Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Education and the Outcomes Trap

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Education and the Outcomes Trap

Article excerpt

Some time ago in this journal and elsewhere (Cochran-Smith, 2000, 2001), I began to write about what I called "the outcomes question in teacher education," by which I meant the ways that the effects, results, consequences, and impacts of teacher education were conceptualized and operationalized as well as how, by whom, and for what purposes these were measured and disseminated. My argument then was that how we as a professional community constructed and answered the outcomes question (or how it got constructed for us) would define the field of teacher education over the next several decades, shaping the experiences of a generation of teachers and thus influencing the learning opportunities and life chances of thousands of American schoolchildren.

Perhaps more obvious than prescient, this prediction appears to have been correct. Teacher education in the 2000s is frontally about outcomes, and the language of "results," "consequences," "effectiveness," "impact," "bottom lines," and "evidence" has been stitched into the logic of teacher education so seamlessly that it is now nearly imperceptible. It is now widely assumed that teacher preparation programs and pathways can and ought to be evaluated for programmatic, institutional, accreditation, or regulatory purposes in terms of their outcomes. This editorial makes two points. First, I suggest that the current outcomes focus in teacher education is not an isolated or inexplicable phenomenon but is instead deeply rooted in the history of teacher education and is also part of a larger shift in how we define educational accountability. Second, the editorial agues that the new focus on outcomes--if narrowly defined only or even predominantly in terms of test scores--is a trap for teacher education that ignores the broader purposes of education in a democratic society and inappropriately places the onus for improving schools and schooling on teachers and teacher educators alone. (1)


Prior to the mid 1990s, the emphasis in teacher education was not on outcomes. It was primarily on process--how prospective teachers learned to teach, how their beliefs and attitudes changed over time, what contexts supported their learning, and what kinds of content, pedagogical, and other knowledge they needed. Teacher education assessment focused on what is now retrospectively referred to as "inputs" rather than outcomes--institutional commitment, qualifications of faculty, content and structure of courses and fieldwork experiences, and the alignment of all of these with professional knowledge and standards.

The shift in teacher education from inputs to outcomes was part of a larger sea of change in how we think about educational accountability. Along these lines, Cuban (2004) points out that, contrary to the popular belief that accountability is a relatively new development in education, public schools have, in actuality, never been "unaccountable." Rather, Cuban argues, definitions of accountability and quality schooling have changed. Prior to and immediately following World War II, what was most important to school boards, administrators, and the public was the efficient use of resources to accommodate all of those going to school. School leaders were accountable for providing equipment, supplies, and facilities. Schools that did so were considered good schools. After the war, however, social, economic, and political changes produced what Cuban calls a "more dramatic" notion of accountability that hinged on results.

The turning point was the passage of the Elementary and Secondary Act (ESEA) of 1965 and the many events, acts, and court cases leading up to or concurrent with it, including Brown v. Board of Education, the launching of Sputnik, and the Coleman Report (Cuban, 2004). The idea with ESEA was not only to provide funds for improving education but also to attach those funds to new accountability requirements. …

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