Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Reclaiming the Moral in the Dispositions Debate

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Reclaiming the Moral in the Dispositions Debate

Article excerpt

Since the advent of the standards movement in teacher education, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), and many state accreditation agencies use the term disposition in their standards for the preparation, assessment, and professional development of teachers. Combined with increased pressure from federal legislation like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) as well as accreditation requirements to systematically collect and aggregate data that demonstrate the assessment of dispositions, there is, of late, escalating interest in the definition and measurement of teacher candidate dispositions. Paralleling this credentialing activity, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education's (AACTE) Task Force on Teacher Education as a Moral Community reenergized conversations on the moral and ethical dimensions of teacher education; more recently, this group published a monograph (Sockett, 2006) to assist teacher educators grappling with both understanding and addressing standards for dispositions.

This attention to dispositions and their assessment in the profession has been accompanied by several incidences (e.g., at Brooklyn College, LeMoyne College, and Washington State University) when pre-service teachers challenged their teacher education programs' efforts to evaluate their dispositional development (Gershman, 2005). These events sparked polarized and politically charged editorials in the popular press claiming that teacher education programs are using dispositions as a device to keep good teachers out of the classroom on ideological grounds (see Gershman, 2005; Leo, 2005; Will, 2006). For example, in Newsweek, George Will (2006) argued that all schools of education should be shut down because of the way that they "discourage, even disqualify, prospective teachers who lack the correct 'disposition,'" which he defined as an "embrace [of] today's 'progressive' political catechism" (p. 98).

Many of the criticisms raised in the popular press are not surprising. Although the emphasis on dispositions in the teacher education community is clear, our definitions and measures are not. For example, NCATE initially defined dispositions as follows:

   The values, commitments, and professional ethics that influence
   behaviors towards students, families, colleagues, and communities,
   and affect student learning, motivation, and development as well as
   the educator's own professional development. Dispositions are
   guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring,
   fairness, honesty, responsibility and social justice. For example,
   they might include a belief that all students can learn, a vision
   of high and challenging standards, or a commitment to a safe and
   supportive learning environment. (NCATE, 2006a)

Dispositions emerge in this description as a confusing muddle of "values" that are "guided by beliefs and attitudes that are related to values" and "might include a belief" that ultimately influences behaviors.

NCATE has recently attempted to address the confusion and accompanying criticism. In response to John Leo's (2005) editorial accusing schools of education of using "disposition theory" to impose a "group think" of "culturally left agenda" associated with social justice, Arthur Wise (2005), president of NCATE, disavowed any ideological tendencies in NCATE, including any official NCATE disposition toward social justice, although he cleverly questioned whether anyone would propose adopting a goal of social injustice. According to Wise, the professional dispositions needed to help all children learn--"honesty, responsibility, fairness" (Wise, 2005)--derive from the creation of model core state-licensing standards created in 1992 under the aegis of the Council of Chief State School Officers and embraced by INTASC, which form the basis for most state licensing standards. …

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