What’s the Formula for Designing Rigorous Standards for Teacher Preparation?

What’s the Formula for Designing Rigorous Standards for Teacher Preparation?

Read on to find out.

The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) published recommendations for Accreditation Standards and Evidence: Aspirations for Educator Preparation.  According to the CAEP website, “July 1, 2013, marked the de facto consolidation of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)making the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) the new, sole specialized accreditor for educator preparation.”

Who serves on this council?

On page two of the report is a listing of the CAEP Commission on standards and performance reporting.  Table 1 outlines the CAEP commission membership to revamp the standards for teacher education.  An analysis of the commission leads to some interesting statistics. The membership of the commission has a lot of administrators—deans, presidents, & superintendents, who make up 60% of the group.  Professors, the women and men that design teacher education programs and courses and are out with their students in schools makes up only 9.5% of the commission. But this is typical of national commissions in most disciplines.  The people making decisions tend not to be the “real” players in the field under consideration.


Figure 1. Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
Figure 1. Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
Commission Composition Number of Representatives Comments
Deans, College Presidents, Superintendents

25 (60%)

Largely Deans, but also College Presidents, & Vice-Presidents
Policy Advocacy Groups

4 (9.5%)

New Schools Venture, Fordham Institute, Alliance for Excellent Education, EDGE Consulting LLC
Professional Associations

4 (9.5%)

Professors of Education

4 (9.5%)

No content disciplines identified

1 (2.3%)

School Boards

1 (2.3%)

Teacher, K-12

2 (4.9%)

Math & History/Theatre
Teach for America

1 (2.3%)

VP for Program Design

Table 1.  CAEP Commission Membership

From my point of view, the commission lacks credibility among the nation’s colleges that offer teacher preparation programs.  If we want to develop standards that are realistic and will attract a range of people into the teaching profession, then standards need to show the research and experience of teacher educators who are involved in the day-to-day activities of preparing teachers and conducting teacher education research.

Overloading the group with administrators, many of whom are far removed from the day-to-day actions of professors is a disservice to the profession.  Any profession.  There needs to be at least a balance on commissions such as these to include more practitioners, and researchers.  Personally, I would tip the scale in favor of practitioners and researchers.

Teach for America and the Thomas Fordham Institute are members of this commission, as well as three more advocacy groups, New School Venture Fund, Alliance for Excellent Education, and EDGE Consulting.  The fact that these groups are members of an organization writing standards for America’s institutions that prepare teacher is outrageous.  The Fordham Institute is a right wing advocacy group that has little use for colleges of education. But the real kicker for me was the inclusion a VP from Teach for America. Here is an organization with right-wing funding that has seduced superintendents and school boards with the idea that putting unlicensed teachers in the nations poorest neighborhood schools is a good idea. How does the CAEP leadership reconcile the position of TFA with their own about teacher preparation?

The report quotes a U.S. Department of Education Report on Equity and Excellence that says those who attend schools in high poverty neighborhoods are getting an education that more closely approximates school in developing nations, and now is a pivotal moment for the teacher education profession to reform itself.  But I smell some smoke here.

The same words to describe the standards for K-12 American education are found in the CAEP report: rigor, raising the bar, outcomes based, achievement scores, competing in the global economy, etc.

Providers, the name for teacher education institutions and the completers (students in the program), according to the Commission,  will benefit from the CAEP report.  Notice in the following quote from the report, the emphasis on data, better data, using better data, measuring and raising the bar:

CAEP accreditation will strengthen the quality of evidence measuring whether programs prepare effective teachers. It supports multiple measures. It judges programs by the impact that completers have on P?12 student learning and development. It requires providers to report their performance, discuss it with stakeholders, and use data to continuously monitor and improve their performance.

Commissioners are optimistic that advances in the quality of evidence are at hand, and CAEP must undertake substantial continuing responsibilities to upgrade the currently available data on which educator preparation providers and accreditation rely.  These involve several related activities to both develop better data and to use data better.

