Teacher ed reform: short, cynical version

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.

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  1. 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. []
  2. 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. []

5 responses to “Teacher ed reform: short, cynical version”

  1. TeacherEd

    I’ve experienced a couple decades of Teacher Ed reform already and I’m always on board to make improvements that are designed by knowledgeable, veteran educators who have the best interests of students at heart. I don’t think that’s the case with an organization like NCTQ, which is funded by such foundations as Gates and Broad and has people like Michelle Rhee and Wendy Kopp on their advisory board, who think that 5 weeks of Teach for America training is sufficient preparation to become a teacher.

    This is just another example of the corporate sponsored push to increase regulations for public education while they seek to shut down neighborhood schools and open more unregulated charter schools. I’ve reviewed their stuff, including their note to Arne Duncan urging him to sanction schools of education based on the test scores of students’ students. When they stop sending teachers with 5 weeks of training into classrooms with the most at-risk children, maybe I’ll consider taking them seriously.

  2. Glen S. McGhee

    Re: Holmes Group — David Labaree covers this in “The Trouble with Ed Schools.” Herbst is solid stuff, too.

  3. Keith Adolphson

    A few more more sticking points about finding supervising teachers:
    -The more ed students there are the less selective placement can be in a given area. Placement becomes about more managing “slots,” especially if there are competing ed programs, than providing optimal experiences to ed students.
    -The advent of high stakes testing and related teacher evaluation schemes has resulted in teachers being less willing to take on ed students in their classrooms thus exacerbating the problem of finding appropriate mentors.

  4. CCPhysicist

    It is typical that such analyses focus on policy and (correct me if I am wrong) never analyze whether it ever shows up in practice. For example, it strikes me as odd that Florida gets an overall B (B- for a POLICY on delivering well-prepared teachers) and Massachusetts gets and overall C (C+ on a POLICY on delivering well-prepared teachers) while actual student performance favors Massachusetts over Florida and many other states.

    It also strikes me as odd that the problem of appropriate mentors is centered on the schools themselves. Don’t the professors of how to teach actually spend a semester every year or three actually teaching, much the way that physics professors spend time actually doing physics or engineers actually do engineering? You don’t have to answer that one. I think it identifies a critical problem with teacher preparation, whether they are being Trained or Educated.

    Observations about cramming enough content into a teacher ed program also get my attention, because my late grandmother taught elementary school based on what she knew after graduating high school. One problem we refuse to face is that there are students entering college with an interest in teaching who need to take a class on elementary school math (typically fractions) and middle school math (basic algebra). Many never make it, but might actually be effective teachers in terms of personality and interpersonal skills. The system has been killing itself for decades.