"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

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Teacher Preparation in the United States

There are various websites that help ranked services, from plumbers to hotels, one can get a quick glimpse at the quality by looking at the number of stars given in the ratings. The National Council on Teacher Quality has recently released "Teacher Prep Review 2013", and the results are shocking. The following figures tell the story:

Above figures captured from Teacher Prep Review 2013
The standards used to evaluate teaching schools in this report are quite high and some are very specific with respect to the kind of training a teacher-student is provided. For example, within content preparation in elementary education, programs are judged in relation to English-language learners, struggling readers, and early reading. Unfortunately, in a large number of cases, the ratings are impossible to make because the data are simply not available:

In the five "key" standards used to rate the schools, only the selection criteria has scores for more than 2000 schools in this survey. A large fraction were either not scored or not reported. It is important to take note of this before making a sweeping generalization regarding the quality of teaching schools in the United States. There is a recent post on Alexander Russo's This Week in Education written by Paola Sztajn and Michael Maher from North Carolina State College of Education that cautions against such generalizations. This warning is important especially for a study like the one above.

Maher: The Fallacy of Generalized Mediocrity

This is a guest post from Paola Sztajn and  Michael Maher [@mj_maher], who work at the NC State College of Education: 
image from farm1.staticflickr.comEvery day when we come to work, we have the privilege of interacting with amazing young people.  Many of them were among the top students in their high schools.  Their average score on the SAT was above 1100 and they had an average weighted GPA of 4.4. Further, they have college GPAs above 3.0 and many graduate magna cum laude (GPA above 3.5). These young individuals perform a large amount of service work in the community and they engage in international activities to learn more about the world around them.  We are sure many of you would like to work with such outstanding people and learn about the amazing things they are doing. And, you are wondering who they are…
If we tell you that we work at North Carolina State University, you would wonder in what technical field we teach. But actually, we work in the College of Education. And the wonderful people we are talking about, all intend to be teachers.  In fact, they are all future Elementary Teachers who will serve schools across the nation.  Let us say this again:  these amazing, smart, and hard working students all want to be Elementary Teachers.  NC State is a selective university and these high achieving college students, who have the option of choosing from a variety of majors, choose to become Elementary Teachers.
The current public discourse often paints teachers as ineffective, sub-professionals, who likely had no other choice than to teach.  These substandard professionals, the current discourse goes on, need more and more accountability through testing, performance regulations, and report cards to make sure they are performing their craft in an “effective” manner.  After all, those who can, do; and those who can’t, teach—or so the current discourse is trying to prove. This image of a less than qualified student who goes on to become a low performing professional does not match the reality we experience everyday.
The current attack on public school teachers is now taking the next step and attacking Colleges of Education. Or, as a recent (October 20thOp-Ed in the New York Times put it: “those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach teaching.” 

