"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Better Teacher Preparation

Education chiefs from 25 states in the US released recently a report entitled “Our Responsibility, Our Promise: Transforming Educator Preparation and Entry into the Profession”. The report outlines how states can improve both teacher and principal preparation that will be aligned to the new common core standards. The report begins with the following expectations from a teacher:
A learner-ready teacher is one who is ready on day one of his or her career to model and develop in students the knowledge and skills they need to succeed today including the ability to think critically and creatively, to apply content to solving real world problems, to be literate across the curriculum, to collaborate and work in teams, and to take ownership of their own continuous learning. More specifically, learner-ready teachers have deep knowledge of their content and how to teach it; they understand the differing needs of their students, hold them to high expectations, and personalize learning to ensure each learner is challenged; they care about, motivate, and actively engage students in learning; they collect, interpret, and use student assessment data to monitor progress and adjust instruction; they systematically reflect, continuously improve, and collaboratively problem solve; and they demonstrate leadership and shared responsibility for the learning of all students. 
The expectations for a principal are:
A school-ready principal is ready on day one to blend their energy, knowledge, and professional skills to collaborate and motivate others to transform school learning environments in ways that ensure all students will graduate college and career ready. With other stakeholders, they craft the school’s vision, mission, and strategic goals to focus on and support high levels of learning for all students and high expectations for all members of the school community. To help transform schools, they lead others in using performance outcomes and other data to strategically align people, time, funding, and school processes to continually improve student achievement and growth, and to nurture and sustain a positive climate and safe school environment for all stakeholders. They work with others to develop, implement, and refine processes to select, induct, support, evaluate, and retain quality personnel to serve in instructional and support roles. They nurture and support professional growth in others and appropriately share leadership responsibilities. Recognizing that schools are an integral part of the community, they lead and support outreach to students’ families and the wider community to respond to community needs and interests and to integrate community resources into the school. 
To read the full report, visit http://programs.ccsso.org/link/EMBARGOED121712OurResponsibilityOurPromise.pdf
Of course, how to achieve these expectations is a difficult task. What is quite useful in this report is the recognition of Finland's educational system, specifically, its highly selective and rigorous preparation of teachers. The report describes Finland's system in the following paragraphs:


Finland
Finland has a nationwide education system that is radically different from our own and is ranked first by the United Nations. The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranks Finland as one of the top education systems in the world, while the U.S. is ranked as average overall.

One of the keys to Finland’s high levels of student achievement is strong and competitive teacher preparation. Admissions to Finnish teacher preparation programs are highly competitive; prospective candidates must earn high marks on their matriculation exams, pass a rigorous entrance exam, and undergo an interview. Only 10 percent of applicants are accepted into educator preparation programs. 
As part of the teacher preparation program paid for by the Finnish government, prospective teachers earn a BA and MA in their subject and/or pedagogy, completing five years of college level classes and training. In addition, the students observe master teachers and then prepare lessons and teach in front of a panel of other prospective teachers, professors, and master teachers. 
Finland’s preparation programs haven’t always been examples of best practice. The change occurred after the country underwent a complete overhaul of their preparation programs due to a major effort to raise student performance. Programs were closed and reopened as part of research universities where the selectivity we now associate with Finland was implemented.

Most analysts observe that excellent teachers have played a critical role in Finland’s success in improving student achievement. Among Finland’s successful practices for preparing teachers that we can emulate is the development of rigorous, research-based teacher education programs that prepare teachers in content, pedagogy, and educational theory, as well as the capacity to do their own research, and that includes fieldwork mentored by expert veterans.

Finnish teachers’ capacity to teach in classrooms and work collaboratively in professional communities has been systematically built through academic teacher education. Teachers’ strong competence and preparedness create the prerequisite for the professional autonomy that makes teaching a valued career. Because teaching is a desirable career in Finland, teacher preparation programs can afford to be both selective and demanding.

Teachers in Finland spend at least 10 hours each week working collaboratively to plan and develop curriculum as a team, working together on research and professional development planning, and working on teams with administrators to discuss curriculum, textbooks, assessments, professional growth, and budgeting. Finnish teachers spend over 100 hours more per year teaching than the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development average. This allows more time for supporting students with learning difficulties and for collaboration.
Although the above is quite brief, it captures the essential elements of teacher preparation in Finland. This is not an easy task. And it took Finland decades to become the top in basic education. The report identifies the fact that teacher preparation in Finland is exclusively done in a research university. "Research University" is a specific designation given to a particular type of institution of higher learning, one that has an emphasis on doctoral programs and cutting edge research. Research universities are generally measured by scholarly citations as well as amount of funded research. Research universities are places where new knowledge is discovered. These institutions produce most of the peer-reviewed publications we read in leading scientific journals.

Seeing this helps us understand what Flor Lacanilao wrote in one of the first articles posted in this blog:


Suggestion to Solve Philippines' Basic Education Problems


by Flor Lacanilao

Studies on education abroad have shown that the best way to improve basic education
is to improve first higher education. And the best way to improve both is to put only the
right people in charge. Right people refers to those who have made major contribution
to one’s field, as shown by properly published research works (that is, following
internationally accepted criteria). At present, none of those in charge in higher and
basic education has such minimum requirement....

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