The Commission has set a high bar, ensuring that attaining accreditation status is a meaningful achievement providing a mark of distinction for educator preparation providers, and one that ultimately ensures that educators enter the classroom ready to have a positive impact on the learning of all students and prepare them to compete in today’s global economy. Council for Accreditation of Education Preparation, Commission on Standards and Performance. (June 11, 2013) CAEP ACCREDITATION STANDARDS AND EVIDENCE: Aspirations for Educator Preparation Retrieved July 16, 2013 from http://caepnet.org/commission/standards/

The Standards

5There are five standards categories as follows:

Standard 1: Content and Pedagogical Knowledge (Which is more important, content knowledge or knowing how to teach the content?)

Standard 2: Clinical Partnerships and Practice (Keep an eye on which partners become collaborators)

Standard 3: Candidate Quality, Recruitment, and Selectivity (Raising the Bar of Grade Point Average)

Standard 4: Program Impact (Value-Added Measures)

Standard 5: Provider Quality Assurance and Continuous Improvement  (The Stock Market Analogy)

The standard categories have been part of teacher education for years.  However, in this Commission’s report, there is a creeping suspicion that teacher education institutions might be held hostage by this organizations acceptance of value added measures being used to “measure” the effect of a teacher’s preparation.  Institutions will also be held responsible for continuous growth.  How will continuous growth be ascertained?  Following candidates into the classroom and measuring their student’s achievement, that’s how.   Policy wonks have convinced schools that it the nature of schooling for achievement test scores to improve each year.  In an ecological world view, this is really not sustainable.  Isn’t enough enough?

Standard 1, which is about content and pedagogical knowledge is what arts and science professors, and content methods professors have struggled with for decades.  There is a great deal of research in their area of knowledge, but we must be clear about one thing;  simply knowing one’s subject is not enough to be a successful teacher.  Clearly, having teacher education programs in which candidates enter the program with a degree in science or history is one of the characteristics of some successful programs.  Another important part of teacher education with regard to Standard 1 is the collaboration among professors across university departments.  I do not mean simply professors of geology collaborating with their peers in science education.  I also mean that professors in educational foundations and special education working with their colleagues in curriculum and instruction departments.  And one other aspect that is important here is the involvement of elementary and secondary teachers in teacher education program courses, not just clinical experiences.  Having a high school chemistry teacher team teach with a professor of science education in a course on science pedagogy is a powerful approach to help “completers” experience pedagogical content knowledge.

Standard 2, clinical partnerships is another example of an aspect of teacher education that is well established in most colleges of education.  In fact, this writer, who started his teacher education career in 1969, was mentored by science education professors who already were integrating their “methods” courses with field experiences, and not waiting for supervised field experiences or student teaching.  But field experiences have become ubiquitous with teacher education programs.  Yet, there are multiple ways to carry out clinical experiences, and various stages of teacher preparation. 

One aspect here is that a single dose of summer training does not prepare teachers to work in our nation’s schools.  Yet, this Commission was represented by Teach for America, the organization that attracts high status college students for a two-year stint in teaching, and convinces school districts to place them in schools that probably need more experienced teachers.  How does the Commission come to grips with the TFA model vs the intense “traditional” model of teacher preparation.  

Standard 3, which is about the quality of students recruited boils down in this report to grade point average.  Grade point average has been used to bash colleges of education for decades by claiming that those who go into teaching probably couldn’t cut it in other fields of study.  On the one hand, CAEP urges that teacher education providers admit a pool of teacher candidates that show the diversity of the nation.  Yet, they recommend raising the bar (why should I be surprised) for candidates to an average of 3.0 GPA.  They also suggest that candidates at first be in the top 50%, and then in three years to the top 33% on national tests such as the GRE, SAT, ACT.   There is a lot of misunderstanding about the quality of candidates that pursue careers in teaching.  Although the average GPA of education students may be a tad lower than say students in arts and science at admission, the GPA of education students upon graduation is no different from students across the university.

Admission to teacher education should include quantitative and qualitative data and other sources of information.  Candidates should be interviewed by a team of professors across departments and colleges, involving those that have a stake in the success of teacher education.  This is not simply a job for the colleges of education.

