Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Education and the American Future

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teacher Education and the American Future

Article excerpt

For teacher education, this is perhaps the best of times and the worst of times. It may be the best of times because so much hard work has been done by many teacher educators over the past two decades to develop more successful program models and because we have just elected a president of the United States who has a strong commitment to the improvement of teaching. It may equally be the worst of times because there are so many forces in the environment that conspire to undermine these efforts. I discuss these forces and the response I believe teacher educators should make to them in what follows.

I have titled this article "Teacher Education and the American Future" because I believe the two are inextricably linked. In the knowledge-based economy we now inhabit, the future of our country rests on our ability, as individuals and as a nation, to learn much more powerfully on a wide scale. This outcome rests in turn on our ability to teach much more effectively, especially those students who have been least well supported in our society and our schools.

President Obama has articulated an integrated approach to alleviating poverty, providing health care and other supports for children and families, ensuring early childhood education, redesigning schools, and upgrading teaching. He has proposed to spend $6 billion annually for investing in the teaching profession, through service scholarships for preparing those who will teach in high-need fields and communities, investments in improved teacher education, stronger accountability (including performance-based assessments for teachers and performance-based accreditation), mentoring for all beginning teachers, professional development and collaboration time, and career ladder programs, both to reward expert teachers and to share teaching expertise. The stimulus package enacted in early 2009 includes some elements of this agenda, including teacher residencies and strengthened clinical training, to which I return later.

There is also the chance that this agenda--and the broader project to improve teaching and schooling--will be hijacked or waylaid and that we will continue sliding down the slippery slope we have been on as a nation since the 1980s. Since then, we have advanced little in achievement, especially in international comparisons, with no real reduction in the achievement gap after the large gains made in the 1960s and 1970s; we have lost ground on graduation rates and college-going, and we have expanded inequality in access to school resources. Meanwhile, many other nations like Finland, the Netherlands, Singapore, Korea, China (in particular, Hong Kong and Macao), New Zealand, and Australia have been pulling ahead, making intensive and sustained investments in teaching--the major policy strategy our nation has been unwilling to try (for a review, see Darling-Hammond, 2009).

If the political will and educational conditions for strengthening teaching are substantially absent, I do not believe it is an overstatement to say we will see in our lifetimes the modem-day equivalent of the fall of Rome. I argue here that colleges of teacher education have a major responsibility for which path the nation travels--and that getting our act together--finally, seriously, and collectively--is essential to the nation's future. In this article, I discuss the U.S. context for teacher education, the power of teacher preparation for transforming teaching and learning, and the current challenges for this enterprise in the United States.

The Context of Teacher Education

The past two decades have witnessed a remarkable amount of policy directed at teacher education--and an intense debate about whether and how various approaches to preparing and supporting teachers make a difference. Beginning in the mid-1980s with the report of the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, the Holmes Group (1986, 1990), and the founding of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS; 1989, 2002), a collection of analysts, policy makers, and practitioners of teaching and teacher education argued for the centrality of expertise to effective practice and the need to build a more knowledgeable and skillful professional teaching force. …

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