In this piece, Bill Keller calls Colleges of Education “an industry of mediocrity.” He goes on to specify a laundry list of what Colleges of Education, according to him, are failing to do.  For example, Keller claims that those who teach in Colleges of Education do not know what masterful pedagogy is, do not select bright students into their programs, do not want to touch their “cash-cow” teacher education programs, do not require students to take content courses, especially in mathematics and science, do not provide prospective teachers with intensive classroom experiences coached by master professionals, etc…  Just like the statements about teachers do not match our experiences, these statements do not match the reality of our work.
Elementary Education, in our College of Education, and surely at many other institutions across the country as well, is a highly selective program. We have a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and our freshman are required to take calculus unless they are exempt via AP credit. They take a variety of STEM and humanities courses before their series of methods courses to learn how to teach. These methods courses are all coupled with field experiences, in which students are placed in schools, observing teachers, every semester beginning their sophomore year.  They complete a yearlong placement in one classroom during their senior year, under the supervision of selected teachers, which culminates with them teaching and being coached during the last quarter of their program. All together, students spend 800 hours of their program in schools and classrooms in preparation to becoming teachers.
All the new, innovative approaches that the Op-Ed listed as necessary for quality teacher education—and which the author is trying to convince us are inconceivable in Colleges of Education—are happening right here, in our program in Elementary Education within a College of Education.  Thus, the notion that only alternative teacher education programs can lead to the preparation of quality teachers is a fallacy. More important, it is a fallacy we should not buy, just like we should not buy the current fallacy that teachers in general lack content knowledge and do not work hard enough.
The most interesting part of the argument against teacher education programs in Colleges of Education is that faculty in these programs do not know what is important for preparing teachers. As if those who work in Colleges of Education were unaware of current advances in the field of teacher education and lived in some odd, distant past that is out of touch with reality.  But here is the interesting part: the practices listed as effective for teacher education in the piece criticizing Colleges of Education are coming out of educational research produced where?  Well, in Colleges of Education.  The claim that faculty members conducting the research and producing the knowledge that supports the innovations necessary to prepare high quality teacher education programs are not aware of such innovations is not only appalling, but imprecise.
We are not na├»ve to say that all teacher education programs in the nation are amazing.  Teacher education is not a monolith, we recognize that. Like all professional preparation programs, there is a continuum of quality.  There certainly are problems to be addressed and there is much space for growth.  In our own case, for example, we continue to work on fine tuning our methods courses in relation to the practice of teaching and building stronger relationships with schools and mentor teachers.  However, like all overarching generalizations, the characterization of all Colleges of Education as ineffective places preparing subpar professionals is not only incorrect, it is dangerous.  After all, only those who can and know teach. And it takes those who produce knowledge to teach teaching.
-- PS & MM @mj_maher 
Image via Flickr thost

North Carolina State University received only two stars for its education programs.

In fairness to the the Teacher Prep Review, the following is highlighted in the report:
The meaning of program ratings in the Teacher Prep Review is so important and so easily misconstrued that we are going to convey it in bold text: 
The NCTQ Teacher Prep Review evaluates what a program itself adds in the way of solid training—nothing more, nothing less. Low-performing programs can, and indeed often do, graduate teachers who end up being effective.

Programs that earn three- or four-star ratings require coursework and clinical practice that make their teacher graduates better prepared to handle classroom responsibilities than they would have been without such preparation.

A program’s low rating does not suggest that many of its graduates don’t go on to become capable teachers. What the
low rating does suggest is that the program isn’t adding sufficient value, so that someone who wants to become a teacher would be better off investing time and tuition dollars elsewhere. In fact, there are undoubtedly plenty of great teachers who graduate from weak programs, perhaps because of innate capabilities, perhaps because they are lucky enough to be assigned to a talented classroom mentor during student teaching. But in weak programs, such positive outcomes are happenstance, not the norm. When positive outcomes are only happenstance, a teacher candidate’s path to competency is left largely to experience in the classroom, the help of teacher colleagues, and the interventions of the school district.
The bottom line, however, is this: Not being able to apply all standards to the schools in the study justifies a great deal of doubt regarding the conclusions and findings of the study. How meaningful or representative the study is depends on the completeness of data. Only one standard (selection criteria) appears to be complete. This is the standard that measures the quality of students entering these schools of education. With this standard, only 26% of schools are accepting students who belong to the lower half of college students. 73% are taking the brighter half. Sztajn and Maher are correct.
Many of them were among the top students in their high schools. Their average score on the SAT was above 1100 and they had an average weighted GPA of 4.4. Further, they have college GPAs above 3.0 and many graduate magna cum laude (GPA above 3.5).
I have met teachers in the Annandale school where my son is enrolled who are only in their second year of teaching. And I am very impressed. Their knowledge of both content and pedagogy exceeds my expectations. These new teachers are so much aware of psychological, emotional, social, and physical disabilities in children. These new teachers know very well the challenges inside the classroom, challenges that decades ago when I was student, were not even imagined.

“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach teaching.” 

"After all, only those who can and know teach. And it takes those who produce knowledge to teach teaching."

I choose the latter, the one in bold....

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