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Silencing War Criticism

An important read.

Bracing Views

dead Grisly photos that show war as it is, in this case a dead Iraqi from Desert Storm, are not shown by the U.S. media

Silencing War Criticism: The Iraq Invasion of 2003

W.J. Astore

Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota (1999-2003), was a hot media commodity as the Bush/Cheney administration was preparing for its invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Ventura, a U.S. Navy veteran who gained notoriety as a professional wrestler before he entered politics, was both popular and outspoken.  MSNBC won the bidding war for his services in 2003, signing him to a lucrative three-year contract to create his own show – until, that is, the network learned he was against the Iraq war.  Ventura’s show quickly went away, even as the network paid him for three years to do nothing.

I heard this revealing story from a new podcast, the TARFU Report, hosted by Matt Taibbi and…

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Personalized Learning Without People – An Education Scam from the 1980s Returns

An excellent read.


Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 1.12.10 AM

Sometimes it seems that education policy is nothing but a series of scams and frauds that becomes untenable in one generation only to pop up again 10 or 20 years later with a new name.

Take Personalized Learning, the latest digital product from the ed-tech industry to invade your local public school.

It’s cutting edge stuff.

Except that it isn’t.

It’s just the same old correspondence school nonsense of the 1980s thrown onto an iPad or a laptop.

It was crap back then, and it’s crap today.

But it sounds nice.

Personalized Learning.

I like that.

That’s exactly the kind of educational experience I want for my own daughter.

I’d like her schooling to be tailor-made for her. Teach her in a way she can best understand and that will best engage her mind and build upon her competencies.

However, that’s not what Personalized Learning means.

It’s a…

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New Article in Peace Review

Hello Everyone,

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but I’ll get back on track. To start, here’s a link to a new article that I published in the journal Peace Review. The article appeared in a special issue on youth radicalization, and is entitled: Biopolitics, Toxic Masculinities, Disavowed Histories, and Youth Radicalization. It is accessible online at:

Peace Review

Please also feel free to visit my and Research Gate pages for other publications.

I’m also working on a new curriculum theory book, and the manuscript is due on July 31, 2017. It should be out right around the end of the year. More to follow!

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Letter to the U.S. Department of Education

Last week, I sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Education to register my opposition to proposed regulations covering teacher education programs. I hope that all teacher educators will seriously consider commenting on this as well.

January 21, 2015

Docket ID ED-2014-OPE-0057

The Honorable Arne Duncan
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Duncan:

My name is James Burns, and I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership at South Dakota State University located in Brookings, SD. I am responding to the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for teacher preparation programs released in the Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) on December 3, 2014.

Like other teacher education programs in higher education institutions throughout the country, I embrace accountability for my work. I am eager to learn more about the effectiveness of our graduates and seek continual program improvement to ensure their professional readiness as they embark on their careers as professional educators. Our teacher education program currently employs innovation and accountability mechanisms such as:

  • Regular input from stakeholders including our public school partners and community members;
  • Data collection regarding our candidates’ performance in the context of accrediting standards;
  • Annual curriculum changes based on data and in support of stakeholder needs;
  • Commitment to professional development of all teachers;
  • Rigorous academic and dispositional standards;
  • Thoughtful integration issues of diversity and inclusion throughout our curriculum and teaching

Our teacher education program actively supports accountability mechanisms that are fair, transparent, valid, reliable, feasible, and useful for program improvement and to ensure that our candidates are prepared to serve the diverse needs of our communities. The regulatory proposal put forward by the Department subverts meeting these criteria. If the proposed regulations are adopted, they will draw energy, funding, and attention away from innovative reforms, proven accountability initiatives, and overall program improvement currently under way in teacher preparation programs across the country. Some of my specific concerns include:

Concern #1: Federal Overreach
This proposal represents a significant expansion of federal authority into what is currently state-level and institution-level decision making. This would be a dramatic move, made without deep consultation with the many stakeholders affected. By mandating that states use a federally dictated rating system and the indicators by which teacher preparation programs must be rated, the proposed regulations would insert the federal government into jurisdiction now held by states and institutions of higher education. For example, Section 207(a) of the Higher Education Act states, “Levels of performance [for teacher preparation programs] shall be determined solely by the State.” Such unwarranted intrusion on local decision making processes makes a mockery of the highly complex and contextualized nature of teaching and learning, which perpetuates the worst aspects of current corporate logic of standardization.

