Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Reforming Teacher Ed

Jennifer Epstein | Inside Higher Ed
March 12, 2010

WASHINGTON – A group representing colleges of teacher education on Thursday called for its member institutions to work with the rest of their universities, as well as schools, states and the federal government to emphasize and improve in-school preparation for teachers-to-be.

Leaders of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and other experts gathered for what was intended to be a high-profile opportunity – including a speech by a Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) – to inform state and national policy debates on K-12 school reform as states look to cut costs and raise standards, and Congress prepares for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

In the first of several news conferences scheduled to be held throughout the spring at the National Press Club, panelists stressed the importance of what's being called clinical training, a more robust in-school teaching and learning option than the student teaching of yore. “You can’t learn to swim on the sidewalk and you can’t learn to teach outside the classroom,” said Sharon Feiman-Nemser, a professor of Jewish education at Brandeis University who has for decades studied how teachers learn.

The world of teacher education, said Sharon Robinson, AACTE president and CEO, “is at a crucial and deciding moment where we can declare a real trend in the right direction” as consensus forms that clinical practice is the best way to teach future teachers.

In a policy brief released at the discussion, the association asks education colleges and states to require that new teachers spend at least 450 hours in clinical settings before earning their degrees or certifications. It also calls for increased attention and funding for successful residency partnerships between schools districts and universities.

Despite the shift toward increasing the time future teachers spend in the classroom and the disparaging words U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has had for some teacher preparation colleges, panelists insisted that reform movements shouldn’t diminish the role that colleges and universities play in getting teachers ready for the classroom

Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former president of Columbia University’s Teachers College said that, although alternative routes to certification have gained a sizable following, higher education is “still preparing 90 percent of all teachers” and is better able to fund teacher preparation than government on its own. Colleges and universities also offer instruction in content areas, another key component of preparing teachers.

He added: “There’s no research that indicates that any other provider is any better than universities, so why not go there?”

But colleges of teacher preparation are not without their challenges. Within their institutions, they’re often neglected by presidents, provosts and other faculty members. “They can’t been seen as cash cows; they can’t be [given] short shrift,” said Gene Wilhoit, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. To build up teacher preparation programs, colleges and universities are “going to have to make commitments as institutions similar to what they made to medicine and to law and to business schools.”

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