THE LAST WORD: Higher Education Has a Link to School Reform

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THE LAST WORD: Higher Education Has a Link to School Reform.

It is common knowledge that teaching is the only licensed occupation people can join without having mastered a common knowledge base. This is a problem facing all of our nation's schools but felt most acutely where the students are mostly poor and non-white.

Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Columbia University says, "More than 30 states have alternative certification routes which some-times require as little as two or three weeks of training prior to entering a classroom and taking full charge as teacher of record, generally unmentored. And the 50,000 or more teachers who come in annually under these routes teach almost exclusively in the low-income and minority schools, almost exclusively in central cities and poor rural areas."

She describes the environment in most public schools as "antiprofessional," where teachers are treated as "semi-skilled workers who implement a curriculum designed by others, receiving knowledge that trickles down from the top of the system in the form of directives, memos and 'teacher-proof' curriculum guides."

This raises questions for anyone concerned about the quality of education for all our children. Such scenarios reflect a society that asks much of its K-12 teachers but invests little in their development.

Until now, colleges and universities have avoided the issue of "fixing" public schools, pretending that responsibility lies with teachers and school administrators. Even now, as the public clamors for better schools, little pressure is brought on higher education to participate in reform.

The response of many states has been to focus on standards for student performance and the licensing of teachers. Yet, school reform will fail without an equal commitment to enhancement of the teaching profession and reform of teacher education.

John Goodlad was among the first to recognize that, "We are not likely to have good schools without a continuing supply of excellent teachers. Nor are we likely to have excellent teachers unless they are immersed in exemplary schools for significant portions of their induction into teaching." Goodlad's observation is summed up as "simultaneous renewal" -- reform of schools and teacher education.

If real simultaneous renewal is to occur, college presidents and governing boards must pay greater attention to teacher education. As well, strategies must be employed to get greater numbers of university faculty involved. Teacher education must become an integral part of the fabric of the university. The key is to link teacher preparation to the university's own health.

Public concerns about resources, students and learning already have led many colleges and universities to strengthen their own teaching efforts and to worry about undergraduate student learning. …