What Matters Most for Teacher Educators

Article excerpt

In the preface to What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996b), Governor Hunt expresses the hope that this report will launch a great debate about the critical link between improving the capacities of teachers and the future of the United States (p. iii). Through the use of persuasive detail and compelling prose, the report clarifies the crucial role of teachers in educational improvement. For the most part, teachers and schools escape the derision usually heaped upon them in national reports. The new challenges facing teachers form the starting point for arguing the need for better teachers. Teacher educators should certainly applaud one of the commission's basic premises: Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is the central strategy for improving our schools (p. vi).

Recruiting, preparing, and retaining good teachers is at the heart of our job as teacher educators. This report provides both prescriptions and examples of improving recruitment, preparation, and retention of good teachers.

The preface foreshadows the centerpiece of the report: Standards for students and teachers are the key to reforming American education (p. iii). At nearly every turn, the authors answer the question, How can we have competent and caring teachers in every classroom? with standards and assessments. In this analysis, I examine the authors' proposals to use standards and assessments to achieve the report's goals. I will also appraise the recommendations for preservice teacher education and the nature of the report's action plan for implementing these recommendations. I will not deal with the many good ideas related to the essential tasks of hiring teachers, the professional growth of experienced teachers, or improving the conditions in which teachers teach.

A Positive Beginning

The report offers much for teacher educators to rally around. First, the report boldly declares qualified teachers as the most important ingredient in education reform (p. 3). Second, the report places the task of preparing new teachers squarely on teacher educators. Although Darling-Hammond has elsewhere offered an even stronger argument against alternative teacher education programs, she clearly makes the case for college/university-based teacher education in this report. And finally, the report focuses on goals that we can all rally around: recruiting, preparing and supporting excellent teachers in all of America's schools and a caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child (p. 6). There is a significant omission: Although the authors often call for caring teachers, their know and can do lingo that has emerged as the mantra of the standards movement loses the personal, ethical, and value-centered components of good teaching.

The central difficulty with the report is the overemphasis, mis-emphasis, and uncritical emphasis on standards and standards assessment as the means for producing caring and competent teachers for every classroom. The authors provide a standards/assessment solution at every turn. They provide the hoary and the homely analogy of the three-legged stool to rest on: accreditation, licensing, and certification (p. 29). They make outrageous claims for this solution: for example, Because accreditation is not required of teacher education programs, the quality of Programs varies widely. (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996a, p. 13). This is, at least, a misattribution of causal correlation. There is likely as much variation in quality among NCATE (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education)-accredited programs as among those unaccredited; many well-known model programs have not chosen to be part of the NCATE accreditation process. To suggest that NBPTS (National Board of Professional Teacher Standards), NCATE, and INTASC (Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium) offer the most powerful tools we have for reaching and rejuvenating the soul of the profession (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996b, p. …