Report Calls for 4-Year Programs To Train Teachers
Washington--Proposals to shift teacher training to the graduate level would reinforce "the current schism between liberal and professional education" and frustrate efforts to stem teacher shortages, a new report contends.
The report by the Association of American Colleges, scheduled for release this week, seeks to refocus attention on the debate over the length and nature of teacher education. Aiming to counter the approach favored by two landmark 1986 reports, the AAC calls for undergraduate programs that integrate the liberal arts with professional studies and allow students to complete requirements within four years.
Such programs, it argues, are best suited to attract students majoring in the arts and sciences to teaching.
"As a primary national strategy, we're saying it makes an awful lot of sense to have students prepare for teaching while they're undergraduates," said Joseph S. Johnston Jr., the principal author of the 174-page report, Those Who Can: Undergraduate Programs To Prepare Arts and Sciences Majors for Teaching.
"We think it's the most effective way for increasing the number of students who go into teaching and improving the quality of their preparation," he said.
The idea of extended teacher-preparation programs gained prominence some 3 years ago in the reports of the Holmes Group, entitled Tomorrow's Teachers, and the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, entitled A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century.
Though they differed in their emphases, both reports proposed, among other recommendations, that the undergraduate education major be eliminated and that professional training be moved to the graduate level. Under the proposals, potential teachers would be required to earn an undergraduate degree in the arts and sciences.
The Holmes Group, which comprises 97 research universities that have pledged to reform teacher training, has reported mixed results from its efforts to gain adoption of such an approach. (See Education Week, Feb. 8, 1989.)
The AAC represents 630 public and private colleges and universities, including some research institutions. But the group is most closely associated with small, private liberal-arts colleges that already have four-year programs to prepare arts and sciences majors for teaching.
Impact on Minorities, Poor
The new report offers both philosophical and practical arguments in support of undergraduate teacher preparation.
Teachers need to learn what to teach at the same time they are taught how to teach it, it contends. That need is not adequately met, it says, in "a sequentially structured course of study," which "treats knowledge of the arts and sciences as preparatory to professional study, not as 'central to the daily performance of classroom teaching."'
And the increased tuition costs associated with five- and six-year preparation programs would discourage many low-income students from entering the field, it maintains.
"Many of these would be minority students--the black and Hispanic teachers we need most critically in the schools," the report warns.
"We need to think not about adding more courses, but about making the ones we offer more educative," it contines.
"To the extent that we can eliminate the redundancy and start pulling liberal arts and professional studies together," Mr. Johnston added last week, "we can create a more powerful whole."
The study offers several strategies for accomplishing those ends. Among other recommendations, it suggests:
Strengthening academic advising, possibly by providing students with two advisers: one from the subject area they hope to teach and another in teacher education.
More effectively integrating the two courses of study by providing incentives for faculty members to engage in interdisciplinary collaboration. Other ideas include team teaching and joint faculty appointments to both liberal-arts departments and education programs.
Offering some education-related courses for general credit as a way of getting liberal-arts majors interested in teaching.
Putting more emphasis on understanding child and adolescent development by drawing on the perspectives of anthropology and sociology.
Offering mini-courses in conjunction with key arts and sciences courses. Such courses would be designed to help students reflect on how to teach the material learned in the courses.
Avoiding discussion of current topics and "issues in education" in foundations courses and offering instead a comprehensive framework for all subsequent professional work.
Eliminating redundancy in various teaching-methods courses and supplementing the courses with clinical "laboratory" sessions.
Improving the supervision of practice teaching. For example, the report says, a liberal-arts faculty member and an education professor could jointly visit the school where the student was teaching.
The AAC report maintains that the kinds of teacher-preparation programs that would result from taking such steps would help attract to the profession liberal-arts students who might otherwise never have considered teaching.
New Pool of Students
Such students are crucial to the field, the study contends, because they would improve the supply, quality, and diversity of the pool of prospective teachers at a time when many are predicting teacher shortages.
In 1986, liberal-arts and sciences majors outnumbered students majoring in education by 4 to 1, according to the report. And their numbers, it says, include 3 times as many blacks and more than 7 times as many men--groups vastly underrepresented in the teaching force.
These students, on average, also tend to score higher than education majors on several standardized tests, such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the report says.
"Well-educated liberal-arts graduates are among 'those who can,"' the report concludes in a reference to the gibe, "Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach."
Education-school officials last week reacted with caution, and some skepticism, to the AAC proposals they were aware of. The report has not yet been widely circulated.
"Certainly, the report is going to inform the dialogue on the subject" of teacher preparation, said David Imig, executive director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "Whether it's going to lead the charge, I'm not certain."
Mr. Imig and other experts praised the report's emphasis on integrating courses in the liberal arts with professional studies. They expressed reservations, however, about its proposal to prepare teachers in four years of undergraduate study.
Said Robert H. Koff, dean of the education school at the State University of New York, a member of the Holmes Group: "If you think about what teachers should know and be able to do, there just isn't enough time to be able to do all that is necessary in a four-year program."
"To a large extent," he said, the report "will continue to put on the front burner the fundamental question of whether the public in this country wants to see teachers become true professionals." If the profession is to follow the lead of medicine and law, enhanced professional status for teachers will only come with extended study, Mr. Koff argued.
In addition, other teacher educators said, the increasing diversity of the nation's students will require teachers to know more about how to teach those from different economic and cultural backgrounds.
"You could massage the four years and get yourself a reasonably competent beginning teacher, but itwould only work if the teacher was going into a school where the students had the same background," said Frank Murray, dean of the college of education at the University of Delaware, another Holmes institution. "I think these people might be coming from an idealized view of what schools used to be."
Survey Results Included
In addition to its policy recommendations, the AAC report includes the results of the first major survey in recent years of undergraduate teacher-preparation programs for students in the arts and sciences.
The survey, mailed to the approximately 1,400 colleges and universities that grant baccalaureate degrees in the arts and sciences, yielded responses from 804 institutions. Of the respondents, 601--or 75 percent--reported having a process by which students in those areas could be prepared to teach within four years.
Mr. Johnston, the report's chief author, emphasized last week that the AAC's position represents more than a simple justification of the status quo in such institutions. He said many of the respondents' programs do not come close to providing the kind of four-year programs recommended in the report.
For example, he said, most existing programs provide little integration among the disciplines, and few of the schools responding offer any education-related courses for general-education credit.
Those Who Can is the latest in a series of reports by the AAC that describe ways in which the liberal arts can enhance professional-preparation programs. The study was funded with a $122,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Copies of the report can be ordered for $15 each, prepaid, from the Association of American Colleges, 1818 R St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009.