Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Ask a Different Question, Get a Different Answer: The Research Base for Teacher Education

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Ask a Different Question, Get a Different Answer: The Research Base for Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Although the history of teacher education has been braided with the history of educational research for many years, research is currently playing a more prominent role than ever before. In fact, in many of the major 21st-century debates about teacher quality and teacher preparation, the central focus, at least on the surface, is research itself, particularly on whether there is a research base for teacher education.

This editorial serves two purposes. First, the editorial provides information about two recent research efforts related to teacher preparation: (a) a major review of what the research says about teacher preparation and its implications for policy published by the Education Commission of the States (ECS) and (b) the research-grounded recommendations for the teacher education curriculum made by the Committee on Teacher Education (CTE) of the National Academy of Education (NAP). These efforts are alike in that each uses research to substantiate and justify its arguments regarding teacher preparation. They are also alike in that each is sponsored by a highly visible organization with an influential voice in the educational community. Notwithstanding these similarities, the editorial also makes the point that although in a certain way both reports are designed to assess the research base for teacher preparation, they are actually addressing quite different questions and using research in very different ways. The editorial argues that explicitly identifying and acknowledging these differences is essential to making sense of their conclusions about research and teacher education, which otherwise may appear contradictory.

POLICIES AND PROMISES

In July 2003, ECS published the first in its planned series of reports on teaching quality. Authored by the program director of the ECS Teaching Quality Policy Center, Michael Allen, the report (Allen, 2003) draws heavily on a set of three related reports: Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy's (2001) analysis of the knowledge and gaps in teacher preparation research; Wilson and Floden's (2003) addendum to their first report, based on additional research nominated by ECS; and Lauer's (2001) secondary analysis of the 2001 Wilson report with an emphasis on policy-related questions.

Synthesizing the results of 92 empirical studies judged rigorous and relevant in the Wilson reports (Wilson & Floden, 2003; Wilson et al., 2001), Allen's (2003) synthesis addresses eight questions about teacher preparation that are of particular interest to policy makers at the state and other levels, as well as to educators and researchers. These include questions about the contribution to new teachers' effectiveness of subject matter and pedagogical knowledge, field experiences, alternate routes, preparation for teaching in low-performing schools, stringent program requirements, and accreditation. In addition to answering each of the questions based on the available empirical evidence, the report also rates the degree of confidence policy makers should have in the answers (either strong support, moderate support, limited support, or inconclusive findings) based on the kind, quality, quantity, and consistency of the research. Highest marks are given to studies that shed light on the causal relationships the questions address, especially experimental and quasi-experimental studies or correlational studies using advanced statistical approaches.

Allen's (2003) answer to the central question posed in the title of the ECS report (Eight Questions on Teacher Preparation: What Does the Research Say?) can be summarized in two words: very little. In fact, Allen concludes that none of the answers he provides for the eight questions has strong empirical support, and only one conclusion (that solid subject-matter knowledge is important to effective teaching) receives even moderate support--and this only in mathematics, at the secondary school level. Allen finds limited empirical support for these conclusions: Knowing how to teach subject matter is important, preparation in pedagogy can contribute to effective teaching, alternate routes may lead to short-term retention and may produce teachers who are ultimately as effective as others but with more difficulty in the beginning years, and deliberate efforts to prepare teachers for low-performing schools may be helpful. …

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