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Mr. Bush's Speech: A View From the Bar

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A Reuters reporter calls our school: Can you get some kids to watch the President's speech tomorrow so I can interview them about their reactions?

Always looking for an authentic learning opportunity--we say "No problem" and hang up.

A few hours before Mr. Bush is scheduled to speak, it occurs to someone that only CNN is carrying the broadcast. For those who mistakenly think education is an issue of national significance, think again. Only CNN, no other TV network or radio station, thought the issue newsworthy enough to broadcast the speech.

CNN is, of course, cable. There may be some who are impressed by articles about laser-disk players, scanners, and multi-megabyte computers--who think technology reigns in public school. Take note: Nowhere in my or any school within striking distance is there a cable hookup. Indeed, most schools don't have decent enough reception to use live TV, cable or otherwise.

With the reporter standing by, we think: Where do neighborhood residents go for state-of-the-art TV? To a bar, of course, and in our school's neighborhood, it's McManus' Bar, equipped with not one, but two, cable TV's. A quick phone call secures a gracious invitation from the proprietor.

So off we go: six teenagers, ages 14 to 18, the Reuters reporter, and a teacher, to hear President Bush deliver the major education speech of his Administration.

What better place to get reactions to a political speech?--a neighborhood bar, jukebox blaring, TV mounted high above the liquor bottles, filled with workingmen still wearing their sweaty T-shirts, arms the size of watermelons and fannies overhanging their bar stools. In a gesture of gratitude, I order a round of Cokes.

The students huddle in a corner staring up at the television. The reporter grabs a seat at barside in order to take notes, and I survey the scene. My heart sinks. How can these kids be expected to comment intelligently about the speech? Hearing above the din is problematic; notetaking out of the question.

Mr. Bush's exclamations about "excellence, standards, incentives" are mimicked periodically by the barman at the far end of the bar; others punctuate the speech with "Yeah!"

The speech over, the group retreats to a table in the back to answer the reporter's questions. What did the students think about the speech? Did they agree with the President? What about Mr. Bush's comments on testing? On dropouts? I look on apprehensively.

To my amazement, the next 45 minutes are a tour de force, insightful comments backed up with evidence and verbatim references. Marie begins with a concise summary of the entire speech, and ends by saying: "The speech was an outline, it was vague. It isn't clear how the points Bush mentioned would actually happen."

Julian calls it a "pep talk" and offers a sophisticated comparison between Mr. Bush's stand on education and the way he handled the Gulf War. "If he was really serious about education," the student argues, "he would not give one speech. He would give several and would be on TV talking about education a lot." When asked why he thought President Bush had given the speech in the first place, Julian points out that Mr. Bush had been criticized during the war for fighting a battle abroad, when there were clearly problems, such as education, back home that needed attention.

Ricky wonders how Mr. Bush intended to "liberate all schools from violence and drugs by the year 2000." How is he going to do that? he asks. "The President had no specifics," he says. "What's his program?" "And how," several students wonder, was the President going to "ensure that 90 percent of those attending high school across the country would graduate?" "What specificallywould make that happen?" they ask.

Several students are critical of Mr. Bush's call for New American Schools devoted to innovation and excellence. "We go to an excellent school," they argue. "And it, like others in New York City, are in danger because of the city's budget crisis." "What is the President going to do about protecting the schools that exist already?" asks one.

When, at one point, the reporter misquoted Mr. Bush, she was quickly corrected. The President had argued that spending on education had increased by 33 percent during the last 10 years. When the reporter assumed the figure was unadjusted for inflation, several students corrected her, pointing out that the President was talking about an increase in "real dollars."

Jennifer is skeptical of the way Mr. Bush handled the issue of funding. "The entire speech," she says, "was an attempt to convice us that things could be done without funding--to take our attention away from the need for more money. I don't believe we can get improvement without money."

Mr. Bush's call for national testing is greeted with great skepticism. Several students point out how often students are tested already, almost every year once they enter school, without it seeming to make a significant difference in learning. "Testing," says David B., "doesn't seem to improve performance, because most tests don't measure things you learn. They test what you remember, not whether you can apply what you learn to everyday life."

