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Response to Educating School Teachers (David A. Ritchey)

This response to Dr. Arthur Levine’s recent study of teacher education was submitted by David A. Ritchey on behalf of the Association of Teacher Educators. -ed.

Dr. Arthur Levine, president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation and former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, has authored a study of teacher education, Educating School Teachers, released by the Education Schools Project. The Association of Teacher Educators welcomes his call for improvements in the teacher education process; ATE’s members are actively working for many of the changes he supports. We do challenge, however, his recommendations related to expanding teacher education programs at highly selective institutions and closing some programs at Masters I universities rather than seeking to improve programs at all institutions including those educating most of the nation’s teachers. At a time when the nation faces teacher shortages in hard to staff elementary and secondary schools, we believe Dr. Levine’s statement that “Many of the programs that should be closed will be found among Masters I universities” is elitist at best. Many of the education programs Dr. Levine targets to close fill a valuable role in preparing diverse teacher candidates for a wide variety of schools in many locations, and to close these programs rather than seek to improve them is unfair and unrealistic.

As noted, ATE’s members are actively engaged in working to improve teacher education in ways that Dr. Levine notes. Consider his recommendations (in bold):

Recommendation One: Transform education schools from ivory towers into professional schools focused on school practice. ATE actually got its start as a field service association whose members were primarily engaged in mentoring student teachers. The National Field Directors Forum, an important ATE Special Interest Group, continues this legacy. In addition, ATE strongly supports the establishment of Professional Development Schools, in which college and university education schools partner with P-12 schools to help prepare teachers and improve instruction methods. ATE’s members are already in the field, working with schools, school districts and practitioners.

Recommendation Two: Focus on student achievement as the primary measure of the success of teacher education programs. While there are numerous problems with this approach that have been discussed elsewhere, ATE has worked with and provided input on unique longitudinal studies of student performance in Texas and other areas. The U.S. Department of Education has only recently begun looking at what it calls “growth models.” ATE has supported research which looks at student achievement and seeks to correlate teacher performance with student achievement since its founding. The soon to be published third edition of ATE’s Handbook of Research on Teacher Education is a fundamental reference in this field. At a time when the federal government is severely cutting back on aid to teacher preparation and states and localities may not be in a position to undertake the kinds of studies that would be required under this recommendation, however, we would like to see much more work in this area before strong links between student achievement and individual teacher performance ratings can become reality.

Recommendation Three: Make five-year teacher education programs the norm. This recommendation again takes on the air of elitism and would involve significantly increased costs (as well as investments of time) for students, universities, and states and localities. ATE’s members are working to incorporate advanced studies in education for students while allowing them to gain the subject matter proficiency required of teachers within the required university curriculum, whatever time limit is established.

Recommendation Four: Establish effective mechanisms for teacher education quality control. Dr. Levine recommends investigating the creation of a “blue ribbon panel created by a neutral party, such as the Carnegie Corporation” to “bypass” existing accrediting associations. ATE has been an active participant in the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which accredits teacher education programs on a voluntary basis, since its founding, and we work closely with other accrediting groups. We believe NCATE and the other accrediting groups have developed processes of evaluating teacher education programs which are strenuous and effective. These processes can perhaps be improved and we would support efforts to improve them, but to “bypass” the existing accreditation processes which involve state and local education agencies and the U.S. Department of Education as well as the college and university schools of education would be a tremendous waste of work that has progressed for more than 50 years. NCATE, for example, just completed a major revision of its standards, and the accountability standards called for in Dr. Levine’s report are only a slight restatement of the new NCATE standards.

Recommendation Five: Close failing teacher education programs, strengthen promising ones, and expand excellent programs. Create incentives for outstanding students and career changers to enter teacher education at doctoral universities. Eighty percent of those preparing to be classroom teachers are prepared at public institutions, most at regional state colleges and universities. Many of these colleges and universities would not qualify for the doctoral university status which Dr. Levine favors. It would be great if all or even most of the teachers needed by the nation’s P-12 schools, in inner cities as well as suburbs and rural areas, could be educated at elite institutions of the type Dr. Levine seems to favor. The reality is that because of economic pressures, pay scales for the teaching profession, and the high cost of elite institutions, the Masters I colleges and universities will continue to prepare most of the nation’s teachers. Our goal should be to improve teacher preparation programs in those institutions, not to close them. Many people who want to become teachers, even those who are career changers interested in entering the profession, simply can’t afford to spend over $150,000 and devote five years of their lives in order to prepare for a job that may pay only $30,000 a year.

In addition to the economic realities of the teaching profession, many colleges and universities, including the elite institutions Dr. Levine favors, do not emphasize teacher education. The prevalent practice of institutional siphoning off of funds brought in by education schools to other university programs should cease, and a steady support stream should be created to continue and expand the improvement in teacher education that has been started. This is a process that needs support from many different groups.

The Association of Teacher Educators does agree with Dr. Levine that more resources should be devoted to all phases of teacher preparation, including upgrading programs in all colleges and universities; insuring that alternative certification programs provide the necessary preparation and ongoing mentoring needed to produce qualified teachers; devoting greater investments to research on student achievement before such data can be used to evaluate teacher performance; and continued improvements in the accreditation process of teacher education programs. States, localities and the federal government could do much more to upgrade the status of the profession and the retention of qualified teachers by raising teacher pay scales, as Dr. Levine points out.

The Association of Teacher Educators was founded in 1920 and is an individual membership organization devoted solely to the improvement of teacher education both for school-based and post secondary teacher educators. ATE members represent over 700 colleges and universities, over 500 major school systems, and the majority of state departments of education.

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  1. Ed Johnson says:

    I am using this article in my Master’s class for an article to cuss and discuss in a week or so. We are all either Doctorate or Master’s students at the Universtity of New Mexico and all are teachers. This subject has long been a concern of mine. Thanks, Ed Johnson

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