Assault on Teacher Education

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is leading the assault on teacher education in the U.S.

According to the President of this organization “Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools they need.”

NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh, has led the assault  claiming that teacher education has no real authority because it lacks specialized knowledge. She writes about teacher education, yet she lacks professional training in educational research and has no experience as a K-12 teacher or a university professor. Her writing is not peer-reviewed, nor subjected to kind of review and analysis that the writing is by educational researchers,  or others scholars in the fields of art, music, history, political science, computer science, mathematics. Scholarly peer review Most journals use scholarly peer review to judge professional work, such as in medicine or political science, and done by experts in the field of the scholar’s work.  Think tank “research” is typically not peer-reviewed, and it doesn’t matter whether the organization is on the left or the right of the political spectrum.  When reading reports that are non-peer reviewed, we should be cautious about the facts, principles, theories and conclusions drawn in these reports.

Leading the Assault on Teacher Education

Leading the assault on teacher education is NCTQ.

The NCTQ was created by the ultra conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in 1999.  According to Anthony Cody, we gain insight into the NCTQ’s origin from this quote from Diane Ravitch which Cody included in his article, “NCTQ Prepares its Hit on Schools of Education.”  According to Ravitch, here is what the Fordham Foundation thought about teacher education:

We thought (schools of education) were too touchy-feely, too concerned about self-esteem and social justice and not concerned enough with basic skills and academics. In 1997, we had commissioned a Public Agenda study called “Different Drummers“; this study chided professors of education because they didn’t care much about discipline and safety and were more concerned with how children learn rather than what they learned. TBF established NCTQ as a new entity to promote alternative certification and to break the power of the hated ed schools.

Screen Shot 2012-04-05 at 9.10.20 AMThis is not the first time that I’ve written about the NCTQ.  About a year ago I wrote a review of a NCTQ study on what teacher education programs teach about K-12 assessment.  In my review, I concluded that the researchers of the NCTQ study are stuck in a 19th-century model of teaching, and simply want to hold accountable, teacher education institutions to the principles and practices that teacher education rocketed through years ago.

In this blog post, I am going to focus on an article that NCTQ’s president, Kate Walsh published online at Educationnext entitled 21st-Century Teacher Education. The article includes one illustration of  a red “teacher tools” box with a very large lock with teachers standing near.  The teachers are unable to unlock the “tools of teaching” inside the box.

According to Walsh, Ed schools don’t give teachers the tools inside the box.  For a 21st-Century article about teacher education, don’t you think its odd to use a 17th – 18th century invention as a metaphor?

The article is full of opinion, and lacks any research basis for her views of teacher education.  Furthermore, the tone of the article unabashedly negative, and she seems to enjoy using violent and militaristic metaphors.

Yet at the same time, the article is important because it identifies the nature of the assault on teacher education.

The author of the article doesn’t hold back on her opinions of Ed schools. Here’s one comment that will knock you over. She quotes and agrees with a former employee of the National Institutes of Health, Reid Lyon, who would like to take the following action against Ed schools:

If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up colleges of education.

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, which is very close to several schools of education in Boston, this remark is simply outrageous.  (Full disclosure: I was born and raised in Boston, and attended graduate school at Boston University)

Cherry Picking

Her assault on teacher education, beyond the bombing metaphor, begins with a cherry picking exercise in which she chooses a few sentences from a major research study carried out in 2006 by the most prestigious education research organization in the world, the American Education Research Association (AERA).  The major research project was Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education, edited by Marilyn Cochran-Smith and Kenneth M. Zeichner.  Walsh claims that the research was written by 15 prominent deans and education professors, when in fact there were 25 authors and panel members, only one of whom was dean.  The authors are prominent researchers and practicing teacher educators.

Walsh assumes that thinking about right and wrong (directions, issues, methods, content) is the way researchers in this volume of research think.  They don’t.  But she does.  And this is a major dilemma in analyzing anything that Walsh and her think tank has to say.

