Improving Teacher Preparation: Research, Practice and Policy Implications
By Arturo Pacheco University of Texas at El Paso
Different Images of Teacher Preparation: Old and New
Undertaking a serious examination of teacher preparation in the year 2002 is likely to reveal two very different images. The most commonly held image is an old one that has been used to describe teacher preparation programs over the past 50 years. This view depicts teacher preparation as a process that happens almost exclusively in colleges and universities, where students preparing to become teachers take a large number of education courses leading to a bachelor's degree. They have few subject matter or content courses and little experience with public schools or real children. Near the end of their coursework, candidates do as little as 12 weeks of "student teaching," a short period of practice in school classrooms under the supervision of student teacher supervisors. Once at the public schools, experienced teachers tell them that little of the "abstract learning" of their university courses is relevant to the real work of teaching children.
Although this stagnant and fragmented image of teacher preparation may have been partially accurate a decade ago, it is far from accurate in describing how teachers are prepared today in the country's best teacher education programs. Teacher preparation programs have experienced more significant change and improvement in the past 10 years than in the prior 50 years. National and state attention to the quality of teachers and their preparation, along with high attrition rates and external accountability systems focused on teacher preparation institutions, have contributed to the pressure for major change in the preparation of teachers. Increasing research evidence is also pointing to teacher preparation and teacher quality as critical variables in student learning.
In addition, since the late 1980s, a number of national reform efforts have focused on improving teacher preparation programs. Among these are the National Network for Education Renewal, the Holmes Partnership, the Renaissance Group, the Project 30 Alliance, and the Standards Based Teacher Education Project. The work of these relatively new reform efforts has been supported by two much older and larger organizations, which have themselves become deeply reform-minded: the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education.
The combined work of these groups has led to very different practices in teacher preparation in the United States today from those found in traditional programs. The teacher preparation program is likely to be part of a comprehensive university/public school partnership (K-16), often a formal agreement between a university and one or more school districts to collaborate in the improvement of both teacher quality and student achievement. The higher education end of the partnership is likely to include the involvement of faculty and administrators from the arts and sciences as well as education faculty, and it may include community college partners as well. On the public school end of the partnership, the placement of interns is likely to be in a professional development school, a public school that has a number of joint projects of engagement between university faculty and teachers, including the supervision of interns, joint research and inquiry, and continuous work on professional development. Student interns are at school sites for yearlong internships--as opposed to 12 weeks of student teaching. In some cases, faculty from the university teach at the public schools and public school teachers serve as "clinical faculty" in the university's teacher preparation program. There is growing evidence that these partnerships are making an important difference in several areas: student achievement is rising; teacher quality is improving; and an environment of common vision, trust and purpose is increasingly found among key players--players who a decade before tended to blame each other for the problems in our nation's schools.
Emerging Principles and Commonalities
Several principles are emerging out of this decade of research, collaboration and change in the way we think and go about preparing teachers. Here, I discuss only four major themes and then discuss the policy implications of what we have learned.
K-16 Collaborative Partnerships Are Necessary
The enterprise of preparing better teachers, while seeming straightforward, is an extremely complex task. We need teachers who can prepare youngsters to function in a high-tech, high-information society, who are sensitive to and understand the richness that comes with a diverse society, who take seriously the task of preparing fully and rigorously all children, not just the traditional 30% to 50% who have headed for college in the past. Add to this the need to prepare teachers for an accountability-driven K-12 system, a standards-based curriculum that demands evidence of learning, and an assessment system that may not be fully aligned with identified standards. This is obviously a complicated enterprise.
Because this task of preparing effective teachers is so complex and involves so many different kinds of knowledge and skills, it is only through broad and deep collaboration that we will be successful. This collaboration must be across all aspects of teacher preparation, including its design, evaluation and governance. No single party can do it. Pulling together the talent and expertise of higher education (both arts and sciences and education faculty), of public school teachers and leaders, and of community leaders and parents to craft and pursue a common vision of achievement for their children is absolutely necessary and is beginning to pay off in those communities that have K-16 partnerships.
