Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Staging the Work of Teacher Education through Public Conversation

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Staging the Work of Teacher Education through Public Conversation

Article excerpt

In June 2002, with little or no input from the education community, the U.S. Department of Education published a major policy statement on preparation of new teachers (Meeting the Highly Qualified Teachers Challenge, Office of Postsecondary Education). In the Executive Summary of this document, under the heading "A Broken System," it is alleged that "schools of education and formal teacher training programs are failing to produce the types of highly qualified teachers that the No Child Left Behind Act required." Criticism regarding the efficacy of university-based Teacher Education Programs is not new (Goodlad, 1990; Griffin, 1999). However, this federal document, and the private foundation report on which it was largely based, illustrates at least two relatively new trends in policy debates about the appropriate forms and functions of teacher education. First, and most striking, is the obvious fact that concerns about the effectiveness of traditional teacher education have seized such a central place in the public imagination--until recently, it would have been hard to imagine such a topic being taken up as it is now in newspaper editorials, television documentaries, and university public relations brochures. A second and related development concerns the ideological alignment of contemporary critiques of university-based teacher preparation programs with broader attacks on public education (Berliner & Biddle, 1995).

Debates about the appropriate purposes and methods of education are inherently political and ideological (Peck, 1991). That is, far from being reducible to the logic and methods of empirical science, the process of answering questions about the worth of Teacher Education Programs is inextricably wound around issues of competing values and struggles for political control (Cochran-Smith, 2001). Unfortunately, contemporary debates about the outcomes of teacher education have been largely defined in terms of outcome measures that grossly reduce what can be seen to measures that can be easily and inexpensively collected and that reflect strong ideological subtexts about the nature of teaching competence. For example, for the State of California 2000-2001 Federal Title II Report Card, comparisons among Teacher Education Programs were carried out on the basis of standardized subject matter tests taken before entrance to the program plus pass rates for a single (state-mandated) test of knowledge of phonics-oriented approaches to reading instruction. What are often termed objective measures in fact systematically occlude much of what is valued in the practice of teaching and teacher education by viewing outcomes through narrow methodological and ideological filters. Clearly, teacher educators must find ways of improving public understanding and appreciation of the richness of the work undertaken in many Teacher Education Programs.

Part of this challenge consists of developing more powerful programs of research that evaluate the impacts of Teacher Education Programs on effective teaching practice and, ultimately, on student achievement (Howey & Zimpher, 1999). However, another part of the task can be viewed as educational in the sense that it involves expanding the understanding of the public (including many university colleagues, practicing teachers, and administrators) regarding the nature of the work that is carried on within high-quality, university-based Teacher Education Programs. One goal of such efforts would be to inform these constituencies about the work of teacher education in ways that might lead them to raise questions about the adequacy of teacher and student test scores as measures of the value of such programs. For example, Brink, Laguardia, Grusham, Granby, and Peck (2001) conducted an evaluation of the contributions made by university student teachers to the professional development schools within which they carried out their preservice internship activities. Student teachers were observed working in their assigned classrooms, interviews were conducted with their cooperating teachers and building principals, and work samples from their public school students were analyzed to evaluate the impacts of their participation in the school. …

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