"If you don't know which way you want to go, any old road will get you there. . . ."
I was reminded of this paraphrase from Alice in Wonderland in thinking about the choices we have for our future in the field of education. We do have choices to make. If we do not invent our own future for the profession of teaching and teacher education, others will invent the future for us.
We can have school-based training rather than university-based education. We can continue to have legislatively determined curricula for schools of education. We can have a teaching force made up of low-ranking college graduates and emergency licensees. We can have schools with teacher-proof curricula and numerous standardized tests where teachers are told what, when, and how to teach. We can have even poorer quality education for at-risk students in cities and rural areas.
But the America of the future will require more children to reach higher levels of cognitive functioning. To reach this broad goal, we must insist that every teacher be fully prepared to carry out his or her responsibilities. We cannot continue to operate teacher accreditation and licensing in the often casual manner in which it has been done during the past several decades. We must decide now the way we want to enter the twenty-first century.
Where We Are Now
We have thus far failed to implement such mechanisms as other fields have used to cement their goals and beliefs about quality control. Teaching and teacher education have an uneven reputation, in part because schools of education, unlike schools serving other professions, have not been held to rigorous national standards. In teaching, we have yet to agree that we all lose when our institutions refuse to submit our professional schools to external evaluation by peers. We lose because we cannot yet fully command the respect of those outside the field, and we thus become open to regulation by others.
Virtually every profession except teaching licenses its professionals only after they have been graduated from an accredited school. These professions take great care to ensure the accreditation of their programs. Time, money, and effort are expended.
State government carefully monitors who can use the title lawyer, architect, nurse, doctor, social worker. But we are indiscriminate in the use of the title teacher. We give it to those who graduate from accredited programs, and we give it to those who are hired on Labor Day with no advance preparation. In addition, contrary to what we find in other professions, novices often are given the toughest jobs, most of the time with little supervision.
I am reminded of another saying, this time a more recent one, from the movie, Field of Dreams. The theme is built around a strong belief by a group of people that they could build a major-league baseball diamond in the fields of Iowa--and the optimism that "if you build it, they will come." I want to alter that statement: If you build it, they may not come. Five hundred schools of education are accredited, but at least 700 are not. We now have national standards for preparation programs--developed by a consensus of professionals within this field. A political and moral decision must be made on whether or not to hold high expectations for all colleges of education, or only some, and whether or not to hold high expectations for all teachers, or only for some.
Where We Can Go
I would like to share with you another vision of the future: what our education system could look like in the next century if we all committed to work toward it, policymakers as well as teachers and teacher educators. Envision the day when
* Every child will be taught by a qualified teacher, including every at-risk child in cities and rural areas.
* Teachers will engage in teaching that will result in developing students with authentic intellectual and practical skills relevant to the social and economic needs of all Americans in the twenty-first century. …