Separate Reforms Won't Do: The Necessity of Simultaneous Renewal
What we know from those who have studied the history of public school and teacher preparation reform is that separate reforms won't do. Since there has always been some relationship between the preparation of teachers and the schools to which they are sent, the logic of a necessary connection, if not of simultaneous reform, seems self-evident. We can neither afford to prepare new teachers for old-fashioned schools, nor old-fashioned teachers for new schools. This has been made clear in the work of John Goodlad, who has called for simultaneous renewal of the public schools and the programs that prepare teachers for them.1 History shows us that independent and separate reforms--often headed in different directions--have been very much a part of the problem.
Breaking the Content/Pedagogy and Theory/Practice Dichotomies
Within the university, faculty members, especially those in the arts and sciences, often act as if good subject matter content could be taught effectively without pedagogy--the science of teaching skills and the effective transmission and creation of knowledge and learning. Meanwhile, education faculty, placed in a defensive posture by their higher-status colleagues from the arts and sciences, often respond by seeming to suggest that content knowledge is not so important. Hence, the once popular phrase: we teach children, not subjects. This is afalse dichotomy; good and effective teaching cannot occur without strong pedagogy, and pedagogy devoid of content is an empty and useless concept. The notion of pedagogical content knowledge, developed by Lee Shulman, is a richer and far more useful concept, and we need to pay constant attention to the integration of content and pedagogy in effective teaching.2
In a similar vein, the distance that many university faculty have had from public school teachers and their classrooms often leads to schisms between the so-called "abstract learning" of the university and the "applied learning" of public school classrooms. This often leads to an elitist stance of university professors toward their colleagues in the public schools, assuming the guise of the expert over a profession in which they have many stories but little current practice. Unlike the faculty members of medical schools who continue to serve the same real patients that their medical students serve, a large number of professors who prepare teachers talk about the teaching and learning of children in the public schools without bothering to visit the schools.
For their part, public school teachers can and should collaborate in the preparation of teachers, sharing the responsibility with university faculty members from education programs and from the arts and sciences. This tripartite partnership and collaboration would go a long way in preparing better teachers for the schools and thus increase the likelihood of academic success for all youngsters. At a minimum, there would be a bridge between theory and practice, and, like the clinical faculty in teaching hospitals, having faculty members in the schools could do much to ease the transition from the university to the public school classroom. In many cases, the student about to graduate and become a teacher is faced with the challenge of integrating the seemingly disconnected experiences of visits to three alien worlds--that of the arts and sciences disciplines, the pedagogical world of the colleges of education, and the world of school practice, where the children are.
The Moral Work of Teachers in a Democratic Society
Increasingly, educational reformers in the last decade have rediscovered an essential role that teachers in public schools have always played in American society in preparing the young to effectively function as adult citizens in a democratic society. This role of the public schools has not changed much from the vision held by the founders of American democracy. Thomas Jefferson and other framers of the Declaration of Independence knew that democracy depends on a well-educated citizenry, and that the way to develop an educated citizenry is through a system of public education. This line of reasoning extends from Jefferson to John Dewey and suggests that the education of children is the greatest moral enterprise of the nation; the nation's future as a democratic society depends on it. Teachers are the stewards of that enterprise and as such they need to be well prepared to serve in this role. This role as stewards of the public good is often lost in the contemporary flurry over test scores and narrow definitions of academic achievement. As we move toward increased accountability and testing, we need to develop assessments that give us a sense of how well a school and the teachers within it are preparing the nation's future citizens--in the full sense of that word.
