Teacher Panel To Call for Tests, Longer Training
The National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education will recommend in a policy statement scheduled for release this week that colleges of education adopt five-year teacher-training programs and is expected to recommend competency testing of prospective teachers prior to graduation, members of the commission said last week.
The 17-member panel--which includes teacher educators, teacher-union officials, and legislators--was established last March by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education to formulate strategies to improve the preparation of the nation's public-school teachers.
Both teacher testing and extended programs are controversial proposals among educators. According to J.T. Sandefur, dean of the College of Education at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green and a member of the panel, the extended-training concept generated some "healthy discussion" among commission members during their deliberations.
Teacher testing in particular has been a topic of debate in the education community since Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers and a member of the commission, announced last month that the 600,000-member union supports a national examination for teachers similar to those required by the medical and legal professions. (See Education Week, Feb. 6, 1985.)
The National Education Association's official policy is to oppose the requirement of a test "as a condition of employment, evaluation, criterion for certification, placement, or promotion of teachers," according to the 1983-84 nea Handbook.
The commission will "come out with a strong endorsement of testing" in its final report this week, said David G. Imig, executive director of aacte, the professional organization that represents more than 700 colleges of teacher education.
Preliminary drafts of the commission's report suggested that the final version will include proposals to use testing as a method of ensuring the high quality of graduates of teacher-training programs, according to an aide to Mr. Shanker.
The early drafts of the report advocated both raising admission standards for colleges of education and requiring education-school students to pass "exit tests" prior to graduation, the aide said.
The recommendations of the commission, which was formed in response to a call from the National Commission on Excellence in Education for ''substantial improvement in teacher-preparation programs," are based on testimony gathered at hearings held last fall in St. Paul; Austin, Tex.; Atlanta; New York City; and San Francisco. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1984, and Oct. 31, 1984.)
According to aacte officials, the recommendations of the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education are to serve as a guide to colleges and universities in making the "first steps" toward improving teacher-training programs.
A grant from the U.S. Education Department supported the commission's activities.
Despite the debate that occurred in the drafting stages of the commission's statement, C. Peter Magrath, president of the University of Mis-souri and the panel's chairman, last week reported that its deliberations had produced a united front. "All the members of the commission have signed the report," he said, adding that "they are all intelligent people and wouldn't have signed the report if they hadn't found something in it that they could support."
Although commission members would not discuss the final recommendations of their report prior to its Feb. 27 release, the proposals, according to Mr. Sandefur, are "in line" with much of the testimony heard last fall.
Many of those who testified before the commission advocated extending the length of training programs.
According to Trish Stoddard, who testified in San Francisco, recent attempts to minimize teacher training or remove it as a requirement for certification have been serious mistakes. Ms. Stoddard is a researcher for Policy Analysis for California Education (pace), a joint project of the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University.
In addition to obtaining an undergraduate degree in a particular content area, Ms. Stoddard suggested, all teachers should be required to complete two years of postbaccalaureate study, culminating in a master's degree.
But the director of pace noted last week that those concepts remain controversial among teacher educators and policymakers.
"One of the pressures is to keep things the way they are," said James W. Guthrie, who is also a professor of education at Berkeley. "There are those in existing schools of education who, just out of inertia, don't want to have to redo their [programs]."
Extended programs also could have a major financial impact on colleges of education, Mr. Guthrie explained. If a requirement for graduate-level teacher training eliminated undergraduate programs, it would have "substantial budgetary consequences," he said.
But the major resistance is among state and local education policymakers, he said, "who don't want to lose a cheap source of labor. As long as there isn't a requirement for the education of teachers at the graduate level, they can justify paying6teachers at these very low levels."
There also is a dispute among educators, Mr. Guthrie said, about whether teacher-training programs should be extended to five years or six. "I hope states will adopt at least at minimum a fifth-year requirement," he said. "It is an important first step toward building the profession."
Currently, most colleges of teacher education offer a four-year baccalaureate program for prospective teachers that results in an education degree.
Others testifying during the commission's hearings proposed more rigorous entrance standards for teacher-training programs; greater emphasis on training teachers in "effective schools" methods; the development of career-ladder plans; well-supervised, year-long internship programs; a professional examination for teachers, similar to those required by the medical and legal professions; improved relationships between schools of education and practitioners in the schools; improvements in the status of the teaching profession and colleges of education; and a study of the future role of teachers.