Concern 2: No Evidence of Efficacy
No state fully implements the performance rating system proposed by the regulations for teacher education programs. A more reasonable approach in developing a major new evaluative system would be to begin with a substantial, multiyear pilot program based on sound principles of research. This proposal has never been tested or evaluated to determine workability, to evaluate effectiveness, or to uncover unintended consequences. Some of the measures of program effectiveness mandated by the Department in these regulations are still being tested for validity and reliability, and attaching high-stakes consequences at this point are ill-advised.

Concern #3: Extension of PK-12 “Test and Punish” Model into Higher Education
With a rating system, performance levels, and high-stakes consequences mirroring Department policy for PK-12 education, the proposed regulations would extend the already discredited “test and punish” accountability model into higher education. Even more troubling than the continued push on testing, however, is the embedded use of value-added modeling (VAM) found in the determination of student growth and in teacher evaluations where student growth is among the measures used, as evidenced in the preceding language from the Department. The Department discusses VAM in the NPRM on page 71833. Proposals to evaluate teaching, teacher education, or student learning predicated on value-added methods (VAM) have been slammed by the American Statistical Association (ASA) in its statement of April 8, 2014 as so methodologically flawed as to be worthless. The ASA has concluded that VAMs based on standardized assessments to not directly measure teacher contributions to student outcomes and measure only correlation, not causation. It is therefore poor policy to make judgments about any aspect of education with measures that cannot assess causation. Many states that have attempted to use VAM are re-evaluating their use of K-12 standardized test scores. Building a robust, reliable, valid, and accurate teacher education accountability system on the structure of crumbling K-12 accountability metrics will perpetuate the problems, rather than informing a new system with lessons learned.

Concern #4: Disproportionate Impact on Minority-Serving Institutions and High-Need Fields
The proposed regulations will disproportionately impact institutions that serve students from underrepresented groups or whose prior education has provided limited preparation for college, including many public and private minority-serving institutions (MSIs). Particularly concerning is that the proposed regulations mandate states’ program approval requirements including the requirement that teacher education programs maintain “rigorous teacher candidate entry and exit qualifications” (NPRM, p. 71835). Although I fully support rigorous exit requirements, I am concerned that mandated entry requirements could compromise the mission of MSIs, which welcome disadvantaged students and develop them into profession-ready teachers.

Furthermore, programs preparing candidates to teach in high-need schools or high-need fields such as special education and English for speakers of other languages would, like all other programs, be assessed in large part on the results of K-12 student standardized tests. These test scores are routinely lower for these groups of students than for others, for many reasons that are not related to teacher education including language, cultural, class, and gender bias. Because student learning outcomes are weighted more heavily than any other indicator required to determine a teacher education program’s rating in these proposed regulations (NPRM, p. 71830), programs could seek to place their graduates in less challenging environments where test scores are higher. The result of this proposal would likely be a less diverse workforce and exacerbated shortages for high-need fields.

I am also very concerned that the proposed regulations and their obsession with narrow metrics of accountability proceed from highly flawed assumptions about the impact and preparedness of teachers as being independent of much larger socio-political systems. The proposed regulations inaccurately blame educational inequities on individual teachers therefore allowing policy makers and politicians to blame teachers for the social, economic and political inequalities that are the true issues confronting education. Rather, social and educational injustice will simply be perpetuated.

Concern #5: Working Against Equity in Education
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires that states work to change the disproportionate congregation of inexperienced teachers in high-need schools (PL 107- 110, Section 1111(b)(8)(C)). Yet the proposed regulations will promote that very practice by incentivizing teacher education programs to place first-year teachers in high-need schools (NPRM, p. 71286). The regulations themselves have internal contradictions. They incentivize programs to place graduates in better performing schools (typically not high-need schools) through mandating that student learning outcomes be given the most weight among the indicators required to create a program rating. Simultaneously, the proposed regulations incentivize the placement of graduates in high-need schools, as the employment rates in high-need schools would receive the next highest weight when calculating a program rating. This contradiction leads to confusion and creates challenges in how the regulations could be implemented, and with high-stakes consequences for such ratings at hand.

