that they need to do a better job of supporting state-by-state and national policy concerning educational foundations.

Finally, if you know that this is happening in other states, please let me know. There is no centralized location where foundations scholars can keep track of such issues. Perhaps we can do this here for now.

Finally, the fine print: This is the verbiage in the present proposed legislation:

8 VAC 20-542-80. Professional studies requirements for early/primary education, elementary education, and middle education; and
8 VAC 20-542-120. Professional studies requirements for prek-12 endorsements, special education, secondary grades 6-12 endorsements, and adult education.
• Removed coursework on Foundations of Education;

Kurt Stemhagen (at Virginia Commonwealth University) sent me the timeline below to track how this proposal got the stage it is at:

History of Committee Work Related to SFE Elimination Proposal
Meeting Date
Summary of Pertinent Actions
Key Language
Sept. 14, 2004
Decision to begin to think about possible changes to teacher licensure
“An additional task force will be convened to make proposed recommendations…”
Nov. 15, 2004
Discussion of potential revisions generated a list of possible actions (no mention of SFE)
“The committee was asked to consider a rationale for discontinuing the requirement for individuals who pass the MLA to take Praxis II.”
Jan. 24, 2005
A bulleted list of possible revisions was presented to the full ABTEL committee (no mention of SFE)

Mar. 21, 2005
The sub-committee continued to hone its list (no mention of SFE)

May 11, 2005
A motion was presented to recommend to the Board of Education a series of revisions, including revision #8 (eliminate SFE is a part of this revision)
“Revise professional studies (Reduce Curriculum and Instruction to 3 semester hours; delete Foundations of Education; and add 3 semester hours in Instructional Design Based on Assessment Data and 3 semester hours in Classroom Management).”
Sept. 12, 2005
Announcement that the proposed regulation changes are working their way through the system
“The regulations have not yet been released for public comment; however, the regulations continue to proceed through the procedures of the Administrative Process Act.”

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