Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Evidence and Inquiry in Teacher Education: What's Needed for Urban Schools

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Evidence and Inquiry in Teacher Education: What's Needed for Urban Schools

Article excerpt

In this article, my vantage point is a commitment to improving public schools in our nation's cities. Although I write pointedly because urban education is in the midst of a crisis, I agree wholeheartedly with Florio-Ruane (2002 [this issue]) that the urgency of demands placed on research should not be allowed to reduce the complexity of our answers. As Bourdieu (1998) observes, our responsibilities as intellectuals are "freedom with respect to those in power, the critique of received ideas, the demolition of simplistic either-or's, respect for the complexity of problems" (p. 92). In the pages that follow, I explain how heeding Florio-Ruane's call for complexity and shedding light in areas where we are not presently seeking information--in particular, the implications of race, class, and gender--is the key to generating research on and in teacher education that will be useful to urban schools. As Wilson, Floden, and Ferrini-Mundy (2002 [this issue]) note, viewing teacher education and the research on teacher education as outsiders but at the same time using our insider knowledge is essential--and I thank the editors of the Journal of Teacher Education for inviting my participation in that frank examination.

Urban teacher education suffers from both a scarcity of firm data and a lack of sustained, serious intellectual scrutiny (Weiner, 1993, 2000). Reliable statistics on urban schools and urban teaching, on problems as basic as retention rates among new urban teachers, let alone identification of the reasons for their leaving, are elusive (Haberman & Rickards, 1990). Why do we have scarce data and a slim output of intellectually serious material on urban teacher education? Part of the explanation is certainly the nomological paradigm and its omission of culture, as Florio-Ruane states. However, the ascendancy of the nomological paradigm should be understood to a significant degree as stemming from neglect of the social conditions of schooling as they relate to teacher education (Liston & Zeichner, 1991), an omission that is especially harmful to urban teacher education (Weiner, 1993). To develop "well theorised practices and practical theories" (Kenway, Willis, Rennie, & Blackmore, 1994) for urban teacher education, it is as essential to recognize the social contexts of urban schooling as it is rare.

CONTEXTS OF URBAN TEACHER EDUCATION

Like the schools it serves, urban teacher education is in the midst of a crisis of remarkable intensity. It is the "midnight hour" (N. Connell, 1998) to save urban education as a publicly supported and locally governed system. Barring an (unlikely) immediate federal intervention of significant dimensions such as what occurred in the 1960s, urban classrooms will be staffed, perhaps most of the time, by individuals who have received no more than a few weeks of training before they begin to teach. If past practice is an indication, these unprepared novices will continue to be concentrated in schools in high-poverty neighborhoods vacated by teachers who have migrated to less difficult teaching situations (Darling-Hammond & Sclan, 1996; Winfield & Manning, 1992). We must of course acknowledge that the value of preparation in teacher education is debated, but as Ingersoll (2001) does, I continue to think that what is most interesting in the debate is the consistent denial of teacher education's usefulness. Ingersoll asks why there is a need to prove, continually, that "teaching is a highly complex kind of work and that it takes both ability and advanced training to do well" (p. 22). He observes that the "skepticism is highly selective" because other occupations and professions have not been scrutinized in the same fashion. A full discussion of this issue is obviously beyond the purview of my article, but Ingersoll's question can be fully answered only by acknowledging teaching as "women's work," which, as feminist sociologists Acker (1999), Biklen (1995), and Reay (1998) points out, means it is not considered work at all but an extension of women's role in maintaining the family. …

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