Undergraduate education majors to be evaluated by new form

February 22, 2006

An evaluation form for education majors that sparked a controversy over political correctness will be replaced at Washington State University, school officials said.

The new form will not record the political or religious beliefs of students who are seeking to become teachers, according to the WSU College of Education.

“We never had the intent to exclude anyone,” said Judy Mitchell, dean of the College of Education

The evaluation forms, known as “professional disposition evaluations,”

generated controversy last August when undergraduate Ed Swan, 42, was threatened with termination as an education major after failing four PDEs the previous school year.

A national civil liberties group, the Foundation for Individual Rights in

Education, intervened on Swan’ behalf with the WSU administration.

A self-employed landscaper in Othello, Swan holds conservative religious and political views. When asked, he elaborated on them in education classes.

After FIRE sent a letter to WSU citing federal case law, the College of Education reversed course in the fall and allowed Swan to continue in the program. It also began reconsidering its evaluation of undergraduates.

“It’s a learning process for all of us, and I’d say you get better at what you’re doing when someone questions it,” said Cori Mantle-Bromley, chairwoman of the Teaching and Learning Department at WSU.

Students will be evaluated under the new form starting this semester.

The evaluations are designed to identify future teachers who might introduce inappropriate material whether about politics, religion or other hot-button issues or would be uncomfortable among some groups in classrooms.

Under the old forms, professors were asked to evaluate whether a student exhibited an understanding of the complexities of race, power, gender, class, sexual orientation and privilege in American society.

Four times Swan’s teachers failed him on this question. He was threatened with termination from the teacher training program after teachers said they feared he could not withhold his opinions in a classroom.

Swan was also told to sign an agreement to respect community norms and appreciate diversity. He refused and the university withdrew it after receiving complaints from FIRE.

The new form looks like a great improvement to Swan.

“They’ve changed quite a few things, all for the better,” he said Monday in a telephone interview from Othello, where he is student-teaching this semester.

Swan, the father of four biracial children, is teaching in a classroom whose students are about 90 percent Hispanic.

“There’s plenty of diversity and it’s all going well, with no snags,”

Swan

said. “I’ve had 100 percent positive reviews from my mentor-teacher here.”

The new College of Education form emphasizes how a student interacts with others from diverse backgrounds, rather than what beliefs he or she may hold about political or religious issues.

“We don’t want to use jargon and push political buttons,” Mantle-Bromley said.

The old language could be misinterpreted, she said.

Schools: Washington State University Cases: Washington State University: Use of Dispositions Theory to Enforce Ideological Orthodoxy