As the students left the bar, the reporter thanked them all. Then, turning to me, she remarked: "This was great. The only problem is that the interviews don't work very well as 'man on the street' type reactions. These kids were much too analytic."

Toward a 'Re-Vision' of Education for Teaching

Education Week
Volume 10, Issue 34, May 15, 1991, p 36, 29

Copyright 1991, Editorial Projects in Education, Inc.

Toward a 'Re-Vision' of Education for Teaching

By Willis D. Hawley

On any list of problems in American education, the way we prepare teachers is invariably accorded a high place. That the weaknesses attributed to this enterprise are numerous and varied was demonstrated this year in a series of special reports in Education Week, "Teaching Our Teachers" (Dec. 12, 1990; Feb. 13, 1991; March 13, 1991; March 27, 1991). But while teacher education is in need of substantial improvement, teacher educators, on the whole, have been moving to respond to their critics and significant changes are taking place.

There is both good news and bad news in this largely untold story.

The good news is that, in the last few years: students admitted to and graduated from teacher-education programs score better on standardized tests and have higher grade-point averages than students who preceded them; the number of courses in liberal arts and traditional disciplines teacher candidates take has increased; the amount of time prospective teachers spend gaining practical experience in schools has increased and the quality of these experiences has improved; both the academic content and rigor of education courses have been enriched; and many special programs have been initiated that reduce the time and requirements for entry to the profession by persons who wish to change careers or who graduate from college without having been in a traditional teacher-preparation program.

To be sure, these and other changes are not universal, and there are some programs that are so weak that they (and the state agencies that have approved them) should be put out of business. The trends, however, are clear.

The bad news is that the changes being made, and others being proposed--such as extended teacher preparation--are both futile and counterproductive. They are futile because they do not address some of the fundamental reasons why teacher education is seen as ineffective. They are counterproductive because they sustain the myth that the professional development of teachers can be improved without fundamental changes in the roles and functions that both schools and universities play in the facilitation of teacher learning.

Even if the reforms now under way were implemented widely, at least four basic obstacles to significantly improving the education of teachers would persist. First, there is no market for high-quality approaches to educating teachers, either at the preservice level or for what is euphemistically called career development. Second, teacher education is not taken seriously and investments in the professional development of teachers are meager, in large part because teaching is not widely seen as a task requiring specialized pedagogical expertise that is importantly informed by theory and research.

A third obstacle is that the ways teachers learn to teach--from the experiences they have as students to the formal and informal lessons they learn throughout their careers--are incoherent and inconsistent. And, finally, most of the proposed and recently implemented improvements in the way teachers are taught continue to ask those in training to learn the wrong things, at the wrong times, in the wrong places.

The counterproductive nature of the current reform agenda stems from its reinforcement of the myth that preservice teacher preparation can and should "produce" beginning teachers with the levels of competence their students deserve. This myth is treasured by teacher educators because it justifies the roles they have played historically. It is admired

by school administrators because it means they do not need to invest in teacher learning. And policymakers value the myth because it allows them to believe significant improvements in schools can be achieved at low economic and political costs.

While the myth serves many, however, it does not serve children or teachers and has several unhappy consequences. Teacher candidates gain from it false expectations about their competence that turn to criticisms of teacher education when the reality of teaching is confronted. Schools are lulled into investing little in the training of new teachers. Efforts to hold teacher education accountable, meanwhile, lead to teacher-performance measures that standardize and trivialize teaching. And teacher-education units within universities continue to have the low status attributed to vocational training, which not only leads to low investments in the teacher-training enterprise but undermines the status of teachers.

The myth of preservice sufficiency also leads teacher-preparation programs to seek to achieve goals they cannot, under most conditions, meet, while neglecting important functions that they could and should perform.

On top of all this, the belief that preservice teacher education should and can train teachers limits the role universities play in the career-long professional development of teachers because it encourages the belief that the only valuable knowledge is that which is practical and more or less immediately and directly relevant. Not only does this predisposition affect the contributions universities can make to educational improvement, it diminishes the likelihood that teaching will be accorded the status attributed to many other professions.

