Some thoughts on Newman's Essay "No Intro
Course Left Behind"
Minnesota State University Moorhead
I would like to thank Joseph Newman for writing the essay "No
intro course left behind?" that appeared in the June 2004
issue of Professing Education. In this essay, Dr. Newman
provided four important suggestions (i.e., talk about children,
talk about teachers, talk about the social context of education,
especially politics and diversity, and talk about practice as
well as theory) for how professors of Foundations of Education
could conceptualize their courses. Newman begins his essay by
stating that these course suggestions are framed, in part, by
the current political context (e.g., government accountability
mandates) that supports the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (i.e.,
NCLBA). He goes on to state that "NCLB is the latest but,
unfortunately, the worst manifestation [of macro-level reform]
I've encountered" (p.3). An example of this political context
is seen in the recently published report by The Teaching Commission,
titled "Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action" (Gerstner,
2004). This report's goal is to "raise student performance
by transforming the way in which America's public school teachers
are recruited and retained" (p. 5), which is part of the
NCLBA's mandate that States develop plans requiring highly qualified
teachers for every public school classroom by the year 2005. There
are several recommendations (e.g., overhaul teacher education
programs- See Au, 2004) in this report; however, the one generating
the most concern involves making schools more like corporations
by infusing competition through a policy that promotes a market-place
ideology of production. Teachers who "measure up" to
new accountability standards (i.e., produce), as determined by
their students' acceptable performance on high stakes tests, would
receive additional compensation or incentive pay.
This meso or state-level reform idea, known as the value-added
approach, is already being used in Tennessee, tested in Louisiana,
promoted in Minnesota and financially encouraged by the Bush administration
as a means to improve K-12 test scores. Tennessee is using the
value-added approach to satisfy the NCLBA's highly qualified teacher
requirement. Louisiana's program is titled "Value-Added Teacher
Preparation Program Assessment Model" (Louisiana Board of
Regents, 2004). This model "will have the capacity to examine
the growth of achievement of children and link growth in student
learning to teacher education programs" (p. 1). This linking
will then be used to assess program effectiveness in teacher education.
As with the NCLBA, results would become a part of the public record,
as teacher preparation programs would be publicly ranked on how
well their graduates' K-12 students perform on high-stakes tests.
In responding to the Teaching at Risk report, Minnesota's Governor
Pawlenty, said, "The proposals will be the basis for possible
changes in the way Minnesota teachers are trained, scrutinized
and rewarded for years to come" ("Teacher Quality,"
2004). President Bush, in his new educational plan, wants to provide
a $500 million dollar incentive plan to States that reward its
teachers for high pupil test scores ("President Bush,"
Recommendations contained in this report are an example of simplistic
and de-contextualized thinking. Like as with architects of the
Nation at Risk and Goals 2000 reports and the NCLBA, the writers
of this report think by mandating additional requirements and
holding more individuals accountable the problems schools face
will be solved _ of the 19 commissioners responsible for writing
this report, eight are or were CEOs of major corporations and
four were former governors of Southern States. This membership
seems unlikely to understand the contextual complexities associated
with K-12 school problems or develop the kinds of policies that
would solve these problems. The NCLBA and the Teaching at Risk
report are examples of how those least familiar with K-12 schools
are proposing reform plans that have little relationship to the
problems many teachers encounter (e.g., funding inequalities),
nor to the problems many students and their families encounter
(e.g., poverty) on a daily basis (Rothstein, 2004).
Those teaching Foundations of Education courses have a responsibility
to help future teachers learn how to critically analyze the political
context and policies emerging from this context that shapes and
surrounds teaching practice. I would like to extend Newman's thinking
about the four important elements he identified for Foundations
of Education courses by providing curriculum examples from my
Social Foundations of Education course that are intended to promote
critical analysis of important ideas, events, and issues that
affect K-12 schooling.
1. Talk about children
Newman's thoughts on talking about, not around, children are
grounded in ideas from the progressive educator, Marietta Johnson.
She believed that children should be at the very center of our
thinking about teaching and learning. Once our work is focused
on children, she advises, we should work outward to the political
and social contexts that shape this work. Lastly, Newman encourages
us to make authentic connections with children.
