Dispositions in Teacher Education: Old Tricks, New Name
March 14, 2007
by William Creeley
Hines’s article provides a useful historical context to FIRE’s ongoing battle against the disposition-based assessments currently employed in teacher education. Hines writes:
The screening of prospective teachers for maladjustment 50 years ago and the dispositions assessments going on today have remarkable similarities. As William Damon of Stanford has noted, dispositions assessment “opens virtually all of a candidate’s thoughts and actions to scrutiny...[and] brings under the examiner’s purview a key element of the candidate’s very personality.” The same underlying assumption—that scientific means of selection and training could guarantee good teachers—held sway at mid-century with respect to mental hygiene. Teacher educators who guarded entry to the profession used the techniques of science to study, measure, and evaluate the teacher candidate as do those who guard entry today. Only the specific values and attitudes they appraise have changed. Advocates of dispositions assessment claim that their methods are “standards-based” and provide “accountability”—scientific-sounding catchwords that hold considerable weight in the current political climate.
By locating today’s reliance on politically loaded dispositions in a larger historical context, Hines’s article helps isolate and reveal the dangers of mandating a particular worldview for our nation’s teachers. By requiring that prospective teachers be evaluated by their commitment to vague ideals like “social justice,” today’s schools repeat yesterday’s mistakes, when teachers were graded according to equally amorphous standards, like “attainments and attitudes.” Hines’s research demonstrates that both then and now, teachers’ schools err grievously when they substitute personality tests and political allegiances for more practical, relevant considerations, such as student performance in the classroom. Hines’s conclusion is precisely correct: “Those committed to academic freedom within higher education should be concerned when professional socialization trumps freedom of conscience in teacher education programs.”