Aspiring teachers can find their way to teaching in one of two pathways, teacher education programs (TE) at public and private universities or alternative programs, such Teach for America (TFA). Although there are mixed results, there is little to no evidence that the Teach for America teachers are more effective than teachers who graduate from America’s teacher education programs at public and private universities. Actually, the data shows that TFA educators might be less effective than America’s teacher education graduates.
Teacher Education Programs
According to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) there are 565 colleges accredited, and about 500 more programs that are not.
There is aknowledge gap when it comes to the public’s understanding of the nature of America’s teacher education programs. All teacher education programs are local in nature. They are developed by faculty at a local universities. Faculty at teacher education institutions have built relationships with local public (and private) schools, especially from the standpoint of creating clinical experiences, and internships for aspiring teachers.
In a recent study by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the researchers found that graduates of “traditional” teacher education programs perform better than nontraditional (alternative programs) students on PRAXIS II. This was a surprise in the sense that policymakers think and hope that nontraditional routes to teaching will help fill the teacher shortage, and these nontraditional students will be better prepared in content knowledge. As the researchers concluded,
The myth that well-qualified individuals abound who would enter teaching and be effective if only there were no preparation involved is simply that— a myth.
Although the study used test scores to determine the characteristics of programs that were associated with licensure scores (PRAXIS II), the following results are interesting in their own light:
The study found that five characteristics of institutions and programs were indeed conducive to higher teacher licensure scores:
- Private institutions outperformed public ones.
- Universities outperformed colleges.
- Teacher education programs with a higher number of traditional students outperformed those with fewer such students.
- Teacher education programs with ethnically diverse faculties outperformed those with overwhelmingly White faculties.
In concluding, the researchers suggest that:
institutions of higher education are appropriate as sites for teacher preparation. The fact that so many of the institutions are effective suggests that it is not necessary to go elsewhere. Further, the study shows that prospective teachers benefit from a traditional college experience.
For more than 30 years, I was professor of science education at Georgia State University, and during that time worked with all of these the school districts in metropolitan Atlanta, as well as many other districts around the state. While at GSU, I was involved in the development and design of teacher education and alternative programs for aspiring teachers, taught staff development courses in several of these districts, and created in internships for GSU students who were involved in all of the programs listed below.
The kind of work described below occurs all around the U.S. in colleges and universities. In her book, Creating Powerful Teacher Education, Linda Darling-Hammond presents the evidence that teacher education (courses, programs, etc.) matters for teacher effectiveness through case studies of seven teacher education programs. The seven programs are distinctive, but as Darling-Hammond points out, were selected from a much longer list of outstanding teacher education programs, from small and large universities, as well as public and private.
Policymakers try and make the case that entry into teaching has “burdensome requirements” and that education coursework should be removed from teacher certification standards. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige made such a suggestion in a 2002 report. Reports such assume that teacher education programs today are not effective, and that the “bar needs to be raised.” Darling-Hammond’s research suggests that teacher education programs are not only effective, but the model programs she studied in Creating Powerful Teacher Education, help us understand the value and effectiveness of the way teachers are prepared.
Paige’s report is indicative of the assault on teachers, and the way they are prepared. The corporate premise, supported by the U.S. Department of Education, is that teachers are the problem, and if we could only weed out the bad teachers, schools, and program, all would be well with education. The movement to try and link student test scores to teacher effectiveness by means of the value-added model does not even come close to describing what effective teachers do, and how they help students progress in their courses. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has just announced that states can get waivers from the NCLB Law, but only if they raise the bar on expectations, and put into place a program that will tie student achievement scores to teacher evaluation, and potentially, teacher’s compensation. But many states are skeptical, and questioning whether they will seek a waiver.
There is no compelling evidence to support these assaults, but right now ignorant and politically challenged policy makers and corporate deal makers trump professional educators.
Teachers, to be effective need to have a strong base of content knowledge as well as a deep understanding of what works in the classroom. In the research identified here, the clinical experiences that have emerged in the last twenty of so years in teacher education programs represent a major shift in the way teachers are prepared.