The major activity in my class that focuses on "talk about
children" and makes authentic connections with children is
a community-based service learning project partnership with the
local alternative school (ALC). During the semester, my students
are paired with students enrolled at the ALC and participate in
a variety of community-based social recreation activities. For
example, small group problem solving activities at the campus
field house, making craft projects with residents from a community
senior center, mini-putt golfing at a local hotel, and building
and flying small model airplanes. In addition, my students tutor
each week in an ALC classroom. A major goal associated with these
activities is for my students to learn about individuals whose
life stories are most likely different from their own and interact
with individuals who, for whatever reason, have not been successful
in typical school settings. I also want my students to realize
that individuals who may be different from them still share things
in common. For example, having an adult in their life that cares
Another goal is for my students to acknowledge their own privileges
and prejudices and then to realize how these concepts affect teaching
and learning (Morris, 2004). Also, students are invited to think
about how their privileges and prejudices may have been supported
by specific policy decisions (e.g., school funding formulas).
Writing in reference to a small group marble maze activity, a
student revealed these thoughts, " I was excited to have
accomplished something with a group of students (ALC) that I really
in all honesty thought had no drive, desire or insight into this
activity. This activity will affect me forever in the way that
I view students. In my teaching, I will not stop an individual
from bringing their voice, ideas or views to the table. Instead,
I will look at all thoughts as useful tools to accomplish the
goal." This student not only learned from this experience,
but feels this experience will better inform her teaching in the
future. In trying to capitalize on this kind of learning, students
are required to read Julie Landsman's, A white teacher talks
about race and are encouraged to read Herbert Kohl's, I
won't learn from you and other thoughts on creative maladjustments
and Gary Howard's, We can't teach what we don't know: White
teachers, multiracial schools. Students are regularly asked
to make connections between these kinds of readings and their
experiences at the ALC. This type of reflective thinking will
hopefully lead to teachers whose instructional decision making
is informed, compassionate and centered on students and their
Another course goal that focuses on "talking about children"
understands how risk factors and protective factors shape and
surround a young people's lives and ultimately influences their
Risk factors are those attributes (e.g., poverty) that make positive
decision making difficult, negatively affect development, and
interfere with motivation to learn; while protective factors are
those attributes (e.g., caring relationship with an adult) that
youth need to grow into healthy adults and provide some resilience
to the affects of risk factors. Using the Rolling Stone
magazine essay, "The crime and punishment of a 13 year old
killer," students learn about a teenager, Nathaniel, whose
life was filled with too many risk factors and too few protective
factors. Near the end of Nathaniel's story, we learn that he fatally
shot his favorite teacher, was found guilty of this murder, and
is now serving a long jail term. One interpretation of this story
is that the context of Nathaniel's life led him to this horrific
event. In order for my students to more fully understand Nathaniel's
story, small groups of students create tableaus and perform them
for their classmates. A tableau is an intentional arranging of
a small group of students in fixed poses that results in a living
scene or human snapshot. Through the tableaus, students demonstrate
what they learned about Nathaniel, his risk and protective factors
as well as the effects these factors had on his development, his
motivation to learn, and his decision-making. The following are
evaluative comments made by four students following their participation
in the tableau lessons:
"This helped me to actually view the factors and to see
how they really affected Nathaniel."
"I realized some factors from other groups that I never
though of before. I liked doing it because we had to be creative
and put ourselves in Nathaniel's position."
"It makes learning more interesting and easier to understand
and it showed the big picture."
"It helped me learn about Nathaniel, better than just reading
Using a study of risk and protective factors certainly focuses
the Foundations of Education course on children and the lives
they lead. This study also provides an opportunity to examine
policy decisions (e.g., funding cuts for after school programs)
that affect many children. Having personal contact with students
enrolled at an ALC provides important and authentic connections
for teacher education students that hopefully better prepares
them for teaching in classrooms that are richly diverse. Following
the tableau performances, students reflect on their learning by
completing a word journal (Angelo & Cross, 1993). Students
identify a word or short phrase that best reflects their learning.
They then write a paragraph explaining why they selected the word
or phrase they did.
2. Talk about teachers
I believe, as Newman does, that Foundations of Education courses
can help pre-service teachers think critically about and better
understand the demands of day-to-day classroom teaching. Some
issues related to these demands include the relationship between
professional organizations and school governance, responding to
increased governmental pressures, the impact school law has on
teaching and learning, curriculum, and teacher rights.
