Melissa Zipper needs less than a second to tally the
value of her teacher-preparation experience:
Looking back on the nine-month master's degree program,
she elaborates, "I was reading about all these theories and creating
hypothetical lessons and seating charts, but they had no real-world
application. Every class I had was based on this utopian
group of kids who all spoke English and functioned at the same
level. I never learned how to modify or accommodate the diverse
needs that I would find in my room."
Unprepared, Zipper began her first day as an intern sixth-grade
teacher in a high-poverty neighborhood in East Palo Alto,
California, fully responsible, with next to no support from her
university. Sound scary? This is scarier: Zipper's alma
mater (which she requested not be identified) is one of
the largest producers of teachers in California, credentialing
about 2,700 people a year.
Cut to Boston, where Maria Fenwick spent a full year
working alongside a mentor teacher through the district-sponsored
Boston Teacher Residency. By the time she
became a full-fledged fourth-grade teacher, she knew the
local curriculum, the community, and the daily
demands of education, and she was hungry for her own
classroom. She recalls, "I knew what to expect every step
of the way."
The crisis confronting teacher education is that,
across the country, Fenwick's experience is the exception
and Zipper's is the rule. Though there are some leading
lights, far too many of America's 1,200-plus schools of
education are mired in methods that isolate education
from the arts and sciences, segregate the theory and
practice of teaching, and provide insufficient time and
support for future teachers to learn to work in real classrooms.
Far too many universities, for their part, run
education programs on the cheap.
The consequences are painfully clear: Half of all
new educators abandon the profession within five years,
costing schools an estimated $2.6 billion annually and
leaving children in the neediest areas with the highest
number of inexperienced teachers.
The delinquency in teacher preparation is nothing
new, of course -- but it's growing more dire as we ask
teachers to perform increasingly challenging tasks: to
teach more complex skills to high and measurable standards,
and to ensure that every child in an incredibly
diverse generation learns these skills equally well. The
three R's are not enough anymore.
Based on scientific research, good teaching is one
thing we know makes a big difference in children's
learning. (Researchers at the University of Tennessee in
1996 found that elementary school
students who had three highly effective
teachers in a row achieved math scores
more than fifty percentile points higher
than those who had three ineffective
teachers in a row.) The challenge now
is to figure out how to make a good
teacher -- or, as Thomas Carroll, president of the
National Commission on Teaching and America's
Future (NCTAF), puts it, "to close the gap between the
way we prepare teachers and the way teachers actually
teach in the classroom."
Nadirah Muhammad, Boston Teacher Residency:
"My mentor teacher is an amazing woman. She has a very strong presence in the classroom, and the students know that she means business and that she cares."
Credit: Gregory Cherin
Dozens of education schools -- and a few independent
agencies, such as the Boston Public Schools -- are
pioneering ways to do that. The research on how well
these new methods work ranges from nascent to nonexistent
so far, but these early models provide a compass
for how to begin building better programs -- changes
that hold the promise to better equip would-be teachers
and, by extension, their future students for success.
So-called normal schools, the precursors
to today's schools of education, emerged
in the mid-1800s to staff a growing
number of classrooms, reports Stanford
University historian David Labaree. To meet demands
for more accessible higher education, they evolved
into four-year teachers' colleges and then state colleges
and universities by about 1960. In the late 1900s,
some universities that didn't have colleges of education
From the outset, teacher-training programs faced
what Labaree calls a "devil's bargain" between quantity
and quality: producing enough teachers to meet
demand, or preparing fewer teachers to high standards.
Under pressure, he says, they chose quantity.
The sheer numbers of education students (who
earn more than 7 percent of the bachelor's degrees and
29 percent of the master's degrees granted nationwide),
combined with a focus "more on adequacy than on
quality," Labaree says, turned education schools into
moneymakers for many universities. "The ed school is
the Rodney Dangerfield of higher education," he adds.
"It don't get no respect."
No respect doesn't mean no expectations, however,
especially not in the past fifteen years or so. A cry for
better education programs is rising as the scrutiny on
K-12 schools' performance under the No Child Left
Behind Act flows upstream to the institutions that
prepare teachers. Calls for change have come from both
outside and inside teacher education.
Add to that the growing competition
from alternative certification pathways
and homegrown programs like
Boston's -- such avenues produced
about 41,000 of the 220,000 graduates
of teacher-preparation programs in
2004 -- and education schools are feeling the pressure.
"Criticisms of the teacher-education establishment
have been so incessant and persistent that the work of
that establishment is changing," says Suzanne Wilson,
chairwoman of the Department of Teacher Education at
Michigan State University's College of Education.
"People are not ignoring the critiques anymore."
Prep Gets Real
At the heart of reform in teacher preparation
are innovations that provide extensive
field experience and link theory
more closely with practice.
Barbara Simon, mentor, Boston Teacher Residency:
"Some people have the philosophy that teachers should go right into the fire, and I disagree with that. There's some in-between that's good -- to gradually take on the role with some thought behind it, getting to observe before doing."
Credit: Gregory Cherin
Programs such as Boston's go the furthest by transporting
the locus of training almost entirely from the
university to the K-12 school. Through the four-year-old
residency, supported jointly by the school district
and local philanthropies, candidates take summer courses
geared toward Boston's history and curriculum, then
undergo a yearlong mentorship. The financial package --
an $11,000 stipend plus a forgivable tuition
loan -- is designed to attract educators from diverse
backgrounds. (Melissa Zipper, who survived her first
year with help from an outside mentoring program and
is still a teacher, had to shell out $19,000 for her degree.)
