What’s to Be Done for the ‘Noblest’ Profession?
To the Editor:
The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education welcomes Vartan Gregorian’s call to make teacher education the highest priority for the nation’s colleges and universities ("No More Silver Bullets," Commentary, Nov. 10, 2004). Similar calls by countless commissions and government-sponsored summits, citizen committees, and association initiatives have gone unanswered. Perhaps Mr. Gregorian’s call to action will make the difference. We hope so.
His condemnation of education schools, however, is misguided. What is pitiful about the current state of teacher education is how underresourced teacher education programs are, and how policymakers continue to seek the quick and expedient alternative through their obsession with alternative-certification programs. But the call to make education schools the premier teaching and learning center on the nation’s campuses is important.
Mr. Gregorian’s call for presidents and trustees to make teacher education a funding priority is welcomed, as is his insistence that policymakers implement the recommendations of the Teaching Commission. While there is much to fault in his analysis of the problem, the commitment Mr. Gregorian and the Carnegie Corporation of New York have made to teacher education sets a “gold standard” for others in the philanthropic community to reach.
To ascertain how colleges and university leaders respond to Mr. Gregorian’s call to action, AACTE urges the Carnegie Corporation and Education Week to mount an effort to report on the investment colleges and universities make in the preparation of teachers. Let’s compare those investments with other professional-preparation programs. Let’s see how many new dollars are invested. Let’s see how faculty salaries compare across programs. Let’s see how the commitment to clinical preparation is addressed in dollars allocated to such efforts. Perhaps this time the call for action will not go unheeded.
After a dozen visits to education schools this past three months, what strikes me is that despite the lack of dollars, deans and faculty are working hard to transform programs. They are reaching out to arts and science faculties. They are partnering with local schools and conducting meaningful and relevant research to benefit teachers and children. They are expanding their clinical arrangements and increasing their expectations despite the absence of new dollars or more faculty.
Despite the absence of resources and the rants of critics, most schools of education are about the business of change. They are aggressively retooling their programs and fashioning new partnership programs. They are addressing the needs of state and federal policymakers and making a difference on their campuses. They are determined to meet the expectations of a new era of accountability and expectation, and they are making a difference.
To the Editor:
The Carnegie Corporation of New York’s investment described in Vartan Gregorian’s Commentary “No More Silver Bullets” is impressive. As the 11 participating institutions begin their funded journey to improve the “noblest” of professions and fix its problems, I encourage them to:
1. Understand that nobility, by definition, requires teachers to know their professional raison d’être, be distinguished by their individual and collective genius, have high ideals and moral qualities, be great and lofty in character and mind, and be stately in appearance;
2. Unabashedly face the reasons for schools of education having earned the reputation as second-rate institutions that are worthy of benign neglect from administrators and disdain from faculties in other schools;
3. Account for faculty decisions against reforming themselves without outside coercion or inducements; and
4. Realize that failure is always an option and a natural consequence for those who neglect their homework, don’t learn the lessons of cause and effect, and operate under the delusion of reprieve.
To the Editor:
No one can deny that schools of education in this country are in need of improvement to meet the demands of the 21st century. But Vartan Gregorian’s solution contains several curious recommendations in light of the available evidence.
Mr. Gregorian underscores the importance of fully engaging the arts and science faculty in educating prospective teachers. Yet why are faculty presumed to possess expertise in teaching in the first place? They become tenured largely on the basis of their research—not on the basis of their instructional effectiveness. If Mr. Gregorian counters by pointing to small colleges, rather than research universities, what evidence does he have to support his claim about teaching success? Are students in these colleges given standardized tests to assess what they’ve learned in class, as opposed to what they bring to class in the form of inherited ability and their socioeconomic backgrounds? Are they subjected to standardized exit exams before they receive their degrees? Are their professors evaluated on the basis of value-added criteria?
Mr. Gregorian stresses the indispensability of treating teachers as professionals, like doctors, lawyers,and accountants. But Louis V. Gerstner Jr., whom he cites in this regard, is co-author of Reinventing Education: Entrepreneurship in America’s Public Schools. In the book, Mr. Gerstner describes the relationship between teachers and the communities they serve as that of “buyers and sellers.” This is hardly the way to build professionalism in teaching. In fact, the entire book is a plea for turning schools into virtual businesses.
Urging the retirement of George Bernard Shaw’s maxim, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches,” in the belief that it demeans, Mr. Gregorian wants schools of education to produce teachers who are proficient in their subject-matter learning and pedagogical skills. He wants the presidents of colleges and universities to discredit the view that anyone with minimum training can teach. But he is silent about the use of daily scripted lesson plans, which today are being increasingly required in large urban districts to raise student achievement. He is also strangely mute about the way classroom teachers are being undermined at every turn by the unrealistic demands of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
If Mr. Gregorian wants to build a case, he needs to address these crucial questions.
Walt Gardner taught for 28 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Vol. 24, Issue 13, Page 39
Vol. 24, Issue 13, Page 39
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