In recent years, concerns about improving the quality of teaching have shaped educational policy debates in the United States. These concerns have produced different reform strategies, most of which focus on what knowledge teachers need, how teachers should be assessed and how teacher preparation should be structured to produce high-quality teachers. In this chapter, I argue that these worthy concerns about teacher knowledge, assessment and preparation can produce inadequate and misguided educational policies. I also argue that the preparation of high-quality teachers is an important but insufficient goal because, in itself, it neglects students who need good teachers most--the urban poor.
The dominant rhetoric in current education reform proposals in the United States is to put a caring, competent teacher in every classroom so that all children have the opportunity to receive a high-quality education. This rhetoric, which highlights the importance of the teacher in school improvement efforts, echoes through virtually all major reform documents ( Carnegie Forum, 1986; Goodlad, 1990; Holmes Group, 1990; National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1995).
The argument is put forth most directly and comprehensively by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF):
Today's society has little room for those who cannot read, write, and compute proficiently; find and use resources, frame and solve problems, and continually learn new technologies, skills, and occupations . . . If every citizen is to be prepared for a democratic society whose major product is knowledge, every teacher must know how to teach students in ways that help them reach high levels of intellectual and social competence . . . A caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child is the most important ingredient in education reform and, we believe, the most frequently overlooked. ( 1996, p3)
Research findings support the centrality of teaching in school reform efforts. From their comprehensive review of research on alternative explanations for student achievement conducted for the United States Department of Education