Friday, October 23, 2009

Why don't reporters visit teaching colleges?

Secretary Duncan came down on teachers colleges yesterday. This isn’t a new concern. Yet I don’t think I have EVER read a piece in the media about what exactly people learn, and don’t learn, at schools of education. Can we fix that?

NPR has touched on the topic in its current series on teacher preparation; I hope they go deeper. I’d like to see specifics. If you write about schools, visit the college most of your district’s teachers graduated from. What exactly is the disconnect between what they’re taught there and what they need once they leave? What courses are required, and what courses do school district officials wish had been required? Many teachers I know say they learned terrific techniques in school that they are sad not to be able to put into use in their classrooms, for various reasons. They also talk about classes that sound pretty useless and things they never learned well, such as how to teach special ed students.

I am a fan of alternative certification and have little tolerance for the bureaucratic hoops you have to go through to teach; don’t get me started about the time the dean of a traditional program for which my middle school book was required reading told me I didn’t have the prerequisites to even be accepted. But I don’t see great stories on the preparation those teachers go through either.

Given the prominence teacher quality has in the national debate, it seems like an obvious story to write—for K-12 reporters, higher ed reporters or both.


  1. Hey Linda:
    I think you are so right this is a great story. And now, as a former education reporter going through one of the post-bac teacher prep programs in AZ, I'm thinking of starting a (surprise!) blog about the experience, because I swear, some of it seems, well, awfully curious. And the fact that many of these programs across the country are online (except, obviously, for practicums and student teaching) is an interesting trend. They do it online to offer more "access" to higher ed, right? Yes, but do they give consideration to if it is really effective to have a bunch of folks having online discussions instead of F2F where they could really interact with each other/ professor? And, in the two classes I'm in right now (accelerated, natch), one is fabulous - the professor is always available and offers tons of assistance/outside resources, and the other one? She's never in the discussions. She answers emails and she posts grades (quite late), but there's very little interaction and no real teaching. We're teaching ourselves in that one.
    Renee Schafer Horton
    p.s. love your profile photo!

  2. Completely and totally agree-- particularly since (here in Ontario, Canada) there is frequent comment from the profession itself that B.Ed programs don't address the skills beginning teachers actually need to succeed in their classrooms.
    Interesting thought.

  3. Do you want to know what I would like to see?

    An honest explanation of why programs are structued as they are.

    Other professionals expert to make a lot more money than teachers. This means that they can afford to take more time off for the their education and a bigger loan debt.

    But we expect teachers to work full time, largely unsupervised, with a full load of students & classes just 15 months after they start their preparation program. 1/3 as long as lawyers and 1/4 as long as doctors spend in their graduate schools, but they also get years of closely supervised support, too.

    How well prepared would other professions be for full time autonomous work in 15 months?

    So, what is the cost structure at play here? If we were to do serious residency programs -- and everyhing thinks that a good idea -- how what are the potential sources of funding? How do the ones that exist pay their bills? Foundation money? How much money for medical residendency comes from the federal government? How much would it cost to pay just as much per teacher? Etc. etc.

  4. Alexander Hoffman said:
    An honest explanation of why programs are structured as they are.

    You know, you'd think that educators would follow the good practice of being explicit about the intent of their programs and how the structure of their program aligns with those goals. Heck, we say the best classrooms run that way, why bother using best practices we teach about when teaching?

  5. May I suggest David Labaree's highly readable The Trouble With Ed Schools? (2006, Yale Univ. Press). I don't think you can count on NPR, or even the NY Times, for in-depth analysis. It seems Duncan's quote that "many if not most" schools of education are doing a "mediocre job" has stuck despite the fact that he has no credible evidence for making such a sweeping claim, or for assuming that alternative pathways will do a better job of preparing teachers for such a complex profession.

  6. Your's is a question I've been asking at the top of my lungs in my little corner of the planet to absolutely no effect. My gut informs me that educational reporters are poorly educated themselves with little capacity for critical thinking. What other theory am I to entertain when I witness such phenomena as the silence that greeted the National Council for Teacher Quality's 2006 report, "What Education Schools Are Not Teaching About Reading." What issue in the whole universe of education could be more critical than reading instruction? Here is a study that has as its number one finding, "Most education schools are not teaching the science of reading," and the press buried it! Would that happen if a study announced, "Most medical schools are not teaching the science of antisepsys,"? What else am I to conclude but that education reporters and/or the editors who assign them are a bit dopey?

  7. In addition to pointing out the shortcomings, journalists would do well to visit "traditional" teacher ed. programs that are breaking the mold. For example, St. Cloud State University in Minnesota is using a co-teaching model to improve new teachers' clinical experience while keeping experienced teachers in the classrooms. Their preliminary student performance data are impressive. Worth a look:

  8. I took teacher education courses piecemeal after beginning to teach, which wasn't good for my first batches of students but very good for me. By then I knew what was important and what was baloney. I was better able to pick good courses and I wanted to learn from them.

    Although I don't recommend my experience to others, I do think that the first step for anyone contemplating teaching is to spend considerable time in some classrooms to see what they are like. It might be possible for schools of education to require and give credit for a certain number of hours volunteering in classrooms before beginning a teacher traing program.