Strategies for Reforming Schools of Education

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Schools of education "have become ensnared improvidently in the academic and political cultures of their institutions and have neglected their professional allegiances,'' argue Geraldine Joncich Clifford and James W. Guthrie in their forthcoming book Ed School: A Brief for Professional Education.

Because of such conflicting interests, they write, the influence of the schools "has been neither consistent nor positive in the professionalization of teaching.''
The authors--professors of education at the University of California, Berkeley--base their analysis on case studies tracing the historical development of graduate departments associated with "the nation's most influential research universities.''

In the following excerpts, Ms. Clifford and Mr. Guthrie suggest strategies for reforming schools of education.

The major mission of schools of education should be the enhancement of education through the preparation of educators, the study of the educative process, and the study of schooling as a social institution.

As John Best has observed, the challenge before schools of education is quite different from that confronting the specialist in politics in a department of political science; concerned with building the discipline, he or she is under no obligation to train county clerks, city managers, and state legislators, and to improve their performance by conducting research directed toward that end.

In order to accomplish their charter, however, schools of education must take the profession of education, not academia, as their main point of reference. It is not sufficient to say that the greatest strength of schools of education is that they are the only places available to look at fundamental issues from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. They have been doing so for more than half a century without appreciable effect on professional practice. It is time for many institutions to shift their gears.

We are not advocating a severance of ties with colleges and universities. The Holmes Group report rightly asserts that no major occupational undertaking has achieved professional status without institutional linkage to higher education. Moreover, an enormous amount of ignorance and misconception remains about such central educational matters as instruction, learning, the structures within which they take place, how teachers acquire knowledge, and the place of schooling within society. These matters will continue to require systematic research of a kind best conducted in universities--although that is not the only kind of research which education schools should foster.

Thus, maintaining the link to higher education is important. This should be, however, the secondary relationship in determining the essential character of education schools. Their prime orientation should be to educate practitioners, and education faculty must be made cognizant of the technical or experiential culture of schooling for that to happen. To require less is to continue to frustrate both research and training activities.

We think it sound policy that faculty appointments in education redress the imbalance that exists on many graduate-school faculties by including substantial professional criteria in the guidelines and processes of faculty appraisal. This appraisal should cover both appointment and promotion decisions.

In redirecting themselves to the profession they should serve, schools of education should evaluate the productive activities and outlook of other professional schools, such as engineering, architecture, medicine, and law. This does not mean, however, that we are determined that schools of education should help teachers to reach some sociologically defined nirvana called "true profession'' to replace its labels of "semi-profession'' and "women's profession.''

Static and universal criteria of professionalism are experiential untruths; they are not based upon the histories of professional communities of interest. Today's teacher or school administrator has not been evenly advanced over his or her predecessor according to traditional but static concepts of professionalization. ...

Nor does the reorientation of schools of education to the education profession--rather than to the academic profession--suggest that professors of education must become traveling medicine men, concocting and hawking nostrums for the relief of the many debilitating ailments encountered in teaching and managing schools.

... [P]rofessional schools are not mere auxiliaries to their professions. They must be both independent and critical on important dimensions. ...

Schools of education would be irresponsible if they pandered to the prejudices of the profession as they do to those of the academy. ...

A professional school's responsibility is to work with practitioners in ways that enrich their wisdom. It cannot be done simply by top-down methods, however well intended. Thus, even if it were possible, we do not advocate the mindless aping of other professional schools. No one of them meets completely the criteria necessary for a renaissance in education. ...

Schools of education will have to evolve their own professional amalgam, but there are some constructive elements for them to consider. The productive connection to the field of many law schools, the emphasis given to the practical application of research results found in many medical schools, and the high standards for preparing graduates characteristic of many engineering schools are all potential features in a new professional blend for education schools. ...

As elements of that blend, we propose that education schools:

Advocate national professional standards. We think the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy's proposal for national professional standards is connected to the reform of education schools as a group. ...

National standards, if set sufficiently high so as not to function as the lowest common denominator to which participants can agree, could upgrade the curricula of all schools of education. By defining, with teachers, the minimum of education-related knowledge, skills, and techniques that teachers must master in order to obtain a nationally acknowledged professional certificate, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards could exercise enormous leverage. This would require incorporating knowledge of practice in which practitioners believe. Individual schools of education would have little choice but to alter their offerings, requirements, and instructional performance. ...

Abandon the undergraduate major. ... Ending teacher education as an undergraduate major is a step toward enhancing the profession, although not sufficient in itself, as the case of California, where there are no such majors, demonstrates.

There are at least three unhappy consequences to continuing to permit undergraduates to declare education as a major. First, it encourages academic departments to crowd the professional curriculum to the interstices between general education and subject-matter preparation. Second, courses in pedagogy and student teaching at the undergraduate level crowd out important subject-matter content that all teachers need, including those preparing for elementary-school careers. Third, undergraduate education on most campuses lacks the priority and resources available to graduate students. It "justifies'' limited personal commitments, low investment in teacher education and schooling by universities and society, and the consequent earnings and bureaucratic arrangements that push all but the most stubbornly dedicated teachers out of the field or into lackluster performance. ...

Assist in the effort to reform undergraduate liberal education. ... Because an effective general education for undergraduates is so central to the foundation of preparing effective teachers, there is need to stress the oft-made point that present undergraduate education is inadequate. This criticism is a companion to the requirement that undergraduates who wish to teach declare an academic subject-matter major and minor, in order to obtain the broad foundation of knowledge and specific control over subject matter on which the professional preparation of teachers should rest. ...

Accordingly, and as part of the improvement of undergraduate education, we propose that schools, colleges, and departments of education, alone or in concert with disciplinary departments, develop courses in educational studies and human learning and development as a desirable part of a liberal education.

Reject the Doctor of Philosophy as a graduate degree in education. The great majority of schools of education do not engage in doctoral work. For those that do, their advanced graduate study in education should be directed toward a professional doctorate, the Doctor of Education degree. Ph.D. standards are established and controlled by academic-department faculty interests. The intellectual standards they have appropriately imposed on their own students, preparing for careers as scholars or scientists in a limited specialization within a single discipline, are patently inappropriate for individuals in training for professional roles.

Moreover, few candidates will have the disciplinary preparation to do sophisticated enough studies to match those done in the cognate graduate departments--nor should most be required to gain that competence. Graduate schools of education, to the degree to which they offer the doctorate, should concentrate on preparing professional leaders. This preparation should certainly encompass knowledge of and appreciation for academic research. It should not, however, be oriented primarily toward academic inquiry. ...

We believe it is time for education schools to face their historic failures boldly, to divest themselves of false pretenses to being miniature models of social-science institutes or liberal-arts departments. To acknowledge their need to become professional schools and align themselves with their natural constituency of practicing educators is to contribute more intensely than they have at any time in this century to the building of a profession of education in the United States.

Vol. 7, Issue 37, Page 32

Published in Print: June 8, 1988, as Strategies for Reforming Schools of Education
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