Researchers Seek New Road Map for Teaching
Efforts to set higher academic standards and to test students on them call upon schools to produce pupils who can reason, think critically, and write well.
But "most schools and teachers cannot produce the kind of learning demanded by new reforms," said Linda Darling-Hammond, the immediate past president of the American Educational Research Association. "Not because they do not want to, but because they do not know how."
To call attention to that problem and chart a course for solving it, a group of researchers gathered here this month to present the latest research on improving teacher education--both at the university level and in on-the-job in-service opportunities.
Their overall message: Efforts to improve teaching should be continuous, collaborative, and tailored to the individual needs of schools and teachers.
To hear it, they invited some 100 researchers, policymakers, representatives of national education groups, and teachers from award-winning schools.
"We wanted to bring some synthesis of research to bear on a question that is of current policy importance," said Ms. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Some of the researchers pointed out, for example, that many schools of education teach in traditional lecture-style formats, rather than model new ways of teaching for prospective teachers. And most staff-development workshops take place in equally traditional formats. (See Education Week, April 17, 1996.)
"In one survey, teachers ranked staff development just above a root canal," said Willis D. Hawley, the dean of the University of Maryland education school in College Park. Even with teacher workshops run by the National Science Foundation, very little of the content taught finds its way into real classrooms, Mr. Hawley said.
New Models and Metaphors
What is needed, the researchers said, are new models of teacher education.
At the school level, a focus of these new efforts should be to reduce the sense of isolation teachers often feel in their classrooms and encourage them to become lifelong learners, said Milbrey W. McLaughlin, an education professor at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. In addition, she said, the content of professional development should be fluid, growing out of teachers' own problems, rather than from the whims of administrators or from mandates.
It might be as important, for example, for teachers to learn more about their students and the communities in which they live as it is to learn about promising practices.
"What does need to be in place is the kind of infrastructure, web, or soup that supports this kind of learning," Ms. McLaughlin said.
Judith Warren Little, an associate professor at the University of California at Berkeley, said schools that foster growth among their teachers are those that sustain a collective focus on students and that share the responsibility for their learning.
Too many schools, she said, leave that responsibility in the hands of individual teachers. "In elementary school, it's still largely a matter of who you get as a teacher that determines the experience of students."
Apart from reorganizing schools themselves to better support teacher learning, another useful vehicle for that effort may be teacher networks, said Ann Lieberman, a co-director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching at Teachers College.
Ms. Lieberman studied 16 national and regional networks and determined that they offer teachers a way to collaborate, build professional relationships, and learn from colleagues, she said.
"Our root metaphor is wrong," Ms. McLaughlin argued. "The old box is one in which the root metaphor is really organizations. We need to switch the root metaphor to community--the focusing on relationships."
At the university level, the researchers offered praise for professional-development schools, which allow prospective teachers to get sustained practice working in--and observing--real schools. But, they noted, these kinds of school and university partnerships lie at the periphery of teacher education.
Tom Houlihan, an education-policy adviser to North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr., warned the researchers that some policymakers might greet their prescriptions with skepticism.
"If I was a legislator and I heard things like 'professional-development schools,' 'networks,' 'time,' and 'change,' I would say, 'So what?'" he said. Without a broad, overarching message, he said, "I don't believe we're going to get policymakers to stand up and take notice of individual issues related to schools."