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Teacher Education Tiff Playing Out in Print

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Lately, the pages of several national magazines have been ablaze with talk of a cutting debate between two of teacher education's more visible personalities.

One is a longtime professor of education and respected researcher; the other, a young organization president with bold designs on teacher preparation.

Earlier this fall, Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote a highly critical piece about the Teach for America project for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan.

The article caused a stir in the education community--where others have questioned T.F.A.'s take on preparing teachers--and prompted Wendy Kopp, the group's founder and president, to accuse the writer of "inaccuracies, unsubstantiated statements, and mischaracterizations of our efforts" in a letter to the editor.

Ms. Kopp had the idea for a national teacher corps to serve urban and rural districts while a senior at Princeton University in 1989. She has been in the limelight since she made her idea a reality shortly after graduating.

But the recent critique of T.F.A. appears to be making even bigger waves.

After the Kappan article ran in September, the news even found its way into The New Yorker magazine's chatty "Talk of the Town" section. And last month, Ms. Kopp's organization was the subject of a four-page spread in an issue of National Journal, a Washington magazine that covers public policy.

Some of the publicity "makes this look like a catfight instead of being about the issues," Ms. Darling-Hammond said last week. "I wrote the piece to raise questions about how we want to prepare teachers."

"I think there are probably better ways to be spending our time than fighting this out in the Kappan," Christine Thelmo, a spokeswoman for T.F.A., added.

'Let Me Tell You More'

Ms. Darling-Hammond said she has received a huge response from the Kappan article. In it, she argued that T.F.A.'s eight-week training program is an injustice both to teaching recruits and to their students, particularly young children in urban schools.

"I got scads of mail and phone calls from former T.F.A. recruits and staff" after the article appeared, Ms. Darling-Hammond said. "They said: Not only are you right, but let me tell you more."

Her research on the teacher corps was prompted by stories she read and heard from former recruits and by T.F.A.'s announcement that it would ask states to license teachers on the basis of their summer training, classroom experience, and some other professional activities, Ms. Darling-Hammond said.

Teach!, the spinoff organization that was created to perform that function, has been seeking school districts to participate this year. (See Education Week, Feb. 2, 1994.)

The group's decision to expand its mission appears to have put other leaders in teacher education on guard as well. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, for example, inspired in part by T.F.A.'s recent initiatives, passed a resolution last year calling for strict state-licensing standards.

But observers said they doubt that the recent controversy will damage T.F.A.'s reputation.

"I'm not sure this brouhaha is going to have any major consequence for their funding in the future," said Kent McGuire, the program director for education at the Lilly Endowment, a onetime funder of T.F.A. "But that's not to say that foundations don't check these things out."

An expert on corporate giving said last week that she has fielded several phone calls from T.F.A. funders who were concerned with some points raised in the Kappan article.

Many teacher-educators "are arguing that the status quo is working," Ms. Thelmo said. "But this is obviously an issue that's not going to go away."

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