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Older, Wiser and Not Giving Into Fear

Ohanian Comment: It is hard to imagine professionals letting Pearson take over their field of expertise, but that's the sad truth of the matter. Education is now populated by people who are governed by their fears. All kudos to Barbara Madeloni, a voice of experience and expertise. Thank you, Michael Winerip, for showing us one person who follows her conscience.

NOTE: Christine McCormick, quoted below, has her Ph.D. in educational psychology.

Barbara Madeloni lists her interests as Social justice and teacher education; Developing reflective practitioners.

by Michael Winerip

Last spring, Barbara Madeloni, the director of the secondary-teacher education program at the University of Massachusetts, thought it was time.

She believed her voice and experience would count for something. Ms. Madeloni is 55 and has been overseeing the university's program to train middle and high school teachers for nine years. During that time, she has repeatedly been rated "outstanding." ("We applaud Dr. Madeloni for her work," read her December 2011 evaluation.)

Then things turned. Last spring, in an interview with me, she spoke out against a new licensing system for teachers that is being tested at UMass and has been implemented in several states.

Usually, university professors and classroom teachers decide whether to grant a license after observing the candidates for six months in real school settings.

Under the system being piloted, a for-profit education company hired by the state, like Pearson, would decide licensure based on two 10-minute videos that student teachers submit, as well as their score on a 40-page take-home test.

"This is something complex and we don't like seeing it taken out of human hands," Ms. Madeloni said to me at the time.

By protesting, she said, "We are putting a stick in the gears." A total of 67 out of her 68 student teachers refused to submit their videos or take the test during last year's trial run.

On May 6, the article appeared in The Times; on May 24, she received a letter saying her contract would not be renewed for the 2013 year.

The older I get, the more careful I am with my sources. Before committing to doing the article I told her that, based on my experience, there could be major ramifications. We live in a society where people can say just about anything publicly about politicians, but in the workplace, there is little freedom for speaking critically and few willing to risk it.

Ms. Madeloni said she understood.

"They̢۪ve been angry at me for a long time, but I believe the article pushed them over the edge," she said this week. "For several years this has been building inside me, this reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

"It̢۪s so degrading," she said. "For a long time I decided not to fight it. I wouldn't have been able to do this at 40. I don't think I could have stayed as grounded. You have to be able to manage people saying awful, awful things."

Christine B. McCormick, professor and dean of the school of education at UMass, wrote in an e-mail that "there is no connection between the expiration of Barbara Madeloni's contract on Aug. 13, 2013 and the media coverage of the concerns raised by faculty and students." Asked why university officials sent the nonrenewal letter 16 months before her contract was set to expire, Ms. McCormick said "our goal is to give our employees as much time as possible to seek other employment."

Ms. Madeloni̢۪s job will be converted to a tenured position as part of a universitywide drive, she said.

Ms. McCormick wrote that the two-year trial of the new assessment system had been requested by the state and is not being used this school year at UMass.

The university, she wrote, is a "vibrant scholarly community that staunchly supports academic freedom."

She said that the department is now preparing a research paper that will explore all different kinds of teacher assessments -- including assessments that don't primarily rely on testing.

Ms. Madeloni can't say for sure, but she believes that's the protest talking.

"Age focuses you," she said. "Part of getting older is you think more about the idea that life ends. You shift your attention to what matters."

If part of the goal is to pass on values, Ms. Madeloni has succeeded with Rachel Hoogstraten, one of the 66 protesters last spring who is now a first-year teacher. "She never told us what to think," said Ms. Hoogstraten, who's 26. "We'd talk about the risks of speaking up and acting like a principled person. Years ago I made a promise to myself not to act out of fear. So when I come across people who don't give in to their fears, I stick to them."

"I really do look up to Barbara."

— Michael Winerip
New York Times





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