She claims that the AERA report outs teacher education by publishing a report that will give “balanced, thorough, and unapologetically honest descriptions of the state of research on particular topics in teacher education.” But, as I said, all she has done is pull a sentence out of a report of more than 800 pages.  Here is the complete paragraph containing this sentence:

This volume represents a systematic effort to apply a common set of evaluative criteria to a range of important topics in teacher education. It is our intention to provide balanced, thorough, and unapologetically honest descriptions of the state of research on particular topics in teacher education as a field of study. For many of the topics we considered, this meant that we needed to identify and acknowledge the considerable inconsistencies and contradictions that characterize the field. Our reviews were designed not only to note this state of the field but also to explain why this is so and to evaluate both the strengths and the weaknesses of different questions and approaches as we simultaneously identified promising lines of inquiry.  (Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 230-235). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

Walsh has her own view of how teachers should be educated, and seems somewhat bothered by the depth of the research reported in the AERA study.  For the researcher, they’re interested in uncovering the nature of teacher education through inquiry, and then to use findings to document and encourage promising lines for further inquiry.  Walsh, beyond bombing schools of ed, has her own set of ideas that she thinks should be the substance of teacher education.

She claims that the volume demonstrates lack of credible research in teacher education. I don’t think she read the book.

For starters there are 12  chapters, and each chapter has between 100 – 200 citations, most of which are research studies published in peer-reviewed journals.  There is credible research in teacher education.  It might not be what Ms. Walsh wants to read.  For this book, all chapters “were vetted by scholars who brought independent expertise to the work and who had no stake in the panel or its report.”   Another words, it was peer-reviewed.  Walsh is not used to this kind of writing or research.  If she was, then her article as written on EducationNext wouldn’t have been published in any credible journal.

In the book, there are nine research syntheses that are used to highlight the current state of field in teacher education.  The “Executive Summary” which draws from three general chapters and the nine research reviews, might be valuable section of the book for “researchers” at NCTQ.

Teachers Should Be Trained

Walsh appears really upset with the fact that teacher educators don’t see teacher education as training.  (Disclaimer: I am teacher educator, and practiced teacher education at Georgia State University, Florida State, the University of Vermont, and the University of Hawaii for about 35 years, and I didn’t train anyone during that period, not even a dog).  She also objects to the concept or word “learning”, and can’t understand why teacher educators distinguish it from knowing real facts.  This is quite understandable, because she lacks the knowledge about how humans learn, and somewhere along the line missed out on a new field of inquiry known as the “learning sciences.”  Most teacher educators that I know and read embody the leaning sciences in their approach to designing teacher education curriculum, and teacher education courses.  The learning sciences is an interdisciplinary field that endeavors to further our understanding of human learning.  It is at the forefront of what teacher educators do, and unfortunately, Walsh doesn’t seem able or willing to entertain that thought.

Reading further into Walsh’s article, we find her take on methods courses in teacher education.  To Walsh, a methods course ought to send or give to the student what methods should be used to teach subject matter. Students should come into a methods course and be trained.  When Walsh found out that some of the top researchers in the field suggest that teaching is way to complex to be simply “taught” in courses based on a bag of tricks.

Walsh advances the achievement and authoritarian mentality of American education, and seeks to impose this view on teacher education.  Her conception of teacher education is simple when she talks about methods courses, and she seems bent out of shape when she reads the research that the authors of the AERA research study report to us.

Teachers Should Not Be Trained

In an amazing chapter on the Research on Methods Courses and Field Experiences by Renee T. Clift and Patricia Brady, Walsh picks two sentences from their research, but reverses them in her article, and then doesn’t tell us the full context of the research.

Here is what is in the Walsh article about methods:

A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. [They] are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”

If you go to the research chapter, here you will see how Walsh rearranged the authors thinking, and failed to give us the context:  Here is the full context and the two sentences highlighted:  (Note how she reversed the ideas.)

Across the four content areas, methods courses are seen as complex sites in which instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices, and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.A methods course is seldom defined as a class that transmits information about methods of instruction and ends with a final exam. Content-area researchers, often the course instructors, looked at multifaceted activities such as role adoption, personal relationships, and rationales for appropriating certain tools. Field experiences were increasingly connected to and embedded within methods courses and seen as extending coverage of concepts introduced in the methods courses. The field experiences provide prospective teachers opportunities to practice ideas or gain experience with concepts through small-group observations, tutoring, community experiences, and service learning in addition to observations and more traditional student teaching.
(Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 9825-9831). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.)

The first science methods course that I taught was a collaborative effort with my colleague Ashley Morgan, who became my mentor at Georgia State University.  After finishing my Ph.D. in science education and geology at Ohio State University in 1969, I started my career in Atlanta, and the course I taught with Ashley was centered in the classrooms of an urban elementary school in the city of Atlanta.  Any conception that I had that a methods course was a training exercise vanished after working with Ashley Morgan at GSU.  Students in our course had continual experiences with children and youth and practicing teachers who worked with them on planning, teaching and evaluation.  For the next thirty-five years I was involved in developing and directing alternative forms of science teacher education based on theories of humanistic psychology, constructivism, and experiential learning.  Walsh would certainly not endorse the work we did at GSU.

