August 4, 2013
Reforming Teacher Training
Over the past two years, Indiana changed both licensing and compensation rules for public school teachers. The rules replaced a de facto requirement that teachers and principals get their degrees exclusively from teachers colleges. The new rules required increased content instruction for novice teachers. Changes to promotion and compensation rules focused on classroom performance, which eliminated guaranteed pay increases for the receipt of masters and doctoral degrees. This had the predictable result of inciting outrage by deans of teachers colleges around the state. They knew that this proposal would clobber enrollment in masters and doctoral programs in education.
The policy changes were long overdue, as a recent study published by the National Council on Teacher Quality suggests. The study findings, which report what colleges do with students through their class syllabi, paints an especially critical picture of teacher preparation. The study is an interesting read, and I found it a carefully compiled, cleverly designed and well-executed examination of a serious public policy issue. Quite predictably the leaders of teachers colleges roundly criticized the study. The NCTQ study provided significant support for the judgment and action of Indiana policymakers, but it didn’t really tell those of us in higher education anything we didn’t already know.
The unvarnished truth in higher education circles is that education colleges are widely viewed as the first refuge of mediocrity. Every college professor can tell stories of a failing student who leaves his/her discipline to pursue a teaching career. Worse still, the only meaningful research on education design and policy comes from other disciplines, primarily psychology and economics. The path to a teaching career has long been a broken system that desperately needs courageous leadership to set things right. Thankfully, there is an historical precedent for this action.
The Spanish American War delivered painful evidence that the preparation of new army officers was insufficient. The curriculum of the service academies was mediocre and poorly prepared officers for the challenges of modern war. The remedy was a program that offered the fundamentals of military training alongside a wide variety of academic programs in civilian colleges. Today most military officers are trained not at West Point, VMI or Annapolis, but in civilian universities. The insularity of military training that failed us in 1898 is exactly like that of teacher’s colleges today. More reform is needed.
Teaching is hard work, often thankless and modestly paid, much like the military. It requires an adaptive, innovative mind coupled with a love of learning and classroom management skills. Only one of these traits is best nurtured in the modern college of education. This century will demand more of teachers, and the NCTQ study offered few surprises in reporting that colleges of education are not ready for that challenge.
In this century more teachers will learn about child development in psychology departments and history from history departments. The diminished role of education colleges will discomfort a few of my colleagues in higher education. The rest of us: students, parents and teachers will benefit from the change.
About the Author
Educational Attainment, the 21st Century Fund and the Future of SchoolingIndiana ranks 42nd in educational attainment.
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