Clinical experiences are critical in teacher education programs to help teachers integrate their theoretical knowledge with practical experiences in classrooms over the extent of their teacher education program. All of the programs that are described below were centered around clinical experiences in elementary, middle and high schools in urban and suburban settings. Clinical experiences provide the experiential knowledge that teachers need to make decisions, to work with students who have learning problems, and to become aware of pedagogy that works with students in the classroom.
Combined with integrated university course-work and clinical work, teacher education produces, as Darling-Hammond points out, a “new kind of teacher.”
One who is theoretically oriented in her own right: aware of the learning principles that can be considered (and when appropriate, used) to guide practice, as well as the many contingencies that intervene and must influence decisions.
4 Examples of Clinical Based Teacher Education and Alternative Programs
The Phase Program (1970 – 1985) A field based science teacher education program for high school science, in which candidates interned in an elementary, middle and high school. The program was field based, and the curriculum was integrated within three departments. This program set the stage for future science teacher education programs at GSU. Integration of the curriculum combined with clinical experiences was the symbol of the Phase Program.
TRIPS (1987 – 1989) The TRIPS program was based on the AFT Educational Research and Dissemination (ER&D) Program under the leadership of AFT’s Lovely Billups. This alternative program recruited secondary teachers in foreign language, mathematics and science to teach in the Atlanta Public Schools. TRIPS was a collaborative project among the Atlanta Public Schools, Georgia State University, Clark-Atlanta University and AFT. TRIPS programs were initiated by the AFT in several urban settings around the country. TRIPS teachers engaged in summer institute followed by teaching in an Atlanta high school in math, science or foreign language. TRIPS teachers were assigned a reduced teaching load (4 classes instead of 5) and a mentor teacher, who also had a reduced teaching load. Each TRIPS intern was also supervised by professors from GSU and Clark-Atlanta University. The reduced teaching load for TRIPS teachers and their mentors facilitated mentoring, and allowed the mentor teachers to engage in conferences, planning sessions, classroom observations, and reflective sessions.
Alternative Certification Program (ACP) (1988 – 1992) A program funded by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission characterized by an 8-week summer institute followed by teaching in a public school and paired with a mentor teacher. Mentor teachers were prepared through a summer institute prior to school year. Although similar to the TRIPS program, this program was larger, and in the long run lead to the TEEMS program which is the secondary teacher education program at GSU.
The ACP began at GSU with a grant to fund thirty teachers (10 in each field) to attend a fulltime summer institute in Athens, Georgia. Mentor teachers were prepared for their role for a one-week institute with the ACP teachers. School districts from around the state participated in the ACP. In the last three years of the ACP, three universities in Georgia received funding to prepare 30 foreign language, mathematics and science teachers. The curriculum of the Summer Institute was based on pedagogical content knowledge in the content areas, special education, and foundations of education. Since the programs were localized, bi-monthly seminars among the ACP teachers were held on the campus of each university (North Georgia College, Georgia State University, and Georgia Southern).
The TEEMS Program (1993 – present) TEEMS (Teacher Education Environments in Mathematics and Science) is a Master’s level program for science and mathematics majors with field based internships in middle and high schools based on a humanistic/constructivist model. Aspiring teachers applying to the TEEMS program came from science, mathematics, and engineering departments throughout the Southeast, and brought with them high levels of content knowledge, strong interpersonal skills, enthusiasm, and a commitment to becoming a career teacher. Each TEEMS recruit was interviewed by a team of professors from mathematics and science education faculty, and professors from science and mathematics departments.
The TEEMS program was based on the theory of “realistic teacher education” (Korthagen and Kessells) , an approach that goes from practice to theory. As much as possible, theory and practice were merged with the intention of diminishing the gap between practice and theory. This was accomplished by engaging students in real problems encountered by teachers in clinical experiences, both on campus and in classrooms.