Ms. Walsh doesn’t realize it but professional teacher education research, just like professional medical education research, has moved from a focus on general or generic teaching behavior, to thinking and learning about the context of teaching.  In the chapter Walsh refers to in the AERA report (Research Methods Courses and Field Experiences), the researchers examined methods of research in the teaching of English, mathematics, science and social studies.  Their review informs us that teacher preparation, just like medical education, begins with the beliefs teacher candidates have about students, teaching and learning and helps students explore teaching (or medical practice) to the “instructional, interpersonal, social, and historical factors that come into play one begins teaching practice.” (Zeichner, Kenneth M. (2009-08-03). Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education (Kindle Locations 9839-9840). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition.

21st-Century Teacher Education is the title of Walsh’s article, unfortunately, her view of teacher education set not in the 21st-Century, but more like the 19th-Century.  Teacher education is not the naïve view of Walsh’s.

Finding Teacher Education in the Marketplace

According to the NCTQ, students who aspire to teach should consider themselves consumers of teacher education, and using the marketplace model, they would be drawn to “high quality” schools.  The NCTQ wants to impose an “objective” measure of program quality.  Indeed they have the NCTQ Teacher Prep Review coming out in June, and it purports to rate teacher education programs across the country.  This new “consumer report for teacher education” will use admission standards, course requirements, content covered, how well students are prepared for the Common Core State Standards, the nature of student teaching, instruction in classroom management and lesson planning, and teacher candidates are judged ready for the classroom (Walsh, 2013.)  The NCTQ will also single out institutions that follow or track their graduates effectiveness on the achievement of K-12 student.

If this report is anything like the “study” they did of what teacher preparation programs teach about K-12 assessment, then it will not be based on critical research on teacher education such as the work of Linda Darling-Hammond in her book, Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs.  This book was published in 2006, the same year that the AERA study was published.  I wonder why Walsh didn’t reference the Darling-Hammond book?

In Powerful Teacher Education, the authors identify teacher education programs that have a long track record of preparing teachers who teach a wide range of students, and do it successfully.  In seven programs that they focus on, they all have the following in common:

an approach that prepares teachers to practice in ways that we describe as both learning-centered (that is, supportive of focused, in-depth learning that results in powerful thinking and proficient performance on the part of students) and learner-centered (responsive to individual students’ experiences, interests, talents, needs, and cultural backgrounds). These programs go well beyond preparing teachers to manage a calm classroom and make their way through a standard curriculum by teaching to the middle of the class. They help teachers learn to reach students who experience a range of challenges and teach them for deep understanding. They also help teachers learn not only how to cope with the students they encounter but how to expand children’s aspirations as well as accomplishments, thereby enhancing educational opportunity and social justice.  (Linda Darling-Hammond. Powerful Teacher Education: Lessons from Exemplary Programs (pp. 7-8). Kindle Edition.)

Teacher education programs have embodied learning sciences research I cited earlier in this post, and consequently the field of teacher preparation is very different than that envisioned by the NCTQ.  Darling-Hammond, recognizing that teachers are not born to teach, and pointing out how complex and difficult teaching is, suggests that teacher education institutions must prepare teachers for “responsive practice.”  Finding out what really goes on inside teacher education programs was what her research was about.

The study that will be forthcoming from the NCTQ will not reveal anything about the actual programs that they evaluate.  If they use the same methods that used in their prior study, the new one will be written without visits to the universities, interviews with faculty or students.

One More Thing

Ethical and honest research in education more times than not brings to the surface conflicts and issues, that people like Walsh like to grasp and use as a weakness in the life of educational research.  Walsh is stuck in the very old model that the purpose of teacher education is train teachers to teach the facts of science, or math, and that Ed schools should be training factories turning out teachers who follow the orders from above to teach nothing but the facts.

The NCTQ‘s assault on teacher education is a well-financed effort whose goal is control teacher preparation, and take it out of the hands of professional educators, and turn it over to statisticians and politicians who want to ignore the rich field of educational research, and the work being done at many universities with school districts in their localities.  The research book published by the AERA that Walsh uses to degrade teacher education actually promotes a vibrant and powerful profession of teacher education.  Instead of blowing up Ed schools, we should be supporting efforts to explore multiple models of preparing teachers for our schools.

What are your conceptions of teacher education in the 21st-Century?  If you’ve read the Walsh article, what do you think of her views of teacher education?

 

 

 

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