Raising the bar only means that there will be more failures, and perhaps less qualified persons as teachers.  You should read carefully the rationale on this particular standard, and especially follow the cited research.

Standard 4, dealing with program impact is the standard that needs to be discussed in more detail than I will give here.  However, the CAEP Commission is clear that they want to use growth measures (including value-added measures, student-growth percentiles, and student learning and development goals).  Value-added and student-growth percentiles are not supported in educational research, and indeed, these metrics have resulted in protest letters from professors of educational research pointing out the fallacies in the statistical use of student test scores within the context of the value-added model.  To use the value-added model to assess beginning teachers and then use this metric to check and then rate (yes, is what will happen) schools based on a number is outright unethical, and invalid.  There is little opposition from colleges of education to evaluating their programs.  But lets not fall into the trap being set by reformers such as CAEP and NCTQ to use and favor quantitative data. Watch out.

Standard 5, deals with the provider having a quality assurance system composed of valid data from multiple measures and to make sure there is continuous improvement.  According to the CAEP Commission, providers must set up evidence-based quality assurance systems and data in a process of continuous improvement.  Here is what they mean.  The Commission writes:

Measures of completer impact, including available outcome data on P?12 student growth, are summarized, externally benchmarked, analyzed, shared widely, and acted upon in decision?making related to programs, resource allocation, and future direction.  Council for Accreditation of Education Preparation, Commission on Standards and Performance. (June 11, 2013) CAEP ACCREDITATION STANDARDS AND EVIDENCE: Aspirations for Educator Preparation Retrieved July 16, 2013 from http://caepnet.org/commission/standards/

CAEP is setting up teacher preparation providers for a league standings approach to evaluation.  By using data such as value-added and student growth percentages, CAEP will translate these numbers into ratings.  Perhaps, like their friends at the Thomas Fordham Institute, or the National Council for Teacher Quality, they will use grades on a scale of A – F, or perhaps they will be more creative and give out Olympic gold, silver and bronze medals.  Or, perhaps they will use the star system that is a favorite of many state departments of education.

In the end, instead of carrying out research that is meaningful, reflective and qualitative, CAEP and its corporate partners will steer us toward quantitative methods. They will use these invalid data sets in ways that will be detrimental to teacher preparation.

The kind of research that is needed is being carried out now, and has for decades.  In a forthcoming book entitled Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers: Practicing What We Preach,  Mike Dias, Charles Eich, and Lauri Brantley-Dias and their co-authors reported on their experiences in which 25 professors returned to teach in K-12 schools for different periods of time.  The book provides a rich and courageous examination of teaching and teacher preparation from the trenches.  At a time when education policy and practice are being radically transformed by so-called reformers, this group of professors challenged present corporate model of education, and showed that teaching and teacher education is about collaboration, and that the research that in the end is most meaningful is qualitative and reflective, and not simply the collection of student test scores.

The CAEP organization has written a detailed report outlining the standards for the teaching profession.  However, there are serious concerns with the make up of the Commission, as well as the emphasis of using quantitative data in recruiting, preparing, and evaluating providers and completers.

What is your opinion of the CAEP Commission’s report on standards for teacher preparation.



NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep: the Devil is in the Detail

NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep: the Devil is in the Detail.

I decided to read the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) Report on Teacher Prep to try to learn what the NCTQ had to say about teacher prep in the U.S.

Last week, the National Council on Teacher Quality released its report on Teacher Prep.  Since its release, there has been an explosion of articles and blog posts written about the NCTQ report.  If you Google “NCTQ report teacher prep” you’ll get about 51,500 results.  I didn’t look at all the results, but I did survey the first two pages and I found these results:

  • 16 articles were critical of the report
  • 2 articles were supportive
  • 1 article was neutral
  • 2 articles were links to the NCTQ report

Of the first 21 articles, 76% were critical of the NCTQ report.  Authors of these articles, which included bloggers, Dean’s of Colleges of Education, professors, and professional associations, questioned the method used.  In fact, Linda Darling-Hammond reported that because of concerns with the methodology most schools of education refused to take part in the study.  Some writers suggested that the NCTQ study was coercive, and did not ask colleges to take part or become partners in the study, but instead resorted to legal means, and the Freedom of Information Act to get their data.  But others spoke out against the partisan nature of the NCTQ which is funded by conservative groups, and according to these writers, the NCTQ is only pursuing an agenda of putting traditional teacher prep out of business, and replace it with alternative certification programs such as Teach for America.

