Effectiveness - along with Quality - Should Be the Focus

Article excerpt

Student learning must be the touchstone by which teachers and teacher educators are gauged, say the authors. After studying the articles in the November 1996 Kappan on "Quality Teaching for the 21st Century," they suggest that the authors in that section seem not to share this view.

Arthur Wise deserves praise for his work as guest editor of the special section on "Quality Teaching for the 21st Century," which appeared in the November 1996 Kappan. The teacher preparation and licensure community likewise deserves kudos for its progress in articulating policies focused on the dual concepts of quality assurance and the professionalization of teaching and for fostering the creation of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, whose fall 1996 report, in Wise's words, "provides a blueprint" for a new system of teacher preparation and development.'

We agree that teacher quality and professionalization are appropriate anchor points for policy, but we take issue with the meanings that are being given these anchors. The questions we wish to raise and address here are: Quality assurance for what? Professionalization in whose terms?

The Meaning of Quality Assurance

The authors in the November 1996 special section wrote of quality assurance as some variation of "what teachers know and are able to do." For example, Wise talked of three organizations - accreditation, state licensing, and board certification - "working together to develop complementary standards, so that preparation standards reflect the skills and knowledge needed for state licensing examinations and so that both accreditation and licensing help candidates and teachers build the skills needed for success on board certification assessments."(2) In introducing the recommendations of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, Linda Darling-Hammond stated, "The plan is aimed at ensuring that all schools have teachers with the knowledge and skills they need to enable all children to learn."(3) She quoted the report of the Commission as saying, "Our highest priority must be to reach agreement on what teachers should know and be able to do in order to help students succeed."(4)

Even Albert Shanker chose to focus on the knowledge side of the equation rather than on the dimension of success with children. He suggested that teachers and their organizations "work with licensing bodies and professional standards boards to require that entering teachers meet high national standards that include knowledge of their disciplines, knowledge of how students learn, and knowledge of the liberal arts as measured by valid and reliable assessments."(5) He went on to say that "teaching can be respected as a genuine profession when there is evidence that teachers are experts in their subject matter and do a good job of inducting students into that expertise" - but he did not expand on this statement to make effectiveness with students a real part of his argument.

Indeed, no author in the November special section mentioned directly the need to insure that teachers are effective practitioners, able to foster the kinds and levels of learning that are deemed desirable in their students. To our surprise, they uniformly stopped short of calling for defensible evidence that a teacher actually contributes to the learning progress of his or her students.

By contrast, we believe that any quality assurance system for teachers must include demonstrable teacher effectiveness, as measured by the learning gains of students. A demonstrably effective teacher (in contrast to a teacher who is merely knowledgeable or skillful) is able to integrate and apply whatever knowledge and skills are needed to advance the learning of a particular group of students toward a particular learning goal under a particular set of conditions (resources, time, and so on). This conception of teacher quality is far more demanding than one that focuses only on knowledge and skills, though knowledge and skills are clearly important as enablers of effectiveness. …