Monday, January 11, 2010

Making Teaching a Profession

Jennifer Epstein | Issues in Higher Ed
January 5, 2010

WASHINGTON -- After spending much of the fall calling for major reforms to the nation’s teacher preparation programs, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s pleas appear to have begun to encourage action, as a major accreditor begins an effort this week aimed at bringing major changes to colleges of education and school districts alike.

More than two dozen teacher educators and education policy leaders will converge here Wednesday and Thursday for the first meeting of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education’s (NCATE) Panel on Clinical Preparation, Partnerships and Improved Student Learning, charged with recommending scalable ways to improve in-the-classroom training and strengthen relationships between school districts and the colleges and universities that prepare their teachers. The recommendations, in turn, would probably form the basis for revisions to the council’s accreditation standards.

NCATE -- which accredits more than 600 colleges and programs nationally that graduate two-thirds of new teachers -- has initiated what James Cibulka, its president, called a “redesign and transformation” aimed at making teaching a more respected profession with heightened preparation standards throughout.

The panel, he said, will “identify what the best practices are in strong clinical preparation and in preparing teachers to more effectively teach diverse learners.” Efforts will focus on building partnerships between universities and making sure ideas are "relevant to policies at the national, state and local level.” After this week’s sessions, the panel will meet again in April before issuing a final report in May, a timeline he said is accelerated because the change is badly needed and the national environment is ripe for change.

In an October speech at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Duncan said “America’s university-based teacher preparation programs need revolutionary change -- not evolutionary tinkering.” In another speech that month, at the University of Virginia, he suggested that "teaching should be one of our most revered professions, and teacher preparation programs should be among a university's most important responsibilities," an opinion he voiced again in a column published in the magazines of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.

Among the ideas to be seriously considered by the panel: the restructuring and rebranding of teaching as a practice-based profession like medicine or nursing, with a more closely-monitored induction period -- akin to a doctor's residency -- and career-long professional development.

Tom Carroll, a member of the panel and president of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future, said he wants the group “to respond with a very proactive, forward-looking vision of what we need to do to reinvent teacher preparation.”

Panelist Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former dean of Teachers College, said he hopes to see the group take steps to bridge “the yawning chasm of practice and theory between the universities and the schools.” Schools, he said, should “become teaching hospitals,” environments where undergraduate and graduate students preparing to become teachers can learn as they contribute to the instruction of primary and secondary students. Levine published a series of highly critical (and controversial) reports about the problems in teacher education several years ago.

Most teacher preparation programs already include some element of clinical practice, or student teaching, but Levine said the problem he has seen at dozens of programs was that there was “no connection between the clinical experience and what went on in the university.” Ideally, he said, students “would teach in the morning, spend the afternoon learning theory connected to what went on that morning, and then preparing for the next day.”

To Catherine Emihovich, a panelist who is dean of the University of Florida’s College of Education, “the time has come” for major changes to teacher preparation. “Secretary Duncan has been pushing for change and the true understanding of teaching as a profession, and we are too,” she said. “We must treat teaching as a recognized profession that occurs in stages rather than to see it in the old model where students study it in college, graduate in four years … and then are working in the field and done with their education.”

Sona K. Andrews, provost of Boise State University, said her institution’s college of education is “actually one of the few that puts students in the classroom throughout the entire tenure that the student is here.” The university has strong relationships with local school districts to ensure that the two entities are serving one anothers’ needs.

The ivory tower and the little red school house must learn how to work together, Cibulka said. Student teachers must be placed with master teachers rather than “the teachers that say they need a student teacher.” They need “strong relationships with supervising teachers and with other teachers in the school and other students learning in the preparation program.”

That’s possible, he said, only if the two kinds of institutions work together. “To be successful is going to have to be done in partnership. Working together, I think we’re going to begin to actually change the profession.”

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