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The Contemporary Politics Surrounding Teacher Preparation

Page history last edited by maxeme tuchman 14 years, 7 months ago

Almost everyone involved with education would agree that the United States needs more, and better teachers. There is a consensus that teachers need to be better prepared for their work in the classroom. However, people fall on different sides when it comes to what is the best way to prepare (or even not to prepare) educators.

            Those who advocate for stronger teacher preparation programs tend to be those who have been traditional ‘gatekeepers’ to the profession like the NEA, the AFT, traditional teacher education programs at universities, and NCATE. Under this line of thought, prospective educators should undergo a certain number of years of schooling specifically for teaching, learning a variety of methods and practices to use in the classroom. On the other side of the debate, are those who advocate for less time consuming and rigorous processes for certifying teachers and getting them into the classroom like Teach for America, and some other alternative preparation programs that include “on the job” training (e.g., New York Teaching Fellows, or Boston Teacher Residency). These programs operate under the assumption that higher quality candidates, selected through competitive application processes, can make up for the lack of or minimal amount of pre-service training. 

            It is unlikely that any one particular way to prepare and certify teachers will emerge in the current climate. The teacher unions and NCATE, which accredits teacher education schools, as well as the traditional teacher education schools, are clearly invested in making sure that traditional teacher education programs continue to exist and would emphasize their such programs over the alternatives. Rotherham points to the ill-will that often exists between the two sides when speaking of the “contempt for [Teach for America] within the education community” (2009). This is particularly true since Teach for America is seen as undermining the attempt towards professionalization undertaken by the unions and even NCATE.

            Ultimately, a large part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no broad consensus or definitive research on what makes for effective teaching, therefore it is difficult to even create or evaluate what effective teacher preparation should look like. When the results from ongoing projects examining the link between teacher preparation and student achievement, and more definitive answers are given, teacher preparation – whether traditional or alternative – will be given a more clear-cut set of standards on which to base their programs around.


 

 

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The Contemporary Politics Surrounding Teacher Preparation

      Almost everyone involved with education would agree that the United States needs more, and better teachers. There is a consensus that teachers need to be better prepared for their work in the classroom. However, as noted in the other sections, there are currently a number of ways for people to enter the field of teaching. This is where the commonly held view begins to break down – people fall on different sides when it comes to what is the best way to prepare (or even not to prepare) educators. The issues involved with supporting one method towards entry into teaching over others have to do with that of teacher quality vs. preparation, mediated with the issue of professionalization via barriers-to-entry vs. teacher shortages.

      Those who advocate for stronger teacher preparation programs tend to be those who have been traditional ‘gatekeepers’ to the profession. Examples would be the major teacher unions, the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) in connection with the major accreditation body for teacher certification programs, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Alongside with the universities that run traditional schools of education and teacher preparation, these groups “are based on the central belief that knowing how to teach is equally important as knowing the subject matter being taught” (Leone-Getten, 2009). Subsequently, with this line of thought, prospective educators should undergo a certain number of years of schooling specifically for teaching, learning a variety of methods and practices to use in the classroom.

      On the other side of the debate, are those who advocate for less time consuming and rigorous processes for certifying teachers and getting them into the classroom. Some better-known examples of programs that put teachers in the classroom without the years of undergraduate or graduate school training are Teach for America, and some other alternative preparation programs that include “on the job” training (e.g., New York Teaching Fellows, or Boston Teacher Residency). These programs operate under the assumption that higher quality candidates, selected through competitive application processes, can make up for the lack of or minimal amount of pre-service training. Regardless about the amount of research that shows varying amounts of teacher effectiveness for such programs, there exists a lot more public support for, and among scholars like Frederick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute.

      As a result, there are a myriad of ways in which people can become teachers and there is support and criticism for each of the different paths coming from both the public and academic spheres.

