I’ve been having some troubles finishing a blog entry on remedial education–there are multiple moving pieces in my head, and explaining how they fit together is partly a matter of taking them apart and rearranging them. I had intended to finish it Friday, and then Saturday, and now sometime this year apparently. But since there’s another “report card” on education policy, this time on teacher education, I can address that. Whenever there are two news items that make me want to put my head through a wall for various reasons, I probably can explain the problems.
So here are the two news items:
- The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) has decided that the nation has a D+ on average in teacher education policy. Florida’s at the top of the class with a B-. Let’s go celebrate!1
- A set of inside-the-Beltway wonks regularly surveyed by Whiteboard Advisors is skeptical that anything will happen at the federal level with improving teacher education.
Cue up Jurgen Herbst’s solid history of teacher ed, And Sadly Teach, rewind, and watch again. The Holmes Group, NCTQ, and many others keep wanting the same things without tackling the sticking points.
- Many people argue for more selectivity at some level, in some shape, at some point along the process of becoming a teacher. At various times people frame this as needing a teacher competency exam, higher admissions criteria to teacher education programs, and so forth. Some of the sticking points: colleges and universities often desperately need the students in teacher education and other lower-cost undergraduate programs to cross-subsidize other programs; the various selection options often would have a disproportionate effect on potential teachers from racial and ethnic minorities; parents expect someone in front of their children no matter where they live in the country and no matter what age their child is; the same policymakers asked to make teacher education more selective are also asked to open the path for people to become teachers in multiple ways.
- Many people would like new teachers to have great mastery of content knowledge, solid pedagogical skills, and have loads of clinical experience, all within an undergraduate degree with no extra time required. Sticking points: the calendar; undergraduate student debt; and don’t forget the cross-subsidizing-other-programs bit mentioned above. One more thing: elementary education and special education teachers have the broadest content coverage in terms of their classes, which should theoretically mean they spend the most time learning content and also the most time learning pedagogy and the most time in clinical settings. Guess which programs typically have the greatest enrollment in colleges of education (i.e., used to cross-subsidize programs)?2
- Many people, such as the leadership of NCTQ, would say that colleges of education or someone independent of school districts should have the right to filter potential supervising teachers, to make sure that those in teacher preparation programs are only in model classes. Sticking points: colleges need the cooperation of districts for clinical experiences in schools, supervising teachers are volunteers, and remember that numbers/cross-subsidizing dynamic mentioned above? The more people in a program, the more classes you need for placement purposes.
- Many people argue that teacher education should be held accountable for the outcomes of students in the classes of their graduates, and NCTQ gave Florida a B- (a good grade, in their view) in part because we do something sorta kinda like maybe a quarter of the way towards George Noell’s more careful reports in Louisiana. Sticking points: most operating value-added models are not ready for prime time, the outcome-oriented approach conflicts violently with the input-oriented oversight and regulation of many state departments of education, many teacher education programs (not colleges and schools but individual programs) do not have graduates who teach in tested subjects (or subjects that give you data that can be used in a value-added approach), many graduates do not work in schools under the data-collecting guise of a state, smaller programs are vulnerable to being on the extreme ends of ratings if the system is not designed well (let’s assume a state would not design this well), and the feedback loop of any reasonable length (a few years after graduates leave) is giving data on the structure of a program that was operating five years ago or more.
These are not insuperable barriers to improving the preparation of teachers and other educators at multiple levels. But they cannot be wished away by calls for the reforms. Do I have ideas for improving teacher education that are I think are somewhat more shrewd than the usual suspects? Yes! Do I have time to explain them tonight? No! But I have a teaser: less micromanagement, more programs as protocols.
- Disclosure: I am the chair of a department with two educator preparation programs (school counseling and school psychology) and where our courses are taken by many students in teacher education. This blog is about my personal views, not those of my department, but you should know where I sit to understand where I stand. [↩]
- More than two decades ago, the Holmes Group of colleges of education proposed that teacher education should move towards graduate programs or combined undergraduate/graduate programs. Frank Murray was the head of the Holmes Group for a time while he was dean of the (then-)College of Education at the University of Delaware. When I was a visiting faculty member there 20 years ago, I taught a full slate of undergraduate classes, and Murray never got rid of the undergraduate-only programs. [↩]