In between the stale old university methods and
the urban teaching residencies is a practical and promising
model that's gaining in reach: the professional-development
school. As described by the National
Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education
(NCATE), these programs are partnerships between
teacher-preparation programs and K-12 schools that
provide settings for student teaching, faculty development,
and field-based research -- unions so intimate that
they form a hybrid institution. A typical field placement
in these school-university
teams -- which,
as does the Boston
program, liken themselves
to medical residencies
hospitals -- lasts a
semester or two.
State University was
an early adopter of
the model. Its Teachers
training and ongoing
support to mentor
educators in its thirty-four
In turn, mentors
commit to give student
opportunities to do
everything from individual
tutoring to whole-class teaching. University staff
visit classrooms regularly to assess candidates' progress and
provide feedback. All the while, the educators-in-training
reconvene in university classes to debrief and draw
connections to theories of education.
"The key to the success of these programs is that
no matter what theory students are learning about,
they get to see it in practice immediately," says Dean
The payoff: The attrition rate of ESU graduates from
teaching is a low 7.2 percent after three years, and principals
rate alumni highly on a wide range of knowledge
Besides the theory-practice bond, assessment --
the watchword in K-12 schools --
is catching on in teacher preparation.
Education schools at the forefront of this
change are creating and using various assessments to
measure candidates' skills and identify and improve
weaknesses in their programs. ESU, for instance, evaluates
candidates via tests, observations, and performance
tasks at regular intervals; those who perform below
par -- about 4 to 5 percent of students per semester -- get
dropped from the teaching program.
Pablo Aguilera, Stanford University:
"You can make people go to school for five years and tell them to read any number of books, but they won't really learn anything until they're in an actual classroom."
Credit: Bart Nagel
It may sound odd in this assessment-happy age, but
no, education schools
have not always done
this. Some impetus
for change comes
from the NCATE,
which accredits 632
of the nation's education
2001, the organization
standards to demand
more evidence of
know and can do"),
not simply inputs
such as coursework
and field experience.
Two teams of universities
could be used
more broadly. The Performance Assessment for California Teachers
(PACT), developed by thirty public and private universities,
embeds various assessments in candidates'
coursework and demands a capstone documentation of
three to five teaching hours, including lesson plans,
videotapes, and student work. Teacher Work Samples,
an assessment methodology adopted by eleven schools
nationwide in a coalition called the Renaissance
Group, use detailed standards and a rubric to evaluate
how well candidates teach a four-week unit.
Raymond Pecheone, co-executive director of
Stanford University's School Redesign Network and
PACT's project director, draws this analogy: "Back in the
early '90s, we used to evaluate people's writing by giving
them a multiple-choice exam. This is not rocket science,
but if you want to test how well people write, you've got
to ask them to write. These tests are sorely needed."
Two even more neglected but emerging education-school
adaptations are training in how to use technology
for learning, and induction support for beginning
teachers after graduation.
Road Not Traveled
One problem in the quest for quality is
that accountability measures so far have
been mainly quantitative, not qualitative.
The federal government, via NCLB,
demands that, to be "highly qualified," teachers possess
expertise in their subject matter and certification
from their state. This requirement assumes that certification
ensures skill. In reality, states generally focus
more on the number and type of candidates' training
experiences than the quality.
A state might require 300 hours of student teaching
for licensure, for instance, but "rotten schools of
education can place bad students in failing K-12
schools with weak teachers" and still meet the requirement,
says Arthur Levine, former president of
Columbia University's Teachers College and author of
the 2006 report "Educating School Teachers."
Further obscuring the best practices, hardly any
education schools have ever followed up with alumni
to measure their effectiveness on the job -- until now.
"Historically, a school of education could claim to
be strong and be recognized around the country with
no evidence about how its teachers perform in the
classroom," says the NCTAF's Thomas Carroll. "That
day is over."
Early efforts at this kind of accountability have
used simple surveys -- not the most rigorous form of
research, but they're a start.
Another problem: There is little scientific evidence
to guide the way. The small pool of research on what
works in teacher preparation generally lacks rigor, and it dates to the days before
many of these reforms came
about. Education researchers
have taken notice of the vacuum
and have begun working
to fill it, but evidence
will take years to build.
Source: Educational Policy, January and March 2000
More challenges lie ahead.
To fully commit to a model
schools, for one, requires
money. Emporia State
University's Teachers College has managed it through permanent state
allocations and strong commitment by the university,
as well as by holding vacant some faculty positions
and asking students to pay half of their mentor teachers'
$500 annual stipends.
Marshall "Mike" Smith, education-program director
at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and
a former education official in the Clinton and Carter
administrations, says broad reform will come only if
states revise their standards to demand more field
experience with good supervision. According to data
compiled by the Education Commission of the States,
minimum requirements for
student teaching now range
from 180 hours in
Louisiana to 100 days in
Maryland. (The most common figure is about twelve weeks.)
States also must commit
more money to preparation
programs, Smith says, and
teachers themselves must
demand better training.
What could incite that
kind of demand? "Evidence
that something else worked clearly better," he
responds, "which we don't have."
The need is urgent; teachers work at the frontier
of everything education is meant to do. Public education
itself grapples intimately with big changes in
America, from new languages to health epidemics to
economic imperatives. Our answer to the challenge
of improving teachers' training will influence the
experience children have in classrooms -- and the
skills with which children enter adult life -- for years
to come. It's a question of what kind of future we
want to create.
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.