Friday, December 30, 2005

Teacher Education: How Can It Be Done Better?

Lee S. Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and professor emeritus at Stanford University, has some strong words about the state of teacher education in this country:
Teacher education does not exist in the United States. There is so
much variation among all programs in visions of good teaching,
standards for admission, rigor of subject matter preparation, what is
taught and what is learned, character of supervised clinical
experience, and quality of evaluation that compared to any other
academic profession, the sense of chaos is inescapable. The claim
that there are "traditional programs" that can be contrasted with
"alternative routes" is a myth.

We have only alternative routes into teaching. There may well be ways in which the teaching candidates of Teach for America or the New York City Fellows program meet more rigorous professional standards than those graduating from some"traditional" academic programs.

Compared to any other learned profession such as law, engineering, medicine, nursing or the clergy,where curricula, standards and assessments are far more standardized across the nation, teacher education is nothing but multiple
pathways. It should not surprise us that critics respond to the
apparent cacophony of pathways and conclude that it doesn't matter
how teachers are prepared.

I am convinced that teacher education will only survive as a serious
form of university-based professional education if it ceases to
celebrate its idiosyncratic "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach
to professional preparation. There should be no need to reinvent
teacher education every time a school initiates a new program. Like
our sibling professions, we must rapidly converge on a small set of
"signature pedagogies" that characterize all eacher education. These
approaches must combine very deep preparation in the content areas
teacher are responsible to teach (and tough assessments to ensure
that deep knowledge of content has been achieved), systematic
preparation in the practice of teaching using powerful technological
tools and a growing body of multimedia cases of teaching and
learning, seriously supervised clinical practice that does not depend
on the vagaries of student teaching assignments, and far more
emphasis on rigorous assessments of teaching that will lead to almost
universal attainment of board certification by career teachers.

The teacher education profession must come to this consensus; only then can accreditation enforce it. Commitment to social justice is
insufficient; love is not enough. If we do not converge on a common
approach to educating teachers, the professional preparation of
teachers will soon become like the professional education of actors.
There are superb MFA programs in universities, but few believe they
are necessary for a successful acting career.
Just a few days ago, we asked our readers, many of who actually teach in public school classrooms, what college courses that they would like to see would-be or practicing teachers take. Their real-world answers make for some very interesting reading indeed.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.