If the current agenda for reforming teacher education is futile and counterproductive, are there more hopeful ways of reinventing the way we educate teachers? There are. And these approaches derive from this general proposition: that the knowledge and capabilities teachers need to have should be learned from the sources best able and most committed to facilitate such learning at stages of the teacher's cognitive and professional development during which he or she is most ready and capable of learning and applying particular lessons. This way of thinking about the education of teachers implies that learning opportunities for teachers should be very different from what they are now and should be integrated and sequenced throughout teachers' careers in ways that take into account specific roles teachers perform, and are likely to perform, in particular contexts. This new picture would embody five basic changes in the education of teachers:

  • The basic purpose of preservice teacher preparation should be changed from the development of teaching competence to the development of the capabilities and motivation to learn to teach. While this would relieve teacher educators of some responsibilities they now have, there would be plenty left for prospective teachers to learn. The content of the pre-professional preparation for teaching would include: cognition; social development; how families and communities influence student learning and the functioning of schools; diagnostic and analytical capabilities applicable to the facilitation of both student and personal learning; and strategies for effective teamwork and helping behavior.

Moreover, because few teachers can effectively transfer much of what they learn in their liberal-arts and disciplinary courses to their teaching, teacher educators would be responsible for building the cognitive and strategic bridges that would increase the relevance of a college education to the facilitation of children's learning.

  • The primary responsibility for teaching novice teachers the specific competencies they need should belong to school systems. Because it is important that there be continuity between the preservice and induction stages of teacher preparation, and because school systems differ substantially in their capacity and the willingness to enhance teacher competencies for the schools we need, this responsibility should be assigned to professional-development schools. These new institutions would engage the faculty of carefully selected schools of education and would serve as the entry points to the profession, just as service in a teaching hospital is a step in the process of becoming a physician.
  • There should be a significant increase in the responsibility and capabilities of school systems to support the continuing education of teachers. These efforts, which might be undertaken in collaboration with professional-development schools or interdistrict units, should be tied to assessments of the learning needs of teachers, and should be an integral part of a long-term human-resource-development plan in each school and district.
  • The primary role of colleges and universities in the continuing education of teachers should shift from the provision of so-called advanced degrees to the support of the professional-development activities of school systems and the provision of recurrent learning opportunities. Such opportunities should focus on enhancing subject-matter knowledge, new research about teaching and learning, strategies for complex problem solving, critical analysis of conventional practices, and exploration of issues related to the philosophical premises of personal and organizational practices.

This change in emphasis does not mean that teachers should be discouraged from pursuing advanced degrees, but such pursuit should not be driven by the monetary incentives and state regulations that now sustain both low expectations for and low quality of graduate degrees in education.

  • Finally, there is considerable evidence that teachers who are most effective engage in continued formal and incidental learning that enhances their ability to help children learn. It follows that schools should be restructured to increase teachers' opportunities to learn. The pursuit of this goal would lead us to schools in which teachers work together often, receive regular and meaningful feedback on their performance, have access to a broad range of resources to help them learn, and engage in systematic inquiry with the support of central staffs and university personnel.

Continuing to seek improvements in teacher education by making incremental changes in current practices is unlikely to make a difference either in teacher effectiveness or in the professional status of teachers and teacher educators. Moreover, this piecemeal approach to reform sustains the beliefs and the institutional structures and policies that result in low investments in teacher learning.

The time has come to redefine and realign the responsibilities and roles of universities and schools in the education of the nation's teachers. This reinvention of the ways we educate teachers should be reflected in comprehensive human-resource development plans in school systems that recognize that the capabilities of teachers are the most important determinant of student learning in schools.

If these fundamental changes are to be fully realized, it will be necessary for policymakers and teachers to really believe thatteachers' professional expertise and status derive fundamentally from mastery of knowledge, the control of sophisticated techniques, and the ability to use powerful ideas to improve current practice and move in new directions responsive to social and technological change. This "re-vision" of the sources of teacher effectiveness is the key not only to improvements in teacher education but to the door that leads from the schools we have to the schools we need.

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