The Barriers to Change

      It is unlikely that any one particular way to prepare and certify teachers will emerge in the current climate. The teacher unions and NCATE, which accredits teacher education schools, as well as the traditional teacher education schools, are clearly invested in making sure that traditional teacher education programs continue to exist and would emphasize their such programs over the alternatives. Rotherham points to the ill-will that often exists between the two sides when speaking of the “contempt for [Teach for America] within the education community” (2009). This is particularly true since Teach for America is seen as undermining the attempt towards professionalization undertaken by the unions and even NCATE.

      Most of the teacher unions are not fond of programs like Teach for America, especially since special contracts must be made between the districts where Teach for America teachers are sent, that may seem unfair or contradict union contracts in the district. Most recently, when Teach for America arrived in Boston, some amount of friction occurred between them and the Boston Teacher’s Union (Matlin, 2009). These types of tensions have only intensified with the financial crisis and limited budgets that states and districts have for their public educational systems.

      Teacher unions may also play a role in some of the residency programs that have sprung up. Ferguson argues that there may not be enough teachers who would be willing to allow the residency teachers to participate in their classrooms. Having an apprentice teacher in one’s classroom that occasionally takes over the class could be difficult for a large number of teachers to swallow, especially since teachers have traditionally valued their autonomy (Donaldson et al., 2008).

      Nonetheless, one reason why there are so many alternative programs that still flourish and receive some amount of backing is the fact that there are not enough qualified, and traditionally trained teachers; specifically, there is a high “demand for high quality teachers in certain subject areas in select parts of this country” (Feistritzer, 2009). These shortages are projected to continue as more teachers begin to retire (Hess, 1), and is further exacerbated by the requirement for “highly qualified teachers” as prescribed by the No Child Left Behind Act (Russell &Wineburg, 2). Alternative teacher certification and preparation programs arguably allow qualified people – who would otherwise be barred from teaching because of the extra “hoop-jumping” – to help meet the immediate needs of schools and classrooms (Russell &Wineburg, 2).

      Ultimately, as mentioned in previous sections, a large part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no broad consensus or definitive research on what makes for effective teaching, therefore it is difficult to even create or evaluate what effective teacher preparation should look like (Hess, 1; Ferguson).

Opportunities for Change

      However, hope exists for some amount of change to occur in teacher preparation. With the new Obama administration, the importance of education has increased on the political agenda.As part of a stimulus package, the government is supplying to the education sector an “unprecedented $5 billion in discretionary funds [with the] largest share belong[ing] to the Race to the Top program, in which states will compete for grants by showing they’re innovating” (McQuaid, 18). In particular, Race to the Top allows the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to “[reward] states that publicly report and link student achievement to the programs where teachers and principals were credentialed” (“Secretary”).  The current economic crisis could possibly make the extra monetary resources that could be received from Race to the Top all the more alluring and its potential for instigating change all the greater.

       While the DOE is giving money to all teacher preparation programs –  both traditional and alternative, there is reason to believe that non-traditional routes will still be highly promoted in the coming years. There is a bi-partisan push to expand the Troops to Teachers program, which originally was meant to provide financial incentive for qualified troops to teach in areas of higher need. The expansion would allow for more troops to qualify for the program, and also a wider geographic range than previously existed “to incite returning service men and women from Iraq and Afghanistan to go into the classroom” (“Senators”).

      Perhaps one of the most promising signs of oncoming change lies in the work that the state of Louisiana is undertaking. They are actively trying to bridge the gap of definitive knowledge regarding the results of teacher preparation programs and the achievement of students in the classrooms. Specifically, Louisiana is measuring the learning of their pupils from preschool through twelfth grade, and linking it to the university programs that prepared their teachers (Russell and Wineburg, 9). Once their results are out, we may have a better sense of what kinds of teacher preparation programs are producing more effective teachers, and from there, be able to see what these specific programs are doing that produces the “higher quality” teachers. In addition, Robert C. Pianta of the Curry School of Education has also been working on researching the link between teachers and student achievement in the classrooms (Ferguson). When the results from both these ongoing projects are revealed, and more definitive answers are given, teacher preparation – whether traditional or alternative – will be given a more clear-cut set of standards on which to base their programs around (Cibulka). 

 

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