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Reforming the "Chaos" of Teacher Education

Teachers are graduating from college unprepared to cope in todays classrooms and improve students performance, according to a report by the former president of Teachers College, Columbia University. Included: Recommendations for revamping teacher education programs.

In the report, Educating School Teachers, Dr. Arthur Levine calls the teacher education system "chaotic" and out of touch with what should be the new benchmark for assessing teacher preparation programs: How well students do when a colleges graduates get in front of a class.


Dr. Arthur Levine

Dr. Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and former president and professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, writes in his report, "Teacher education is the Dodge City of the education world. Like the fabled Wild West town, it is unruly and chaotic. Anything goes and the chaos is increasing as traditional programs vie with nontraditional programs, undergraduate programs compete with graduate programs, increased regulation is juxtaposed against deregulation, universities struggle with new teacher education providers, and teachers are alternatively educated for a profession and a craft."

Also hurting the profession -- wide variations among the states in the number of courses, credits, hours of fieldwork, and even years that teacher candidates need to put in before entering the profession.

Graduates of teacher education programs also are critical of their educations. More than three out of five teacher education alumni surveyed (62 percent) report that schools of education do not prepare their graduates to cope with the realities of todays classrooms.

Alumni and students in education programs complain that too often faculty members have little classroom experience or have not been in a classroom in years. As a result, they say, "Lessons are often out of date, are more theoretical than practical, and are thin in content. The curriculum is often fractured, with a lack of continuity from one course to the next and there is insufficient integration between course work and field work," according to the report.

In reviewing student achievement, "the data indicate that the Masters I institutions, which prepare a majority of teachers, are less effective than the research institutions that prepare relatively few teachers."

Dr. Levines report includes five recommendations for improving teacher education programs:

  • Education schools should follow the model of professional development schools, the education equivalent of teaching hospitals. These public schools bring together faculty and their students with school teachers and their students to enrich education, research, and professional development.
  • Use student achievement as the test of whether a teacher education program is successful.
  • Standardize teacher education programs at five years.
  • Establish effective mechanisms for teacher education quality control.
  • Close failing teacher education programs, strengthen promising ones, and expand excellent programs. Create incentives for outstanding students and career changers to enter teacher education at doctoral universities.

The report also includes information about teacher education programs Dr. Levine considers exemplary.


Dr. Levine talked with Education World about his research and the need to focus teacher education programs on student outcomes.

Education World: What is the first thing that needs to be done to reform teacher education?

Dr. Arthur Levine: I would suggest the redesign of teacher education programs to focus on the skills and knowledge teachers need to promote student achievement.

EW: What are the essential skills new teachers need today but lack overall or in part?

Dr. Levine: The measure of the success of any teacher education program is the success of their graduates in enhancing student learning. This should be true for teachers as well. At the moment, teacher education programs are more focused on teaching new teachers how to teach (process) than how to promote student learning (outcomes). This is essential in todays outcome based, accountability driven schools. Building teacher education programs around the latter set of skills and knowledge, such as the ability to develop outcome based curricula and the ability to engage in outcome based assessment, is necessary.

EW: Do you think teacher education should be a national rather than state concern?

"The measure of the success of any teacher education program is the success of their graduates in enhancing student learning."

Dr. Levine: I think teacher education should be primarily a state concern both constitutionally and practically. The recommendations of my report "Educating School Teachers" focus principally on the states.

EW: What do you think is the affect of the "chaos" of teacher education programs on student learning?

Dr. Levine: I think the confusion of teacher education leads to wide variability in teacher education programs and their graduates and insufficient oversight by the states and the primary accrediting association, National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) . It is not clear whether the problem of oversight is a cause or an effect. However, the combination diminishes student learning, particularly for minorities and low income children, who are most likely to have weaker teachers.

EW: What do you think is needed to attract more high-achieving students to teaching? Many graduates of top schools, for example, sign up for Teach For America after graduation, yet did not choose to major in education.

Dr. Levine:Too many of our most able students are likely to bypass teaching for more lucrative and higher status professions such as law, medicine, and business. They, an idealistic generation, see teaching as a service activity -- an episode in their lives rather than a career. Teach For America enables them to make this contribution. They are discouraged from becoming career teachers by parents, friends, and professors. An important first step in having the best and brightest consider teaching as a career would be to raise salaries to make them competitive with other career opportunities available to top students.

This e-interview with Dr. Arthur Levine is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.