For The Teachers of Teachers: A Crisis of Quality

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The criticism comes from within and without, and questions the purpose, the effectiveness, and even the viability of the some 1,335 education schools and programs in colleges and universities across the country.

Stung in recent years by massive declines in enrollment and forced to respond to a multitude of state and federal curriculum mandates, teacher training programs face, on one side, embarrassed state education officials who hold them accountable for what much of the American public perceives as widespread incompetence among classroom teachers, and on the other, university budget-cutters who seek easy targets in a time of nationwide retrenchment.

More is being expected of U.S. teacher-training programs today than at any other time during their 150-year history. They are being asked to produce graduates who are qualified to do everything from teaching driver education to conducting neuropsychological assessments of learning disabilities.

The introduction of computer technology into elementary and secondary school classrooms has placed another costly burden on the education schools.

Ironically, many observers point out that the quality of training is better than it ever has been in the schools of education. In fact, only in the last 30-40 years have would-be teachers been required to complete four-year, degree-granting programs.

Nonetheless, by today's standards, according to most observers, the education schools are in disarray. The nature of teacher preparation and the quality of the entrant to the field seem among the most crucial of the problems facing secondary schools today, writes J. Myron Atkin, dean of the school of education at Stanford University, in a forthcoming article in Daedalus.

It is doubtful," he added in a recent interview, "if as many as two dozen of the institutions that prepare teachers are maintaining programs that a bright youngster would find demanding.

Foreboding Signals

A number of recent signals suggest that teacher-training programs are under fire from all sides. Among them are:

The Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley will act this fall on the recommendation of a university faculty-student commission to dissolve the institution's school of education, ranked by others in the profession as among the top 10 education schools in the country.

As part of a two-year, long-range planning study, the board of trustees of Duke University recently voted to close that institution's department of education. "The department is not distinguished," concluded a university evaluation committee set up to make recommendations to the board.

Within the last year, eight states have added minimum competency testing for teachers to their state certification requirements. In all, 16 states now have such a requirement, and many more have it under consideration.

A proposal to abolish the colleges of education at Florida State University and the University of Florida was recently brought to a vote in the Florida Senate Education Committee. Although the committee defeated the proposal, it ordered a study of the admissions requirements and quality of instruction in colleges of education throughout the state.

In New York, the state legislature will decide this fall whether to fund proposals by the State Board of Regents that would make radical changes in the nature of teacher preparation and certification. The Regents' plan would, among other things, establish a teacher-licensing board to set state standards for teacher training and mandate a fifth-year internship for teachers who wish to gain full certification. Other states with similar plans that have recently been passed or will be acted upon soon include New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Florida.

Next month, the Higher Education Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representa-tives' Education and Labor Committee will hold hearings on the quality of teacher training in America.

Poor Quality of Students

The single most pressing problem facing the schools of education, according to most observers, is the poor quality of students choosing to major in the field.

"The bottom of the barrel is going into education, says Eve Galambos of the Southern Regional Education Board, in a representative statement.

Statistics reveal a decline in the academic ability of applicants to education schools. For example, according to the College Board, the Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of 1980 high-school seniors who planned to major in education were 48 points below the national average in math and 35 points below in the verbal section of the test.

Observers attribute the low quality of the students entering education programs to a mix of social forces, including the women's movement, an unstable job market, low teacher salaries, violence in the classroom, lack of public support, university-faculty bias against school teaching, the lack of intellectually stimulating university education programs, and the decline of social altruism.

Not suprisingly, the relative unpopularity of a career in education among college students has compounded the problems of the schools.

As teaching careers have become less popular with college students, enrollment in education schools has dropped. This has prompted many schools, desperate for students, to lower admission standards.

According to National Education Associa-tion (nea) figures, there were 49.7 percent fewer graduates in education in 1980 than in 1972. As academic rigor has declined, so has the interest of better students.

It's a vicious circle, says Russell B. Vlaanderen, Director of Research and Information at the Education Commission of the States. They (schools of education) do not want to flunk too many out, or they would go out of business."

There are other reasons for the crisis in teacher training. Observers cite low morale stemming from a lack of public support as a problem. Indeed, a recent Gallup Poll shows that 68 percent of American adults think teaching is an unattractive career for young people.

Declining enrollments, tightening budgets, and staff reductions have forced most ed schools to focus on survival, not quality. Budget allocations are tied to enrollment in public colleges and universities, and as the number of students declines, so does the number of dollars.

Teachers of Teachers Under Fire

The teachers of teachers are also coming under fire.The quality of ed school faculty is a tremendous problem, says J. Arthur Taylor, director of the Division of Standards and Certification for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. We've got faculty members (in North Carolina) who, if they took the National Teacher Examination, I'm sure they would fail it.

Thomas Collins, an in-service training consultant to several elementary and secondary school organizations, echoes the opinion of others when he contends many education faculty members are poor teaching models, unconcerned with the unpleasant realities of life in today's school classroom and the apparent need to relate the goings on in the college classroom to it: Unless you get out into the schools and eat one of those lousy chop suey lunches once in a while, you do not have much of a chance of going back to the campus and putting together a meaningful course.

Out of Touch with the Schools

Helen Hartle, project director of the Interstate Certification Project, a federally-funded organization that promotes teacher certification reciprocity among the states, argues entrenched faculties are symptomatic of a more general inability of the education schools to keep open the lines of communication with those they serve--the elementary and secondary schools.

Education schools have been more or less functioning in a vacuum, she said. There needs to be much more cooperation between schools of education and practicing teachers. Others agree, pointing to a recent trend towards an increased amount of classroom observation and student teaching as one sign that state education departments and the education schools are beginning to break down the barriers between campus and school.

Missing a Sense of Mission

However, many denigrate the quality of current practical training and see the movement to increase the amount of it--now roughly eight hours out of 22-24 hours in a prospective teacher's four-year, 120-hour course of study--as no more than evidence of a serious lack of focus that plagues the country's education schools.

Work in (high school) classrooms at even the strongest universities often consists of little more than exposure and brute experience, says Stanford's Myron Atkin.

Most schools have no idea of what they want to produce, says Ms. Hartle. Developing a clear definition of what skills their graduates will have is a number one priority. Others agree. Acccording to Mr. Taylor, the principle behind a proposal for sweeping changes in the North Carolina teacher-training requirements is to force schools of education to be responsible for ensuring that their students posess a specific set of teacher-related skills by the time they graduate. We want them to lay it on the table from day one, said Mr. Taylor.

David G. Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, a Washington-based association representing 800 teacher-training schools sees a different source for the current chaos in education school curricula: It is a 150-year-old problem of not knowing what we are looking for: research or pedagogy.

Historically, U.S. teacher training--initiated in 1823 with the establishment of the first normal school in Vermont--has emphasized instruction in pedagogical skills. But as normal schools gave way to teachers colleges in the 1920's and 1930's, which in turn were incorporated into the state colleges between 1940 and 1960, pressure increased on education schools and faculty to contribute to the research base of the university in which they resided.

The second article of this two-part series will examine the external pressures contributing to the turmoil in the teacher-training programs.

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