Issues and Challenges in Teacher Education

By Engelhardt, John M. | Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview
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Issues and Challenges in Teacher Education

Engelhardt, John M., Focus on Learning Problems in Mathematics

Introduction and Background

From its origin, ACME has been about maximizing mathematics learning, focusing both on student learning and what teachers do to help or hinder student's mathematics learning. Thus, the preparation of teachers has been a significant theme for RCML--how to help students experiencing math problems and how to prevent such problems.

This presentation focuses on teacher education as a general enterprise, especially issues and challenges that university-based teacher education is facing. While my comments are couched generally, they have specific application and implications for mathematics teacher education/educators.

Sometimes it feels like America's favorite pastime is criticizing teacher education. Actually, America's favorite pastime seems to be criticizing public education, and teacher education gets dragged into the discussion. The logic seems to go something like this:

  If kids aren't learning, it is the fault of teachers and if teachers
  aren't helping kids learn, it must result from poor preparation.

Actually, it is not the case that teacher education is poor. Indeed, for one thing children are learning more than ever. Others, like David Berliner, have made the case that IQs and achievement are higher than ever. So, thanks to all of my colleague math educators who have done a great job and have made a difference in the lives of students.

Yet, the rhetoric of criticism and blame continues for teacher education. Why?

One can argue that it's all just politics and teacher education is an easy target for politicians. After all, what governor today is not an education governor and self proclaimed expert on teacher education-teachers just need more content. And teacher educators from a rather small voter constituency and pose a rather impotent group. Clearly, teacher educators (including math educators) must form alliances with natural allies--K-12 community, NEA/AFT, state boards of education and some legislators.

Issues and Challenges

But what are the factors that contribute to this state of affairs? What are the big issues and challenges that contribute to the poor credibility of (mathematics) teacher education? I will identify four categories of issues/challenges:

Category 1: Perceived low teacher quality

* Students low scores on standards-based tests (teacher quality tied to kids' performance)

* Teacher "drop out" rate in the profession

* Quality of teacher education candidates from the general talent pool (SATs), GPAs) and non-subject majors. There is data to refute these claims, but somehow it's not gathered or shared.

Category 2: Perceived ineffective preparation programs

* lack of common agreement on a vision and outcomes for beginning (mathematics) teachers

* reluctance to change teacher education programs by insiders that is perceived/presented as radical/innovative

* lack of research on program effectiveness, especially in terms of student learning, teacher retention and performance

* reluctance by teacher educators to be strong on accreditation (we argue about the ten percent we don't agree on)

* lack of acknowledgement of shifting paradigms in education:

a) from time-constant and outcome-variable to time-variable and outcome-constant

b) from educational opportunity for all to learning for all (of essential knowledge and skills)

c) from teacher performance to student performance

It should be noted that some of these result from barriers/impediments within higher education-like SCH funding, semester hour definitions, institutional date management systems and the curricular approval process.

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