In order to better prepare my students for the involvement of
the judiciary in their teaching lives, small groups of students
analyze Supreme Court cases that influenced public policy and
school practice, and then perform mini-plays to demonstrate understanding
of these important issues. A sampling of cases and legal issues
that affect teachers lives in schools include:
1. Brown v. Board of Education (1954) _ separate facilities are
not equal facilities
2. Pickering v. Board of Education Township High School (1967)
_ teacher dismissal for criticizing school officials
3. Sheehan v. St. Peter's Catholic School (1971) _ teacher liability
4. San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriquez (1973)
_ school funding
5. Palmer v. Board of Education (1979) _ teacher dismissal for
6. Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) _ government funded vouchers
The choosing of appropriate pedagogy is critical when trying
to assist teacher education students to better understand the
challenges and demands of being the "teacher." Mini-plays
provide such a pedagogy; a problem-based approach that is socially
constructed and provides a means to present a variety of perspectives
and ideologies. Learning about perspectives and ideologies is
central to successfully navigating the teaching life. Because
we want learning to positively impact our students, teaching needs
to be active, meaningful, and authentic. Moreover, we know that
when pedagogy is holistic (i.e., having a blend of intellectual,
social, and emotional aspects), learning is richer, deeper and
valued more by students. Again, use of mini-plays achieves these
aims. When a faculty observer was asked to evaluate student learning
through this pedagogy, she reported:
Teacher candidates who see school law as a topic remote from
their own experience and not directly applicable to their preparation
for teaching careers discovered, because of this teaching strategy,
that the topic does have meaning for them. Using drama to communicate
the content of the cases allows for the communication of historical
context as well as knowledge of school law.
I find myself agreeing with Newman, as I, like he, continue to
search for better ways to "…help prospective teachers
stand in the shoes of currently employed teachers and appreciate
their views on occupational issues" (p. 4, 5). As a result,
my students have interviewed retired teachers about the purposes
of school, questioned teachers about what they need to know when
it comes to K-12 students and their families being involved with
chemicals, and listened to teacher stories about life in schools.
Maybe until we go back to the days of campus laboratory schools,
we will continue to struggle in creating appropriate learning
experiences in this area.
3. Talk about the social context of education, especially
politics and diversity.
Newman believes that Foundations of Education courses are the
place in the teacher education curriculum "… for people
like us to join a conversation about diversity, a conversation
situated in a highly controversial political context." (p.
5). The challenge is to create meaningful and authentic opportunities
for our students so they can become engaged in this context.
An example of how I engage students in this context is through
the study of power and control issues in K-12 schools. Specifically,
I want my students to understand various political perspectives
and resulting policy decisions regarding these issues. This study
provides opportunities to analyze the changing governmental landscape
at both state and federal levels regarding policies (e.g., government
mandated accountability plans) that move more power and control
to these entities, while minimizing influence of local school
boards. School choice voucher plans and schools for profit are
two models that are popular with some policy makers and most free
market thinkers. Teacher education students need to realize that
these ideas, if widely implemented, will likely have a profound
affect on the viability of public schools. Charter schools are
yet another means of exerting power and control of public schooling.
In order to gain a more complete understanding of these ideas
and issues, students read from a broad range of political perspectives,
from conservative to progressive. For example, two conservative
websites used are the heritage.org, and hoover.org., while two
progressive websites used are fairtest.org and inequality.org.
This information is applied through a survey assignment. Students
create survey questions to assess respondents' attitudes about
control and power in K-12 schooling. Examples of survey items
Do you believe that government mandated high stakes testing
influences teachers to teach to the test, therefore abandoning
the idea of a well-rounded education?
Do you think that parents should be able to use public school
money (vouchers) to pay for private school tuition?
Rate in order from highest (1) to lowest (3) who should have
the most control over public education _ the local school board,
state government or federal government.
Surveys are administered to a variety of individuals: male and
female non-Education and Education majors, parents with children
attending public schools, parents with children attending private
schools, parents without children, and males and females over
the age of 60. Students prepare a one-page visual display of the
findings and a three to four page paper analyzing two findings
relating to their thinking about being a public school teacher.
