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AACTE Defends Teacher Education


Teacher education programs may have their flaws, but schools and states need to build on their strengths rather than start from scratch, according to Dr. Sharon P. Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Included: Descriptions of some innovative teacher education programs.

Teacher education programs may have some shortcomings, but schools and states need to build on the strengths rather than scrap existing programs, according to Dr. Sharon P. Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).

The AACTE released its own assessment of teacher education programs in response to Educating School Teachers, a report by Dr. Arthur Levine that characterized the teacher education system as chaotic. (See Reforming the "Chaos" of Teacher Education.

In particular, the AACTE took exception to Dr. Levines assertions that teacher education programs should be graded based on how well their graduates do in the classroom and that ineffective teacher education programs be shut down, and the more successful ones be expanded.

we challenge the need to start from scratch to create quality control and accountability. Further, we take exception to the elitism implicit in the proposal to expand programs at highly selective institutions, rather than to bolster those that prepare a majority of the nations teachers, according to an AACTE statement.

We call on Dr. Levine to help craft solutions to the many problems he has identified. He could help muster resources to address the compelling need to improve professional deployment, build a strong professional consensus around standards and accountability, and strengthen existing quality control and accountability.

Dr. Robinson talked with Education World about the status of teacher education programs, and what she thinks is needed to improve them.

Dr. Beverly L. Hall
Dr. Sharon P. Robinson

Education World: What is your view on the idea that student performance should be the measure of a teacher preparation program's success?

Dr. Sharon P. Robinson: Student performance should absolutely be one of the multiple factors employed to determine the success of a teacher preparation program. Increasing K-12 students' achievement is every teacher preparation program's goal, so any measure of good preparation would be irrelevant if their performance were not a factor.

Various measures of growth and student performance should be considered in measuring programs' success. Each child in each classroom differs from the other, based on a multiplicity of factors. The job of teacher education programs is to prepare teachers who can successfully teach all children, regardless of their background. Yet, all students don't come to school at the same level of learning readiness.

Thus in considering the performance of pupils in gauging the success of the preparation program of their teachers, it is critically important that students' progress -- relative to where they started -- is measured and reported, including structured observations, reflective journaling, grades, teacher work samples, analysis of student work, etc.

Further, multiple observations, over an extended period of time should be required. The student performance factor used in evaluating teachers, and, by extension, their preparation programs, should never be based on a single observation of students. It should be based on a long-term accumulation of student performances, over two- to- three years, if possible.

Various methods of student development should be used as data. In fact, AACTE is supporting efforts to link the data from growth models that a number of states are using to measure student achievement required for the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, to state teacher preparation and licensure data systems. This is very complex undertaking and only in the initial stages. However, we hope ultimately that teacher preparation institutions will not only have reliable data on the impact of their programs, based on the success of the pupils their candidates have taught, but also information on the program factors that contribute to success.

EW: How is teacher education currently assessed?

"The job of teacher education programs is to prepare teachers who can successfully teach all children, regardless of their background. Yet, all students don't come to school at the same level of learning readiness.

Dr. Robinson: Interestingly, teacher preparation is in a unique position in this regard. Professional schools carry the public responsibility of ensuring that graduates are competent and ready for responsible initial practice. At this stage they are not yet expert practitioners. But schools of education are obliged to take on a weightier mantle. We seek to measure not only the knowledge and skills of our candidates but also the learning achieved by our graduates' pupils. This practice places teacher education in the unique position of assessing both its clients' learning and that of the clients of its clients. It is a heavy responsibility, but an honor and a privilege to undertake.

EW:How do you think teacher education should be developed, funded?

Dr. Robinson: The National Academy of Education has advanced a framework that highlights three general areas for understanding teaching and learning. I think this is an excellent tool for conceptualizing an educator preparation program. The three areas are:

  • Knowledge of learners and how they learn and develop within social contexts.
  • Conceptions of curriculum content and goals -- an understanding of the subject matter and skills to be taught.
  • An understanding of teaching in light of the content and learners being taught, informed by assessment and supported by classroom environments.
High quality programs should address the content and skills required for effective practice and must provide opportunities for effective practice with diverse learners.

