Turning teacher education upside down


In order to improve student performance in the public schools, teacher education needs to be "turned upside down" according to a report released last month by the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Noticeably missing from the report's "Blue Ribbon Panel" are experts representing parents, private colleges and universities, and finance. Admirably, the report acknowledges that many of the nation's preschool-12 students are underperforming, but its prescription for change-modeling teacher education on medical education involving high schools, unions, the federal government, and state lawmakers-reads like a beauty pageant contestant's world peace platform: naïve, expensive, and unattainable.

Local public schools would take on roles tantamount to teaching hospitals while teachers would partner with college educators in becoming "clinical faculty." In this "dramatic overhaul," the panel states that "we must place practice at the center of teaching preparation" because teaching, like medicine, "is a profession of practice." It would replace teacher preparation "largely focused on content knowledge, theory, and pedagogy. . . ."

Student teachers would spend one to two years in the classroom. Public school teachers and budgets, already stretched thin, would take on a larger and more costly role. The report gives little information about how much its suggestions might cost, yet promises that expenses will somehow "eventually be offset" by savings in staff development and teacher turnover. The panel calls for creating clinical models in each state's most challenging districts. With the assistance of state lawmakers, the best models, according to the report, should be adopted statewide with a national system emerging to be governed at the federal level with the NCATE playing "a strong participant role" along with unions and state governments. In the meantime, the NCATE will promote clinical preparation in the higher education and state and federal government communities.

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Strikingly, there is no mention of the parental role in education, how teachers would interact with parents in a clinical program, and the monumental challenges teachers face due to family breakdown. Moreover, as the American Enterprise Institute's Frederick Hess remarked, the report "shows a troubling tone-deafness to the fiscal situation" experienced by governments today.

Will the new system work? Although the report acknowledges that "there is not a large research base on what makes clinical preparation effective," it does cite a few promising examples. But one thing is certain: "The nation needs an entire system of excellent programs, not a cottage industry of pathbreaking initiatives."

In other words: ready, shoot, aim! And eight states are pulling the trigger including California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee.

Although poorly developed, the report is not bashful in boldly calling attention to the nation's teacher education problem. Known for generally having low admission standards, teacher education programs should raise the bar according to the report. And "residents" (student teachers) should have to "defend" (prove) their impact on student achievement.

The NCATE's report calls for top-down teacher preparation reform managed by lawmakers, bureaucrats, educators, and unions with little financial accountability. Hopefully, the blue ribbon panel's suggestions will stimulate a larger national debate about teacher education. Competing reports might suggest "accreditation free zones" where entire school districts could forgo hiring state-accredited teachers, closing the weakest college teacher education departments, creating college-based teacher education departments free from state regulation, and calling for parental vouchers for students residing in the 10 worst school districts in every state.

Cost-effective successes generated by such initiatives, along with the best NCATE programs, just might turn public teacher education upside down.

Lee Wishing
Lee Wishing

Lee is the administrative director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.


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