Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Highly Qualified Teachers and the Social Foundations of Education: Courses in the Social Foundations of Education Are under Attack. but If We Want to Prepare Truly Professional, High-Quality Teachers, Those Courses Are Essential

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Highly Qualified Teachers and the Social Foundations of Education: Courses in the Social Foundations of Education Are under Attack. but If We Want to Prepare Truly Professional, High-Quality Teachers, Those Courses Are Essential

Article excerpt

While everyone agrees that students need highly qualified teachers, the debate over what these teachers should know and how they should be prepared continues. However, one area of traditional, university-based teacher preparation has been marginalized in that debate. That area is the social foundations of education.

The social foundations of education commonly are divided into two areas: courses that focus on philosophy, history of education, and sociopolitical aspects of schooling and courses concerned with multiculturalism. Courses in the first group are intended to strengthen prospective teachers' ability to understand why U.S. public schools operate as they do. Among other things, this ability requires knowledge of the social, political, and economic forces that influenced the historical construction of public education generally, as well as particular regional, state, and local conditions of schooling. These courses also encourage teachers to contemplate competing purposes of public education, their first and primary obligation as educators, and a guiding vision for their work.

Courses in multiculturalism are intended to provide knowledge about the histories and cultures of different groups and knowledge about how stereotypes are formed and perpetuated. They also attempt to engender in teachers a commitment to equal educational opportunity for all students.

The leading advocate for including the social foundations of education in teacher preparation programs is the Council of Social Foundations in Education (CSFE), formerly known as the Council for Learned Societies in Education (CLSE). The CSFE promotes standards prepared by the CLSE for academic and professional instruction in foundations of education, which the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE 2007) includes as a requirement for its accreditation of teacher education programs. According to the CLSE, "the purpose of foundations study is to bring these disciplinary resources to bear in developing interpretive, normative, and critical perspectives on education, both inside and outside of schools" (CLSE 2004).

The standards not only recommend that educators and prospective teachers understand existing conditions of education and their consequences, they encourage contemplation of goals, alternative conceptions of schooling, and possibilities of education: What should schools be doing? What structures and processes of schooling best facilitate achieving those goals?

Distinguished education theorists--such as John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Maxine Greene, Michael Apple, and Henry A. Giroux--have argued that public education has an obligation to prepare young people for democratic citizenship and to advance social justice. Social foundations courses often provide prospective teachers with their first exposure to these ideas of social justice and preparing citizens for a democracy.

The CLSE standards do not explicitly identify advancing social justice as the purpose for studying the social foundations of education. But it's implicit in the practical performance measures provided for evaluating professional development and preparation programs in the field: "The educator can assist the examination and development of democratic values that are based on critical study and reflection" (CLSE 2004).

THE CRITICS OF SOCIAL FOUNDATIONS COURSES

Teacher education has been under siege for decades from both within and outside the university (Labaree 2004). A recent major offensive began with George W. Bush's appointment of Rodney Paige as Secretary of Education. In his first annual report to Congress on teacher quality, Paige broad-sided schools of teacher education:

  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 demands. ... There is little evidence that education
  school coursework leads to improved student achievement. … 
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