Major Issues and Policy Implications
The last decade of local, state and national reform efforts in the area of teacher preparation has brought about significant changes in the way teachers are prepared. These efforts have been supported by research evidence that suggests that school-college collaboratives are making a difference across several parameters, including the preparation of more effective teachers. Many of the positive results of these reform efforts were cited in the seminal educational report of the decade: What Matters Most: Teaching and America's Future (1996).3 Appearing midway in the last decade, this report from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future looks in both directions: backward to cite positive results of reforms to date and forward to make recommendations for what remained to be done. The recommendations listed below are consistent with those found in What Matters Most, and they come out of the collective experience of the reform efforts to date. These were also common themes at a recent meeting of leaders from the major national reform efforts.4
Insist on K-16 School-College Collaboration in Teacher Preparation, and Reward It
School-college collaboration positively impacts teacher preparation in a variety of ways. It is the only way that a shared vision of teaching and a sense of common purpose for teaching can result. It is the only way that a standards-based curriculum can be developed and aligned, K-16. A product of K-16 partnerships, professional development schools serve to break down the gulfs between the culture of the university and the culture of the public school. There is growing evidence that teacher interns who serve in professional development schools also have far less attrition than those prepared through old, traditional ways. Increasingly, major funders of large-scale reform efforts (the U.S. Department of Education, the National Science Foundation, and several private foundations) are demanding partnerships as a requirement for funding because they know that these partnerships are critical to making gains in student achievement.
Support Standards-Based Approaches to Teaching and Learning
Consistent with the recommendation of What Matters Most--"Get serious about standards, for both students and teachers"5--the integration of standards into teacher preparation better prepares new teachers for the standards and accountability they will face in the public schools. Standards also help to make clear the ingredients of good teaching: subject matter knowledge, teaching knowledge, and teaching skill. Clear content standards at the K-12 level also demystify expectations for learning and academic achievement for public school students and their parents.
In the area of teacher preparation, the work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) in preparing high and rigorous standards for exemplary teaching, along with performance assessments to measure accomplished teaching, is beginning to reshape the teaching profession. Many teachers who have completed the multiple and rigorous NBPTS assessments describe the process as the best professional development experience they have ever had. The related work of translating the NBPTS standards of accomplished teaching into a set of standards for beginning teachers by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) is very promising and a critical first step in the reinvention of teacher preparation.
Accountability and High Stakes Testing Need More Robust Measures
There is no doubt that state accountability systems have had a positive impact on both K-12 learning and teacher preparation programs. However, the assessments used to measure success, while headed in the right direction, need to be far more robust in capturing good teaching. Some states are still using more simple-minded multiple choice tests because they are far less expensive than robust performance assessments. The performance-based assessments of the National Board and the INTASC standards for new teachers both show great promise. They at least attempt to capture teacher performance through assessments of videotaped lessons, the analysis of student work, and deep reflection on student practice, in addition to subject matter knowledge and the application of standards. And there is growing evidence that the quality of teaching by National Board-certified teachers correlates very well with accomplished teaching.
Continue to Address Inadequate Teacher Compensation
Teaching is likely to be perceived always as a calling, a vocation that is much more than just another occupation. Few would argue, however, with the fact that the salaries of new teachers, compared to other professions that demand similar levels of education and experience, are too low. We are just beginning to see increasing efforts by state legislatures and local school boards to tackle this problem. In some subject matter areas where there are severe teacher shortages (high school math and science teachers, for example), more is already being done. State-funded scholarships for students preparing to become teachers in these areas, as well as differential pay scales for these teachers (based on teacher shortage areas and market demands), are beginning to find acceptance. And, to keep accomplished teachers from leaving their classrooms to seek a more equitable living wage, salary hikes and increased status for National Board-certified teachers is now much more common across the country, with funding at the state level and the local district level. Rather than loose talk about closing down teacher preparation programs, it is time to recognize and reward those that have transformed themselves in the last decade and to help the others learn from the research and reform of the last 10 years.
1 J. I. Goodlad, Educational Renewal (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1994).
2 L. Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform," Harvard Educational Review 57 (1): 1-22.
3 National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (New York: 1996).
4 The meeting, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation, was held in New York City on May 1, 2001.
5 National Commission, p. 64.