Students share their findings and analyses with peers and then
a class discussion is held to promote further reflection about
An important goal linked to the social context of education and
that is directly related to politics and diversity is analyzing
equal educational opportunity. The activity used to accomplish
this goal is a class debate. The issue debated is _ "The
role of schools in providing equal opportunity." Students
are divided into groups of four, with two students arguing the
YES position: Schools can and do play a positive and important
role in providing equal opportunity, and two students arguing
the NO position: Equal opportunity depends on a variety of circumstances
beyond the influence schools can exert. Students are required
to use issues like social class, poverty, privilege and oppression,
race and racism, sexism, equal opportunity or lack thereof, school
funding formulas, and legal issues and cases to support their
perspectives and counter-argue opposing perspectives. Following
the debates, each foursome discusses what they learned about equal
educational opportunity and develops questions they would ask
a state or federal level policy maker.
4. Talk about practice as well as theory.
If teacher education is to have a positive and lasting affect
on its students, Foundations of Education professors must provide
lessons that are rich in context, authentic in nature, and make
direct connections to practice or "life in the classroom."
How many times have teacher education students sat in college
classrooms and listened passively to lectures about John Dewey
and active learning, Roger Johnson and David Johnson's ideas about
the academic as well as social benefits of cooperative learning,
Ruby Payne's framework for teaching students living in generational
poverty, Mara Sapon-Shevin's philosophical underpinnings supporting
inclusive educational practices or Beverly Tatum's thoughts about
racial identity and racial interactions? Many of these ideas challenge
how students have been socialized to think about the purposes
of school, relationship between school and society, policy making,
race and racism, and best instructional practices. Given this
challenge, many students may not critically question their existing
beliefs unless provided with engaging learning opportunities.
For deep and rich learning to take place we simply cannot have
students' complete textbook readings and then cover this material
in the classroom. We must develop learning that is as authentic
as possible, socially constructed, and meaningful. One solution
might be for important learning to emerge from real classrooms,
schools, and communities. This learning could then be analyzed
using engaging readings, personal experiences and theoretical
I am attempting this kind of curriculum work through the community-based
service-learning project with students enrolled in the ALC. For
example, while my students participate in this project, they read
Erin Gruwell's The freedom writers diary: How a teacher and
150 teens used writing to change themselves and the world around
them and then relate their experiences and this reading to
constructs like the value expectancy theory.
The Foundations of Education course is the place in the teacher
education curriculum where students can develop understanding
for the day-to-day challenges associated with classroom teaching
and begin to analyze the impact of policy decisions on this teaching.
The NCLBA (and its many spin-offs _ Teaching at Risk report) is
an example of a policy decision that has far reaching and long
lasting affects on teaching practices. It is our responsibility
to provide curriculum and instruction that makes authentic connections
with K-12 students and teachers, that is situated in social and
political contexts and grounded in what we know about theory-driven
Angelo, T & Cross, P. (1993).
Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college
teachers. (2nd ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
Au, W. (2004). The NCLB Zone: Where "highly qualified"
can mean low quality teaching. Rethinking Schools,
Gerstner, L. (2004). Teaching at risk: A call to action.
New York: The CUNY Graduate School.
Goodell, J. (2000, August 26). The crime and punishment of a
thirteen-year old killer. Rolling Stone.
Gruwell, E. (2001). The freedom writers diary: How a teacher
and 150 teens used writing to change themsleves and the world
around them. New York, NY: Broadway Books.
Howard, G. (1999). We can't teach what we don't know: White
teachers, multiracial schools. New York, NY: Teachers College
Kohl, H. (1994). I won't learn from you and other thoughts
on creative maladjustment. New York, NY: The New Press.
Landsman, J. (2001). A white teacher talks about race.
Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.
Louisiana Board of Regents (2004). Value-added teacher preparation
program assessment model. Retrieved October 1, 2004, from
Minnesota to tackle teacher quality. (2004, October 14).
The Fargo Forum, A9.
Morris, R. (2004). Cultural diversity and Brown v. Board
of Education after 50 years. Professing Education, 3(1),
Newman, J. (2004). No intro course left behind. Professing
Education, 3(1), 2-7.
Rothstein, R. (2004). A wide lens on the black-white achievement
gap. Kappan, 86(2), 105-110.
U.S. Department of Education. (2004). President Bush announces
new education proposals. The Achiever, 3(14). Jessup,