Disclaimer: I am professor emeritus of science education, Georgia State University (GSU). I was a professor of science teacher education at GSU from 1969 – 2002, coordinator of science education and co-developer of alternative, undergraduate, and graduate teacher prep programs. I also was visiting professor in teacher education programs at the University of Vermont and the University Hawaii, Hilo. I taught science teacher education seminars for more than 20,000 teachers in the Bureau of Education & Research.
It’s a consumer report of a large number of teacher preparation programs which NCTQ claim prospective clients can use to choose a teacher prep program to attend.  However, as Linda Darling-Hammond says, the report is nonsense.

It’s a 112 page report that include colorful graphs, charts, tables and descriptive statistics. The authors? I’m not sure, but there are lots of names, hundreds of corporate and foundation sponsors, but in the end no distinct or verifiable authors. There is also no evidence that the “study”  was reviewed by respected scholars in the field of education research.

There is no review of the literature on teacher preparation in the NCTQ report.  There are some references that you have to search for in the “Notes” section at the end of the report.  These “studies” were either done by the NCTQ, or are studies they cherry picked from the literature to support their political views.

Investigating the Enemy

When you read the NCTQ report it seems as if teacher prep institutions are the enemy. For more than thirty years I’ve read and studied educational research articles published in refereed journals such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Science Education, as well many Handbooks of research in science education, teacher education and the learning science. In these instances, I’ve never read a study in which researchers demanded cooperation from the research participants. The NCTQ policy is very clear. If you don’t give us what we want well use legal means to get it. They also “reached out” to a few students to supply materials that were requested from the administration.

The so-called NCTQ researchers not only resort to coercive strategies to get data (syllabi, curriculum, etc.), but you get the feeling that they snoop around universities, trying to find what texts are used by bookstore shopping.

Measuring Everything Under the Sun

But here is the thing. If you look at Figure 1 (Figure 40 in the NCTQ Report), the data sources for the 17 criteria used to evaluate teacher prep institutions is spread out and far-ranging.  For each criteria there are sources within and outside the higher education institutions, but you have no idea what value is attached to each, and its kind of murky when you begin looking at each source of data.  Take course syllabi.  In many instances, NCTQ sifters had trouble getting syllabi.  Some universities refused to send them, so the NCTQ resorted to their lawyers to impose legal justification to try to get the sources of data.  Eventually they resorted to the Freedom of Information Act.

What we see here is a contentious relationship between the NCTQ and the nation’s teacher preparation institutions.  What kind of results will emerge with the aggressive nature of this “study.”


Figure 1.  This is Figure 40 from the NCTQ report on teacher prep.  I've annotated the report to point out some of its limitations.  Extracted on 6/21/2013 from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Teacher_Prep_Review_2013_Report
Figure 1. This is Figure 40 from the NCTQ report on teacher prep. I’ve annotated the report to point out some of its limitations. Extracted on 6/21/2013 from http://www.nctq.org/dmsView/Teacher_Prep_Review_2013_Report

NCTQ has put together a mass of data, trying to measure everything under the sun.  Yet, the kind of data that they are collecting really doesn’t tell us much about teacher preparation per se.

Figure 1 is a figure in the NCTQ report which is an analysis of the criteria used by NCTQ to assess teacher prep programs.  All of the data come from paper or online documents.  None involved interviews or discussions with people at the teacher prep institutions.  As hard as this is believe, it is the pattern that the NCTQ has followed since it was formed by the Thomas Fordham Institute.

