Calls for Changes to Teacher Training Programs Grow Louder

A number of states including Florida are contemplating changes that would hold institutions training and certifying new teachers more accountable for the quality and performance of their graduates, NPR's State Impact blog reports.

The renewed concern about training teachers who can cope with the challenges of educating students in coming decades comes as a growing number of baby-boomer-generation instructors are preparing to retire.

Conventional wisdom holds that many, if not most, education schools are doing a poor job at training teachers; after all, they have a history of taking in some of the lowest performing students, and student achievement in the United States has stagnated. Nationally, education schools have been criticized for being far too easy and, as a result, pumping ill-equipped teachers into the system and harming student achievement. Schools across the country are trying to mitigate the criticism by changing curriculum or increasing the amount of field experience teachers receive.

Lawmakers and regulators who hope to bring more uniformity to the student-to-teacher pathway have a challenge ahead of them. The variety of teacher-training programs in existence is bewildering. At the moment, those who aspire to lead a classroom can choose from an undergraduate degree, graduate programs, or stand-alone certification courses that are offered in a traditional environment — or even online. Yet, which one of these provides the best preparation is a question without a real answer.

According to Arthur Levine, who heads up the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship Program that seeks to aid those switching to teaching as a second career, there is no consensus regarding exactly the type of preparation that is vital for classroom success.

At the moment, the most common approach taken by aspiring teachers is to enroll in undergraduate programs in colleges of education. Levine is just one of many critics who feel that these schools are to blame for the majority of ills afflicting the profession of teaching. Their chief shortcoming, according to Levine, is lack of focus on content. Instead of graduating science teachers or English teachers, these programs are turning out jacks-of-all-trades not fully equipped to specialize in any one particular subject, and generally underprepared to teach anything at all.

The very idea of an "education degree" may be an antiquated concept, says Timothy Knowles, director of the University of Chicago Urban Education Institute. He argues that there is little evidence to show that traditional programs' focus on pedagogy—including classes on child development and how students learn—helps new teachers succeed in the classroom.

"Maybe we should ask some deeper more existential questions about the value of teacher education as it is constructed," he said.

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