Monday, August 08, 2005

Who Needs Education Schools?

Since this is a high-profile commentary on our schools/colleges of education, this rather unflattering portrayal merits a response from those of us who teach in such schools to the NYTimes.

July 31, 2005

Who Needs Education Schools?

"With the ambition of producing educators rather than technicians, in the words of Hunter's acting dean, Shirley Cohen, schools have embraced a theoretical approach. But critics say that ill prepares teachers to function effectively in the classroom."

This is a long piece so I won't reproduce it all here.



  1. Angela and all:

    This is an old story, one that has been told many times before. Colleges of
    education are NOT properly preparing pre-service teachers for the rigors of
    classroom teaching (read: They are complying with the wishes politicans,
    policy-makers or school boards)

    Bill Pinar is his book What is Curriculum Theory? describes in great detail
    the ways the curriculum battle over what is taught in schools and even how is
    is taught has long since been lost for university-based folks. That battle
    was won by legislatures, state agencies and departments of education and
    publishing companies who fund research that supports packaged, reductive
    modes of curriculum and pedagogy that bolster their bottom lines.

    Is it REALLY that pre-service and in-service teachers don't know how to
    implement the "techniques" of teaching? Is it that they cannot follow the
    scripts they are provided? I don't think so.

    "If only," Bill Pinar suggests cynically, "we could find the right technique,
    the right strategy, the right book, the right etc, THEN the kids will
    learn." He cogently critiques this as an ugly vestige of social engineering
    found in teaching and indeed in most colleges of education. The issue for
    him is not technique, but it is of self-understanding, relationship, and what
    Maxine Greene calls "wide awakeness."

    Is the teaching of technique and skill all their is to be
    considered "educated" or "professional"?

    The central problem with this piece is that it is a "snapshot" that ignores
    the scope and sequence of most teacher education programs. I would say that
    in the vast MAJORITY of teacher education programs--even alternative cert.
    programs, techniques, strategies, scripts are most often what pre-service
    teachers are presented with. How many pre-service teachers REALLLY get the
    opportunity to read Paulo Friere? Sadly, I think it is a vast minority.

    The central problem for colleges of education, for me, is that these
    techiques and social theories of education are all presented outside the
    context of classrooms and children and have little chance of "transfering"
    this knowledge to classroom practices later. Why not have more lab schools
    or more extended opportunities to serve as a teacher apprentice? The pre-
    service teachers with whom I work are presented with fewer and fewer
    opportunities to actually work with children or actually teach during their
    lab. experiences BECAUSE of the high-stakes nature of accountability.
    Teachers and principals are less and less willing to take the chance on
    letting pres-service teachers gain classroom experiences for fear that it
    will jeopardize "the numbers."

    Having said all this, however, as someone who works with pre-service teachers
    in a college of education, I take to heart the idea that pre-service teachers
    DO need to be prepared to deal with the day-to-day rigors, intensities,
    randomness, etc of the modern classroom.

    My own work, of late, has focused on what James Popham has called "assessment
    literacy." The question I've been asking, "do pre-service teachers develop
    the assessment literacy necessary to teach in an era of intensified
    accountability?" (of course, I've added Ladson-Billings notion of "culturally-
    relavent" to this descriptor and the work of Claude Steele).

    I've been following closely this whole debate about "balance" in Colleges of
    Education. Based on this debate, one of the things I've been interested in
    understanding is whether or not pre-service teachers are offered a "balanced"
    picture" of accountability (whatever that is, right?). My concern is that if
    pre-service teachers are only presented with the negatives or critiques of
    such systems they may be less likely to staying in the public school
    classroom--and would be less likely to develop what i'm calling culturally-
    responsive assessment literacy (I also draw on the work of Claude Steele).

    Our findings from survey-based research of pre-service teaches at TAMU
    suggest that teacher educators ARE presenting pre-pre-service teachers with a
    balanced view of accountability. In other words, these pre-service teachers
    reported that they are exposed to both the arguments for, or the
    possibilities of and arguments against, or the limitations of test-based
    systems of accountability.

    To me, this finding is significant given the contours of the divided
    literature concerning the effects of test-based systems of accountability--
    which i describe in my chapter in Angela's 2004 edited book.

    In my review of the literature concerning accountabilitiy, I have found that
    most of those who support acct.--some tentatively--come from departments of
    administration and leadership or departments of ed. psych. Conversely, those
    who critique, tend to come from C&I departments who typicallly offer more
    teacher education classes.

    Thus, I wanted to know whether or not this meant that pre-service teachers
    were presented with only the critiques, limitations, etc of test-based
    systems of accountability and whether not they believed themselves to be
    prepared to teach in an era of intesified acct.

    Again, my findings suggest that pre-service teachers ARE being presented with
    a balanced picture of such systems. In terms of assessment literacy or
    preparedness, however, we found that whereas secondary pre-service teachers
    believed themselves to be prepared or possess the assessment literacy
    necessary to teach in an era of intensified acct., elemenatary education pre-
    service teachers did not.

    As someone who works with these pre-service teachers, I took this finding to
    heart. I presented these data to the faculty and the department head funded
    a professional development opportunity on assessment literacy for teacher
    education faculty. While I didn't believe this professional development
    opportunity effectively addressed issues of assessment and culture, I saw it
    as a first step.

    Sorry for the long windedness here, but if anyone is interested I could send
    along a copy of a MS that I have submitted for publication on this topic.

    In solidarity,


  2. I am posting this on behalf of Professor Pete Farruggio:


    Curious about Dr Steiner, I searched and found this little essay at the Hoover Institute's site (coincidence???). My quick summary:

    Educated in England, he thinks the A-level exams are peachy keen for "creating a national vocabulary"

    Along these lines, he is a strong proponent of a national curriculum

    His entire focus is on high school and curriculum. No mention of K-8, nor of pedagogy. Therefore, I surmise that he is interested in public ed as an ideological tool. He takes ED Hirsch as a given. What Hirsch says is important is therefore important. I call this "passing on the ruling class ideology"

    He criticizes US multiculturalism as vague and too dismissive of the core national culture

    By the way, his faculty profile at Boston University's site says he is involved in the Paedeia movement. Given the elitist values espoused in his essay, I see that he is one of those Paedeia-ites who view that program model as a social reproductionist instrument for the chosen few, a way to "pass on the culture" to upper class whites and some of the "talented tenth"

    Pete Farruggio

    PS: Heaven help the poor ed students at Hunter College!