In Figure 1, look at the left hand column of IHE’s (data sources from the institutions).  Listed are six sources of data:

  1. Syllabi
  2. Required textbooks
  3. IHE catalogs
  4. Student teaching handbooks
  5. Student teaching evaluation forms
  6. Capstone project guidelines (including teacher performance assessments)

Trained analysts then check 17 standards by using a scoring system after “a very methodical and systematic process of coding and sorting.  Analysts have been trained to follow a very detailed and systematic standard-specific protocol to make a “yes” or “no” decision about whether each of the standard’s indicators is satisfied.”

But there is so much data for each standard its not believable that any kind of reliable or valid system emerges from this “corporate spray.”  The idea is to throw as much at the wall as possible and look for what sticks.  In this case, not much.

Trophies and Stars

NCTQ Gold Trophy for
NCTQ Gold Trophy for Strong Design

Nevertheless, NCTQ charges ahead and rates institutions by standard.  If an institution meets the standard (according to NCTQ), they are awarded four stars.  Nearly meet the standard= three stars; partly meet the standard and you get two stars; meet a teeny tiny part, one star.  No stars if the institution doesn’t meet NCTQ’s standard.

The “gold trophy” is awarded on some criteria to those institutions with a “strong design.”  And they get five stars!

Because there are so many sources of data, and because many institutions simply did not want to cooperate with NCTQ, there are serious questions about the results.

For example to check how institutions selected students for their programs, there is no way of knowing the relative importance of the data collected.  This is true for nearly all of the standards used by NCTQ.

Evaluating Student Teaching: You’ve Got to be Kidding

Mind you, there are 17 standards used to “rate” teacher preparation institutions.  Each standard is scored according a list of data sources.  To give you an idea, here is how NCTQ scores the Student Teaching Standard (#14 of 17)
Evaluation of elementary, secondary and special education teacher preparation programs on Standard 14: Student Teaching uses the following sources of data:
  1. Institutions of higher education (IHEs) handbooks pertaining to the teacher preparation program and/or student teaching placements specifically
  2. Observation instruments used by university supervisors in student teaching placements
  3. Contracts and/or communications between IHEs and school districts about student teaching placements
  4. Nomination or application forms of prospective cooperating teachers that are completed by school district personnel
  5. Syllabi for student teaching-related seminars or courses
Did our esteemed colleagues at NCTQ interview program heads and professors who actually work out the details of student teaching, internships, and school-based activities?  Did they interview students in teacher education programs and ask them their opinion of various aspects of their teacher preparation?  Did the NCTQ visit and interview cooperating teachers who mentor teacher preparation students?   No.  No.  No.

Junk Thought, Junk Science

Susan Jacoby, in her book The Age of American Unreason, helps us understand the quite pervasive phenomenon in which anti-rationalism and contempt for countervailing facts and expert opinions manifest itself as the truth.  Jacoby point out that junk thought can come from the right as well as the left.  Accusing each other of irrationality thrives.  But, she suggests that junk thinkers see “evidence as a tiresome stumbling block to deeper, instinctive ways of knowing.” (Jacoby, Susan (2008-02-12). The Age of American Unreason (Kindle Location 3798). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition).

The NCTQ report on teacher preparation is junk science.  The method that they employed in their study avoided data from the very sources that could help uncover the nature of teacher preparation.  These sources are faculty, administrators, students, and cooperating school districts and educators.  Without interviewing and observing teacher preparation programs directly, and without establishing a cooperative relationship with the these institutions, the NCTQ condemns itself to false claims, outright opinions that have little bearing on the nature of teacher preparation.

The conclusions NCTQ makes has nothing to do with the data they collected. Their conclusion is a political statement

The NCTQ is averse to evidence and scientific reasoning. Instead of reviewing the literature on teacher education programs, the nature of these programs, and what makes for effective teacher prep, the NCTQ starts with the premise that teacher preparation in the U.S. is a failure. They cherry pick studies in the literature (only a very few) that support their distorted picture of teacher prep, then use unscientific and nontransparent methods that are impossible to replicate. Honestly, I can’t figure out how they arrived at their rankings.

