Report Praising Teacher Corps Is Questioned by Evaluators
The Teacher Corps, the Great Society-era initiative that aimed to prepare new teachers for then-expanding urban school systems, has received praise in a federally sponsored study released on the eve of the program's dispersal into the Administration's 1982 education block-grants package.
According to the three-year analysis, the program--which has trained some 25,000 teachers and other school personnel over the last 17 years--has in some ways provided more effective preparation for teaching than have education schools; has increased community involvement in participating schools; and has tended to have a lasting effect, even after federal support for a specific project in a community ended.
Study's Validity Questioned
But the $3-million study, conducted for the Education Department by a large independent research firm that often works under contract for the federal government, has been criticized by individuals familiar with the training program, a development that may cast doubt on the validity of the study's basic findings.
Particularly critical have been some participants in a 25-member "reaction panel"--composed of people involved in the program, representatives of organizations affected by it, and independent observers--that was terminated after two of its 12 scheduled meetings had taken place.
The evaluation of the Teacher Corps was conducted by a team at the Stanford Research Institute (sri) International in Menlo Park, Calif., under the direction of Nicholas G. Stayrook of sri
Originally designed to examine the entire five-year cycle of a Teacher Corps program, the sri study looked at 30 of the 132 projects funded in 1978 and 1979. But only three years of the sri researchers' work was completed when the first package of education block grants became law last year.
The completed portion of the study examines how well federal guidelines were integrated into local projects, how well Teacher Corps practices were "institutionalized" in participating colleges and universities, and how effective Teacher Corps staff-development procedures were.
The researchers concluded that Teacher Corps training focuses more on the practical problems of teaching in specific schools than nonparticipating education schools do, and that "lasting change can be and is being accomplished much more extensively [with temporary federal programs] than is commonly believed."
Although no one seems to dispute the generally positive assessment of the Teacher Corps that resulted from the study, those who criticize it wonder if the questions sri asked during the course of the evaluation were the "most valuable" ones.
Myrna Cooper, director of the New York City Teacher Center Consortium and a member of the reaction panel, said the evaluation failed to sift from the 17-year history of the Teacher Corps "what happened, what worked, what didn't work."
"What does the history of Teacher Corps tell about government policy-making in education?" she asked. "I just think they asked the wrong questions."
"It seemed to me," she said, "that the data collected should have resulted in some recommendations about what's feasible and workable. They concentrated instead on what I think are superficial findings." Ms. Cooper cited one part of the evaluation, which examined the Teacher Corps programs' "implementation of multicultural education," as "superficial."
Study Called Incomplete
G. Thomas Fox of the University of Wisconsin, who acted as "recorder" of the reaction panel while it existed, said in a written critique of the sri study that it was incomplete. Mr. Fox said the last of four studies planned in the original contract--a segment that would have examined the effectiveness of the program as a way of teaching student-teachers--was never done. He added that "a lot" of information was requested from and produced by local Teacher Corps projects, but a very minimal amount was used in the sri study. "The last time I asked the project monitor about that, he said the information is the property of sri That is erroneous."
Teresa Middleton, program manager of research data systems at sri, said of the fourth study: "The evaluation was planned for five years, and there was a three-year cutoff, which we didn't know about very early on, and we would have done much more had the original schedule been adhered to.
"The contract specifically said the data shall not be delivered," Ms. Middleton said, "because it would become a 'system of records,' which means the officials at the Department of Education become personally liable for it." She said the termination of the reaction panel was a result of disagreement within the government, and that "we honestly tried to stay neutral."
Jean D. Narayanan, a policy analyst in the department's office of dissemination and professional development, said of the study, "I don't have any problems with it."
The Teacher Corps--authorized in November, 1965, as Title V of the Higher Education Act (P.L. 89-329)--was initially designed to train teachers for low-income schools in both urban and rural areas of the country.
The aim was to attract talented college graduates--particularly minority graduates--to the teaching profession and to encourage colleges and public schools to work together to provide these graduates with practical training in schools themselves, rather than in university classrooms.
An expansion of the program's purposes in 1976 lengthened Teacher Corps projects from three years to five, opened them to include training of aides and other support personnel as well as teachers, and asked for the involvement of the broader community, in addition to the local education agency, through local advisory councils.
Also in the 1970's, as school populations decreased, the program shifted emphasis away from recruiting new instructors and toward providing training to teachers and other personnel already in the schools.
New program regulations issued in 1978 specified four objectives for Teacher Corps projects, according to the sri study. They included improved school climate, better teacher-training systems, assurance that the projects would be continued after funding ended, and dissemination of improvements and new techniques resulting from the projects to other education agencies.
College and university schools of education that participated in Teacher Corps programs had stronger in-service and field-teaching programs, collaborated more with local schools, participated more in the community, and more readily changed their curricula to reflect the shifting needs of the schools, according to the sri study.
Regarding the program's influence on teacher education, the study notes: "... we are impressed that the thorniest and most difficult teacher-education problems are being tackled by the local Teacher Corps programs." The researchers add: "The overall positive nature of our findings is contrary to the predominant voice that continues to be heard about the ineffectiveness of federal program interventions...."
The Teacher Corps program is one of 26 federally funded programs that have been consolidated into block grants effective in the 1982-83 school year. The 1981 funding for the program was $22.5 million; total funding for all block grants in 1982-83 is $442 million, 80 percent of which will be spent at the discretion of local education agencies.