Teacher education must be responsive to the demands of the times and the needs of consumers. Shorter, faster preparation models are gaining popularity and are cropping up around the country. Most are connected to collegiate education schools. The above consensus on quality should be applied to the new alternative programs. Those programs should adhere to the same standards as the high quality traditional programs.

Regarding funding, as the National Academy points out, the educator preparation enterprise as a whole is noticeably under resourced. Moral suasion regarding the importance of preparing teachers has been effective in securing more adequate commitments on some campuses, and funding increases for teacher education at research universities occurred during the era of The Holmes Group. But these influences fluctuate with the tenures of deans and presidents.

Second, existing revenues for educator preparation need to be utilized for that specific purpose -- and this is not happening in many situations. Educator preparation is often denied the full financial support that it generates within the university. However, allocating costs for teacher education within the education school is difficult and often murky. The infrastructure required for ensuring extensive, high quality clinical experience -- such as those of Professional Development Schools (PDS) -- is much different and more costly than the campus-based coursework typical of other fields.

Third, new funding streams for educator preparation need to be developed. The support for preparation of some other professions, such as medicine and nursing, has been built into the governmental and third-party payer systems, and The National Academy of Education suggests that similar policies are needed for teacher education.

"Educator preparation is often denied the full financial support that it generates within the university.
States, in their support of public college and university programs of higher education, typically allocate higher reimbursement ratios for programs in other professions than they do for programs for teacher education. Some states have addressed this issue in a way that supports innovation, including:
  • North Carolina: Legislation funds PDS partnerships launched by each university in the state. It also required NCATE accreditation of all public colleges and universities and helped fund the costs
  • Maryland: The legislature has required a PDS experience for all undergraduate teacher candidates and funded the effort.
  • West Virginia: Has supported a statewide network of ten clinical experience partnerships, funded by the legislature and a private foundation
Federal funds for reforming educator preparation are typically heavily prescribed, less than minimal, and thinly spread across the country and unstable from year-to-year. Many foundations, over the last 20 years, have invested funds to develop more powerful schools of education, such as the Carnegie Corporation of New Yorks initiative, Teachers for a New Era

EW: Why is it important to identify whether teaching is a craft or a profession?

Dr. Robinson: Professions typically share some key characteristics that are important to the quality the public expects in those to whom they entrust the education of their children. These include, for example, such things as a common knowledge base about teaching and learning, common ethical concepts about appropriate roles for teachers and schooling in a democratic society and commitments to serving the interests of their clients. These characteristics represent important dimensions beyond the more limited and "skill-based" conception that often accompanies the idea of teaching as a craft.

EW: What can be done to recruit more high-quality candidates to teaching?

Dr. Robinson: States and districts continue to struggle in their efforts to recruit and retain well-prepared and effective teachers for the neediest students. Few districts, especially poor urban and rural ones, can offer sufficient financial incentives for teachers to move to high-need schools. In order to increase quality and supply, we need targeted incentives to attract qualified teachers to schools and areas that historically have been undersupplied. We need to focus both on attracting qualified teachers to high need schools as well as cultivating talent from within the community.

First, the federal government should launch a substantial, sustained program of service scholarships and forgivable loans that are allocated on the basis of academic merit and indicators of potential success in teaching, such as perseverance, capacity, and commitment. These funds should be targeted to areas where there are teacher shortages as defined nationally and by individual states, which should allocate a portion of the funding. Funds should be awarded to teacher candidates in exchange for teaching in priority schools, defined on the basis of poverty rates and educational needs (e.g. language, minority status).

Second, a federal program should be launched to help develop grow your own programs in urban and rural areas. Since many young teachers have a strong preference to teach close to where they grew up or went to school, hard-to-staff schools need to enhance the pool of local college graduates prepared to teach in their communities. This suggests the importance of a recruitment strategy that would build the capacity of teacher preparation programs within cities and isolated rural communities where the problems are most severe. These programs would need to meet three criteria: ensuring a high-quality teacher preparation experience, attracting local residents (including teachers aides), and ensuring a pipeline from preparation to hiring.

More information about the recruitment and distribution of high-quality candidates is available in the Center for Teaching Qualitys article No Child Left Behind and the Highly Qualified Teacher: The Promise and the Possibilities.

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


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World

Published 12/13/2006