That is, until I read the two-page conclusion near the end of the report.

According to NCTQ, teacher prep institutions do not “arm” novice teachers with practical tools to succeed in the classroom. Mind you, the NCTQ study did not collect any data about “tools” that were or were not in the teacher prep curriculum, nor did the survey students in any program, or conduct site visits to see teacher educators at work.

Another conclusion NCTQ makes is that teacher prep programs make candidates show their feelings and attitudes about race, class, language and culture through in-class dialogue and journal writing. They never visited classrooms to observe these dialogues, nor did they read any student journals.  Again, no where in the report is there any data related to this politically charged conclusion.

None of the remarkable conclusions are related to the “data” NCTQ collected.

One more thing

Walsh and her colleagues really seem to have a disdain for teacher education. They believe that it is the job of teacher educators to train candidates for teaching much like the Teach For America (TFA) program does in its 5 week teacher prep program. NCTQ reels when teacher educators suggest that their mission is to prepare candidates, and not train them.

The NCTQ is a wonderful example of not only junk thought, but is the epitome of junk science.

What is your opinion on the NCTQ report on teacher prep?

NCTQ’s Assault on Teacher Education

In May 2012 and April 2013 I wrote articles on this blog about the National Council on Teacher Quality, and its haunting assault on teacher education.  In the May 2012 article, I reviewed the NCTQ’s study of assessment and how it is used in teacher preparation courses.  My assessment of the NCTQ report was to give them a grade of F.  In April 2013, I evaluated research “published” by Kate Walsh, head of NCTQ entitled 21st-Century Teacher Education.  The article was a preview of the NCTQ report on Teacher Prep, which claims to evaluate or rate nearly all institutions that offer teacher prep programs, except organizations such as Teach for America.  The NCTQ report is nonsense, and you can find out why by reading Linda Darling-Hammond’s article on National Education Policy Center blog.

This is a reprint of that April article.  The article was also published today by EmpowerEd Georgia.

Screen Shot 2013-06-21 at 3.39.13 PM

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 and not 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 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 find 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 is 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 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. And in fact in the NCTQ Report on Teacher Prep, undergraduate teacher preparation was rated at the one start level, while at the graduate level, it was rated with 2 and 1/2 stars.  How they came to this is truly amazing since teacher preparation programs exists in several departments, and at the graduate level, teacher prep programs are offered as “fifth year programs,” such as the TEEMS program, or as graduate work for practicing teachers.

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 name teacher education programs that have a long track record of preparing teachers who teach a 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 for 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 so the field of teacher preparation is very different from 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 show anything about the real programs that they rate.  If they use the same methods that used in their earlier study, the new one will be written without visits to the universities, interviews with faculty or students.  And, indeed, NCTQ made NO Visits to teacher prep institutions.

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?




Practicing What They Preach: Science Teacher Educators Return to School

In a forthcoming book, 25 science teacher educators describe their experiences after returning to teach students in K-12 public schools and informal settings.  Science Teacher Educators as K-12 Teachers: Practicing What We Teach was edited by Michael Dias, professor of biology and science education, Kennesaw State University (Georgia), Charles J. Eich, professor of science education, Auburn University, and Laurie Brantley-Dias, professor of instructional technology, Georgia State University.  The book will be published early in 2013 by Springer Publishers.

I was asked to write the last chapter of the book, and my comments here are based on reading the pre-published manuscripts, and content of the chapter that I wrote.

In the current era of reform, teacher education has been thrown under the bus, especially by the U.S. Department of Education.  Education policy and practice are being radically transformed in American education, and teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities are being pressured to fall in line with the marketization and privatization of K-12 schools.  In teacher preparation this is clear by looking at proposals to privatize or deregulate the education of teachers, in the increasing reductive entry and exit tests for prospective educators, in differential funding to those teacher preparation institutions whose students score higher on high-stakes examinations, and the increasing growth of home schooling because of various reasons, but perhaps the wish to reject formal schooling and indeed professionally educated teachers (Please see Michael Apple’s chapter entitled Is deliberate democracy enough in teacher education?, 2008).