Concern #6: Unfunded Mandate
The proposed regulations will require statewide data systems to be designed, implemented, and refined in a year (NPRM, p. 71829), yet offer no federal funding to cover the costs—amounting to an unfunded federal mandate. As noted in the NPRM on page 71862, only nine states can currently connect students’ learning outcomes to their teachers’ preparation programs, and the rest of the states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, are in the process of making this connection. The federal government has already invested over half a billion dollars toward the creation of these systems, yet these nine states have achieved just one piece of the data sharing and connection required by the proposed regulations. To comply with the proposed regulations would require states invest heavily from their own deplete coffers. To keep their budgets balanced, states would have to take funds away from other programs to implement this regulation or, alternatively, to raise taxes or fees to comply with this requirement. Institutions would likewise need to develop capacity to comply with the regulations. The cost of implementing this unfunded mandate may be passed on to students via tuition increases and/or decreased state funding for higher education, or to citizens of the state through higher taxes and/or reduced services.

Concern #7: Unworkability of the Proposed System
The proposed regulations mandate the indicators by which the nation’s 25,000 teacher preparation programs would be rated. The collection of the data for each indicator is complex and is expected to be completed using data systems that in some states do not yet exist. Given this challenge, the collection of data is riddled with opportunities for error or weak data quality. This complex system would also be used to determine eligibility for federal student financial aid by assessing the effectiveness of each teacher education program, extending an untested performance assessment into a high-stakes realm. Given these challenges and others cited throughout this letter, these proposed regulations are unworkable. Most states do not have the capacity to enact these assessments, as the requisite data systems are not in place.

Concern #8: Negative Effect on College Affordability and Access
Because the proposed regulations will limit access to federal student financial assistance to teacher candidates, they will affect the affordability of college for many students. Since low- and middle-income students and students of color are disproportionately affected by changes in financial aid for higher education, they would likely be disproportionately affected by these regulations. Restricting access to financial aid would turn back the clock on progress in building an inclusive educator workforce that is culturally, racially, and economically representative of communities served. Considering the current decline in teacher education program enrollment across the country and the continued increase in the cost of higher education, the creation of greater instability in access to student financial aid would likely exacerbate shortages.

This list of concerns is not exhaustive, and as a professional teacher educator and education researcher, I have significant concerns about every section of the Notice of Proposed Rule Making. Given the pervasive shortcomings of the proposal, I urge you to withdraw it and work closely with those actually in the profession, communities that will be directly impacted, and with Congress to strengthen Title II and develop meaningful and valid accountability measures that will enable the ongoing reform work already occurring in teacher education programs.

This proposal represents a major shift in higher education policy with consequences for federal student financial aid and our PK-12 system of public education. Given the gravity of these issues, any proposed regulations related to accountability of teacher education programs demands the full and public deliberation of Congress. Both the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act will be considered by Congress this year for reauthorization. Engaging with Congress and the legislative process on the important discussion of the continued reform of teacher preparation across this country is what is called for now.

I would be pleased to respond to any questions that you or your staff may have or to provide any additional information regarding this response to the proposed regulations on teacher preparation programs. I can be reached at 605-688-4546 or via e-mail at


James P. Burns, EdD
Assistant Professor
Department of Teaching, Learning, and Leadership
South Dakota State University

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New Article in JAAACS

We have just published a new article in the Journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies (JAAACS). You can access the article here. We would be very interested in feedback on our work! Our article, “With Eyes Wide Open and a Broken Heart:” Teaching Against Hope Through a Curriculum of Positive Deviance, reflects on our work together creating and co-teaching a special topics course. Our work is contextualized and in dialogue with the curriculum theory of Peter Taubman.

It’s been a while, but we’re starting to post some new stuff. We’ve been busy writing, presenting, taking lots of photos, and making short films to represent our research. Jim has had a commentary published in Teachers College Record entitled: “Our Impoverished View of Teacher Education,” which is linked to: From the abstract:

Returning to David Berliner’s (2006) Our Impoverished View of Educational Research, this commentary reflects on what the author conceptualizes as an impoverished view of teacher education. Drawing on his experience working in teacher education and contextualized in Taubman’s (2000, 2009) analysis of educational audit culture, the author concludes that in the context of corporate reform discourses, teacher educators must reflect on the role of teacher education programs in the face of mounting threats to public education. Teacher education programs should serve as sites through which seemingly common sense discourses about education must be problematized. Further, both teacher educators and their students must critically reflect on their own assumptions and positionalities in order to clarify their values, which may not coincide with the values expressed in hegemonic education discourses.

Stay tuned for more writing!