The TEEMS program was based on these characteristics:
- reflective and constructivist models of learning
- holistically organized pedagogical curriculum experiences
- learner-centered instruction in which students engage in a series of experiential and field-based experiences to learn about mathematics and science teaching
- a partnership with the public and independent schools of Georgia by centering much of the instruction in middle schools and high schools
These four programs represent an historical timeline of the evolution of science teacher education experiences at Georgia State University, one university out of hundreds preparing teachers. You would find similar stories at universities in Boston, Chicago, New York, Valdosta, San Diego, Los Angeles, Houston, and Dayton. When you look closely at the preparation of teachers around the country, the programs are unique, and based on local conditions and relationships among the university and local school districts. TEEMS was initially a mathematics and science program, but GSU expanded it to include social studies and English.
Note: A year ago, GSU agreed to work with TFA, and all of the TFA recruits must follow a teacher education program at GSU—secondary teachers must enroll in TEEMS.
In a Journal of Teacher Education article entitled How Teacher Education Matters, Linda Darlings-Hammond reviews the literature on teacher education programs and has this to say:
Despite longstanding criticisms of teacher education, the weight of substantial evidence indicates that teachers who have had more preparation for teaching are more confident and successful with students than those who have had little or none. Recent evidence also indicates that reforms of teacher education creating more tightly integrated programs with extended clinical preparation interwoven with coursework on learning and teaching produce teachers who are both more effective and more likely to enter and stay in teaching. An important contribution of teacher education is its development of teachers’abilities to examine teaching from the perspective of learners who bring diverse experiences and frames of reference to the classroom.
In teacher preparation, there various pathways to becoming a teacher, including teacher education programs, alternative programs, or no program. Based on a large study of 3000 beginning teachers in New York City regarding their views on their preparation for teaching, their beliefs and practice, and their plans to remain in teaching (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow). The researchers found that:
- teachers who were prepared in teacher education programs felt significantly better prepared across most dimensions of teaching than those who entered teaching through alternative programs or without preparation.
- the extent to which teachers felt well prepared when they entered teaching was significantly correlated with their sense of teaching efficacy, their sense of responsibility for student learning, and their plans to remain in teaching.
- These are significant finding in the context of the drive to place non-certified and non-prepared teachers into classrooms that typically are more demanding and require more knowledge about learning and student development than these individuals can deliver. The knowledge base on teaching is enormous, and to think that we can prepare teachers in 5 – 8 week institutes not only devalues what we know about preparing teachers for practice.
Teach for America
Teach for America (TFA) is an alternative pathway to teaching that was started by a college graduate who felt that individuals graduating from prestigious colleges and universities might be recruited to serve urban schools for a two year stint in teaching.
The TFA program recruits individuals from elite universities, prepares them in five weeks, and then assigns them to teach in an urban or rural classroom as full time teachers. Recruits are selected from universities across America, and placed in school districts around the country and agree to serve for 2 years. The TFA is well funded, and recruits to teaching receive grants, and low interest loans, and receive compensation from the local school districts in which they serve.
If you go to the Teach for America website, you will find out that the TFA provides benefits to its recruits, including scholarship funds, and low interest loans to help pay off college debt.
When TFA recruits complete their five-week summer training program, they then are provided with moving costs to relocate to the urban or rural school district in which they will serve for two years.
As an Alternative Program, the TFA is not a new idea in the sense that Alternative Programs and Pathways to teaching have been part of the teacher education culture for at least half a century. Harvard and Standford has Alternative pathways to teaching in the 1960s, and Alternative Programs became a prominent pathway to teaching in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Prior to TFA, Georgia State University was involved in two Alternative Pathways, the TRIPS program, and Alternative Certification Program, both described above.
But what is different about TFA is that is well publicized, and well funded. Over the past 20 years they have received millions of dollars of donations from a long list of donors. You might want to look at the list and note how these corporate billionaires are supporting TFA.
But what is problematic is that most TFA teachers exit the teaching profession at the end of two years. So in urban areas of public education where stability and loyalty would benefit these communities, the TFA promotes instability.
In the next post, we will explore the question: What Does Comparative Research Tell Us About Teacher Preparation?
What are your experiences with teacher education? With alternative programs? Do you think TFA is making a positive contribution to teaching?