Teacher Education Programs: In the Midst of Change

Article excerpt

As we enter the second decade of the 21st century, teacher education programs, particularly across the United States, have been scrutinized to an unprecedented degree. Katherine Merseth, senior lecturer on education and director of the teacher education program at Harvard University, stresses the need for graduate schools of education across the United States to be more accountable. She believes that of the 1,300 U.S. graduate education programs, merely 100 or so schools adequately prepare teachers. Merseth asserts that many teacher education programs easily could be shut down, yet they remain--essentially a "cartel" that monopolizes the awarding of teaching degrees (Ramirez, 2009). In a 2010 speech to the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan went further, claiming that rewarding teachers with a master's degree is a waste of school district money, arguing that student achievement does not change when a teacher has a master's degree. (1) Recently, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) assembled a "Blue Ribbon" panel (2) to examine the effectiveness of teacher education programs, urging that teacher education ought to be "turned upside down" with sweeping changes for teacher preparation.

Levine (2010) makes the point that the world and our understanding of it are in the midst of unparalleled transformation because of globalization; significant demographic, economic, technological changes; and ongoing brain research relative to how people learn. Juxtaposed to that reality, Levine adds, is the current relationship between higher education and government (state and federal), in which government has made teacher education "a special target" for demanding more accountability and regulation.

To be sure, no individual, cooperation, or institution is above criticism, and teacher education programs should constructively address and work with their critics, and, as Levine rightly suggests, adapt to the growing transformation of the world. At the same time, however, teacher education programs must critically question and, if necessary, challenge the motives of those, both from within and outside the education ranks, who make sweeping generalizations regarding teacher preparation.

It is no secret that some people are fundamentally predisposed, at best, to have a low regard for teacher education programs and thus trivialize their purpose, and; at worst, to wish for the eradication of teacher education. Some have tried to systematically deprofessionalize the notion of teacher education, and the teaching profession in general. These critics promote a corporate model of education that touts privatization, alternative certification, and "fast track" programs. These types of programs focus on "teacher training," emphasizing the learning of methods, techniques, and skills. Stokes (1997) believes that with such an approach, teachers become mere "technicians" who uncritically abide by a standardized or a one-size-fits-all model of doing things. In short, the trivialization of teacher education programs and the emphasis on fast-track programs ominously minimize the complex art and science of teaching, the importance of human development theories, the nature of learning and knowledge, the impact of social and cultural forces on teaching and learning, critical thinking, the theory-practice connection, and the inherent political nature of education.

A debate on the direction of teacher education is healthy and necessary, but motives have to be fully transparent in order to achieve authentic dialogue and positive movement. Clearly, teacher education in general has to change where change is necessary; that is simply the nature of teaching and learning. To that end, the purpose of this theme issue is to highlight teacher education programs that have constructively responded to education research and to demographic, economic, global, and technological changes. …