One of the most important ideas that I took away from these narratives is how the professional images of these science educators changed because they were willing to take risks, and work in a culture that was very different from the one given by academia.  In crossing cultures from academia to public school and informal science settings, these professors put themselves in the environment of teachers, who in a way were more knowledgeable about the practice of teaching science than they were.

I found richness in these reports, as well as creativity, and above all else, there was courage as shown by these teacher educators’ willingness to leave the safety of university life and immerse themselves in the world of K-12 classrooms   Many of the authors took this step to find out how it feels to be back in a school in today’s classroom, and how this experience might affect their work as teacher educators.  Trying out progressive teaching strategies such as inquiry-based, the radical idea of helping students construct their own ideas, and problem-based approaches was a central goal of most of the authors.  They also hoped that thoughtful reflection of their experience through the writing and critique of their chapters in this book would give the assuredness and self-confidence to change their views and impact their university colleagues and their students.

But not everything which was reported was rosy.  And this is why these reports have such credibility.  Most of these professors had strong background in science and how to teach science.  But every one of them had problems when they entered the classroom.  Some professors left university life and took jobs in secondary schools, thinking that this would be a permanent career change.  Others took leaves of absence and taught either one or two semesters in a K-12 school.  Another group, while remaining at their university post, took time weekly to teach in a local school.  And the last group taught in more informal settings, such a camps or summer school.

Why did these professors decide to do this and then write about their experiences?  Some of them indicated that they want to improve their “street cred” with their teacher education students who sometimes would make comments such as “How can you teach us anything about teaching science when you haven’t been in a classroom for years?”  Other professors wanted to find out how progressive teaching ideas such as inquiry-based learning would actually work in the classroom.  Many of the professors were successful here, but even the ones that were successful had to make constant changes, and get help from teachers and colleagues.  Still, other professors simply wanted to work with children and youth and experience again why they decided to become teachers in the first place.

I’ll tell you more about these fascinating experiences in the coming weeks.  For now, I simply wanted to let you that this book is coming along, and that there are teacher educators that are trying to reform education from the inside-out, rather than the top-down corporate and conservative model that is strangling K-12 schools, and teacher education.

If you are teacher educator, what was your most recent experience teaching K-12 about?  How did it work out?


The Hip-Hop Generation: Implications for Teacher Preparation

The current wave of reform in science education, including teacher preparation, is not in the best interests of the diverse cultures that make up the population of the United States. The reform is standards- and test-based, and seeks to create schooling that ignores differences in people, and instead creates an outline (read that “standards”) of what is to learned for all students regardless of where they live.

While doing research for The Art of Teaching Science, I became aware of Dr. Christopher Emdin’s research on science education in urban classroom.

The first publication I read was entitled Exploring the context of urban science classrooms and in this research, Emdin studied the concepts of corporate and communal classroom organizations and how these paradigms affected student learning in high school chemistry.

His work has implications for the way we prepare teachers.  Let’s take a look.

Corporate vs Communal Teaching

Corporate classroom organization occurs when students and teachers are involved with subject matter and functioning that follow a factory or production mode of social interaction. The primary goal in corporate classes is to maintain order and to achieve specific results, such as scores on achievement tests.

Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group.

Recently Dr. Emdin published a ground-breaking book entitled Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation. The book provides essential tools for the urban science educator and researcher, according to the publisher. But it is much more than that.

Christopher Emdin say this about the philosophy that under-girds his book:

In urban classroom, the culture of the school is generally different from the culture of the students. In addition, a majority of students are either African American or Latino/a while their teachers are mostly White. Culturally, urban youth are mostly immersed in a generally communal and distinctly hip-hop based way of knowing and being. By this, I mean that the shared realities that come with being socioeconomically deprived areas brings urban youth together in ways that transcend race/ethnicity and embraces their collective connections to hip-hop. Concurrently, hip-hop is falsely interpreted as being counter to the objectives of school, or seen as “outside of” school culture.

