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Teacher Training Moves to Forefront of Education Debate

By Andrew Busch

With little media fanfare, Colorado has started moving to address one of the most important problems facing its public schools: shortcomings in the teacher education process.

Last spring, the state legislature passed SB 154 mandating significant changes in teacher education programs. The bill requires ed schools to bring the content of their programs into line with the state’s elementary and secondary academic standards, and allows local school districts to set up their own independent teacher “apprenticeship” programs. On October 21, Governor Bill Owens put a fresh spotlight on this issue, sponsoring a day-long summit focusing on teacher quality and training.

It has been clear for years that a massive disconnection has developed between what the public wants from the public schools and the preparation provided by teacher training programs. Indeed, most education schools have long been caught in the grip of educational fads and half-baked theories serving collectively as the intellectual font of much of what ails American education.

Over a decade ago, educational researcher Rita Kramer declared, after visiting more than a dozen top education schools nationwide, that “Almost nowhere did I find teachers of teachers whose emphasis was on the measurable learning of real knowledge.” In the ed schools, “What matters is not to teach any particular subject or skill, not to preserve past accomplishments or stimulate future achievement, but to give all that stamp of approval that will make them ‘feel good about themselves.'”

One secondary social studies teacher, trained in a Colorado ed school, confirmed Kramer’s appraisal to me, calling his program “ludicrous” and “a waste of time” characterized by a pervasive philosophy of “academic weakness and feel-good education.”

Another prospective teacher detailed how he dropped out of a different Colorado ed program after one semester because ideological conformity to multiculturalism and political correctness–not effective teaching–was the dominant focus.

A third described to me her in-state ed school program: one professor who required his class to divide itself into “victim groups” and urged the prospective teachers not to give exams because they were too stressful; another instructor who boasted of how she had managed to teach a secondary level history class without teaching her students history before their birthdates; a course on writing instruction in which the class was informed that “invented spelling” was a legitimate approach and that schools should not bother teaching analytical writing at all because computers would soon be writing students’ papers for them; a required course on educational philosophy which emphasized that teachers were primarily “agents of social change” rather than purveyors of knowledge and that honors or accelerated classes for advanced students were to be reviled as not sufficiently egalitarian.

With teacher preparation like this, we can hardly be surprised that so many of our children are not gaining the factual knowledge or academic skills that we expect. There are many outstanding teachers in Colorado’s public schools, but our best teachers are successful in spite of their training rather than because of it.

As policymakers work to meet a July 1, 2000 deadline for redesigning Colorado’s teacher ed programs in accordance with the requirements established by SB 154, several common sense principles should guide them:

Prospective teachers should spend as much time in the elementary and secondary classroom as possible. To no small degree, learning to teach can only be accomplished by teaching. SB 154 requires a minimum of 800 supervised hours in the classroom, but other states on the cutting edge of education reform require as many as 1200 hours. Colorado should move toward the higher figure.

Conversely, there should be a dramatic reduction in ed school coursework. Rather, prospective teachers should be expected to acquire and demonstrate a higher level of training and competence in their chosen subject areas.

Options like alternative certification and district-run apprenticeships that bypass ed schools entirely should be promoted and expanded in every way possible. Ultimately, licensing requirements should be revised by the legislature. For example, there is no reason that a masters degree or higher in an academic subject area should not automatically certify one for secondary teaching on a probationary basis.

The monopoly that education schools once held has allowed them the luxury of disregarding the expectations and aspirations of the people who pay the bills for public education and whose children suffer the consequences when academic rigor is replaced with pseudo-therapy. Now, though, the monopoly is coming to an end and the patience of democratically accountable policymakers is wearing thin. The education schools have been put on notice– and not a moment too soon for Colorado’s students– that they will either change or run the risk of putting themselves out of business.
Andrew E. Busch is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Denver. He wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a think tank in Golden which studies education policy, https://i2i.org.

This article, from the Independence Institute staff, fellows and research network, is offered for your use at no charge. Independence Feature Syndicate articles are published for educational purposes only, and the authors speak for themselves. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action. Please send comments to Editorial Coordinator, Independence Institute, 14142 Denver West Pkwy., suite 185, Golden, CO 80401 Phone 303-279-6536 (fax) 303-279-4176 (email)webmngr@i2i.org

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