Magazine article Insight on the News

Beset Teachers' Colleges Revamp Their Programs

Magazine article Insight on the News

Beset Teachers' Colleges Revamp Their Programs

Article excerpt

Long under fire for tolerating lax standards and favoring methodology over subject matter, schools of education are raising their standards and revising their curriculums.

Maybe little Janie can't read or count because her teacher can t teach. Maybe her teacher does not know enough science or history to convey these important subjects to her pupils.

Mischievous speculation? Critics long have claimed that American colleges of education are producing mostly average or below-average teachers. Now, a four-month study of teachers' colleges by the Washington Times (a sister publication of Insight) indicates these critics may be right: The problem of unsatisfactory classroom learning seems rooted in the early selection and education of students who say they want to be teachers.

"Schools of education are cash cows to universities," says Dean Edwin J. Delattre of the Boston University School of Education. "They admit and graduate students who have low levels of intellectual accomplishment and these people are, in turn, visited on schoolchildren. They are well-intentioned, decent, nice people who by and large don't know what they're doing."

Roughly 2.5 million teachers are responsible today for the the 46 million children in public schools, kindergarten through high school. Although many teachers perform well, a significant number are products of an entrenched training system that almost guarantees mediocrity in the classroom, according to Delattre and others. The sheer number of schools of education in the United States -- there are about 1,300 nationwide -- is part of the problem. "It would be possible in terms of the significance of their research and the quality of their instruction to give an intellectual justification for perhaps three dozen of them -- certainly no more than 50," says Delattre.

To become a public-school teacher, graduates must be certified by the state. Toward this end, college students take required courses, do stints at student-teaching and pass a series of general-knowledge examinations. Passing scores for these tests vary from state to state but tend to be fairly low. Curiously, many aspiring teachers never find themselves in front of a classroom until their final days in college -- an experience that persuades many to seek other careers.

"Schools of education are currently the origins of our problems, not their solution" says E.D. Hirsch Jr., professor of English and university professor of education and humanities at the University of Virginia. Testifying before Congress, Hirsch sharply criticized what's known as "developmentally appropriate practice" or the philosophy that a child should not be pressured to learn anything until he signal that he is ready and receptive.

"The doctrine," he told legislators, "is drummed into almost all teachers who take early-education courses. The intention is to ensure caring treatment for young children, yet the ultimate effect of the doctrine is to cause social harm. To withhold demanding content from young children between preschool and third grade has an effect which is quite different from the one intended. It leaves advantaged children [who get knowledge at home] with boring pablum, and it condemns disadvantaged children to a permanent educational handicap that grows worse over time"

A major in education long has been considered an easy route to a college degree. Rigorous academic training was seldom demanded. "You just had to love lads to become a teacher," says J. Michael dean of the School of Professional Studies at 105-year-old East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. Thirteen years ago, it was possible to graduate from East Stroudsburg with a major in elementary education without taking a math class, Davis recalls.

Serious concerns about teacher training surfaced in 1983 with the publication of "A Nation at Risk" a landmark national report on the state of the US. …

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