In the current conversation about educational reform, and in particular, science education reform, the thinking reflected in Emdin’s book should be fundamental reading for science teachers and teacher educators, as well the corporate types that are aggressively pushing the corporate take over of schooling which relies on a very traditional model of teaching.

Hip-Hop and Reform of Education

As I pointed out at the beginning of this piece, my interest was piqued after reading Emdin’s research comparing and contrasting the corporate vs the communal organization of classrooms. I would expand this to include whole school systems.

The danger we face is that American education is being led to adopt and solidify, through common standards and common assessments, a corporate management style of classrooms and schools. Teachers and students are together in the service of reaching the goals and objectives (standards) set by outside groups.  To meet these standards, the same organizations have developed bubble type achievement tests, and mandated that all students should reach the same level of proficiency regardless of where they live.

Emdin’s approach is to encourage classrooms that are organized as communal systems in which teachers and students work with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community, and the collective betterment of the group.

It is obvious that the corporate approach would see hip-hop as something outside of schooling, and reject it as a legitimate form of communication inside education. Of course, this is a huge mistake. One of the biggest problems that beginning teachers have who are hired to teach in urban classrooms is their lack of knowledge of their students’ culture, and how to work with students in a culture very different than their own.

The school board in Cobb County, Georgia recently turned down the superintendent’s request to hire 50 Teach for America (TFA) teachers and place them in south Cobb schools, which reflect the urban culture described above, especially since most of the students in these schools are Latino/a. The decision needless to say was a controversial one. The TFA is a large corporate entity that places “teachers” in full time teaching positions in urban schools. However the TFA teachers have no prior training in teaching other than a four week summer program prior to employment. TFA will tell you that their teachers help urban students learn more (on achievement tests) than other beginning teachers. There is little to no evidence to support this. But because TFA teachers are from prestigious schools and are bright and smart, the common sense notion is that they are the kind of teachers needed for urban schools, like the schools in South Cobb.

Not so according to many teachers in Cobb County and its school board. Not only is there is a budget shortage in Cobb (as in most other districts), but by hiring 50 TFA teachers would mean that 50 experienced teachers would have to go. Those who embrace the TFA mantra tell us that they will deliver the best and the brightest, and the most inexperienced professionals for America’s urban schools. Its not solving the problem, and the teachers and school board in Cobb made the right decision.

Communal Teaching and Reform

The kind of teaching environment that Emdin suggests for urban schools is a communal one. Communal classrooms involve students and teachers working with subject matter through interactions that focus on interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group. This type of teaching requires not only an understanding of the student’s culture, but the courage and willingness to create classrooms that are based on relationships, empathy, and understanding, and there is substantial evidence that in order to do this the best and most experienced teachers are needed.

Putting unlicensed and inexperienced teachers in urban classrooms is more of an experiment being carried out by TFA rather than a solution to urban schooling.  It fosters a corporate classroom.

Emdin provides insight for us as to go about being a teacher in urban classrooms. Because Emdin places great emphasis encouraging teachers to understand their urban students and he says this:

it is necessary to understand how students know, feel, and experience the world by becoming familiar with where students come from and consciously immersing oneself in their culture. This immersion in student culture, even for teachers who may perceive themselves to be outsiders to hip-hop, simply requires taking the time to visit, observe, and study student culture.

Dr. Emdin suggests that classrooms should be viewed as a “space with its own reality.” In particular he urges us to focus on the “experiences of hip-hop participants as a conduit through which they can connect to science.” Using the concept “reality pedagogy,” teaching in the urban classroom means creating a new dialogue in which the student’s beliefs and behaviors are considered normal, and that the experiences within the hip-hop culture can actually be the way to learning science.

Emdin’s work suggests that clinical teacher preparation programs should engage teacher education students with urban students to appreciate differences, and learn how to teach (science) in context.  Communal urban classrooms, which emphasize interpersonal relationships, community and the collective betterment of the group, would provide the environment for teacher education students to cross borders, and learn from the inside-out.

You might want to follow this link to a review of Urban Science Education for the Hip-Hop Generation by Jose M. Rios in Democracy & Education.

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