Changing The Profession

May 01, 1992 6 min read

While efforts to restructure America’s public schools multiply, most prospective teachers are still being prepared for the traditional, teachercentered, textbook-dominated classroom. The school reform movement, many of its leaders point out, has not made much of an impact on the nation’s schools of education.

A special report in Education Week last year began this way: “Battered from the outside and subject to increasing scrutiny from within, teacher training remains one of the most troubled and castigated enterprises on the educational landscape.’' The report called colleges of education the “weak link in the drive to improve the nation’s schools.’'

Even classroom teachers look back with derision on their professional education programs. In a 1987 survey of 22,000 teachers, 40 percent rated their preservice professional preparation as fair or poor. Fewer than 15 percent in another survey judged their undergraduate courses in education as a “definitely effective’’ source of job-related knowledge and skills.

Perhaps the main reason schools of education have been so immune to change is that there is little agreement within the academy on what should be changed. The debate has raged over the content of the undergraduate curriculum (subject-matter courses vs. education courses), over the term of study (four-year programs vs. five-year programs), over raising admissions standards, over clinical training (how much and what kind), and over accreditation, licensure, and competency testing.

When the Holmes Group, a consortium of major research universities with teacher preparation programs, proposed in a 1986 report that teacher training should span five years, it set off a furor on the campuses that has come to dominate much of the debate over teacher preparation.

One substantial reform advocated by an increasing number of educators is the creation of new structures in teacher preparation that extend and intensify student field work. In the mid-1980s, two major critical reports, A Nation Prepared by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy and the Holmes Group’s Tomorrow’s Teachers, called for the invention of a new model for teacher education: professional development or professional practice schools, clinical schools similar to teaching hospitals in the field of medicine.

A number of such schools have been established across the country. Typically, they are jointly operated by a university and a school district. Teachers and professors work side by side to induct new teachers into the profession and to engage in ongoing research about teaching. The professional development school not only elevates and enhances the education of future teachers but also offers professional renewal for the teachers employed in the schools.

Unlike models of the past, a student teacher is not assigned to one “supervising’’ classroom teacher, but to a whole school. Thus, the entire faculty is responsible for the field experiences of future teachers.

Likewise, the relationship between university and school personnel also changes; a much more intimate collaboration unfolds. Often, outstanding classroom teachers are called upon to share their expertise in methods classes at the university level. And university faculty spend more time in these “real world’’ schools, deliberating with practitioners, working with students, and cooperating with teachers on classroom-based inquiry.

“Teachers for Tomorrow,’' a program launched by the AT&T Foundation last fall, is an example of the collaborative clinical-practice approach tailored to the specific objective of preparing teachers for inner-city schools. The foundation has committed some $3 million to universities, local school systems, and teachers’ unions in five cities to develop joint programs focused on entry level teachers in urban schools.

The foundation expects these efforts--in Detroit, Houston, Jacksonville (Fla.), New York City, and San Francisco--to prompt basic changes in the way inner-city teachers are prepared, to increase the pool of inner-city teachers, and to reduce attrition rates for new teachers in urban schools.

The professional development school movement possesses no single guru or base of operation. Since the mid-1980s, various associations and organizations have pioneered, and are continuing to administer, actual university-school collaborations across the country. Among the most welldeveloped networks are the American Federation of Teachers’ Professional Practice Schools, the Ford Foundation’s Clinical Schools Project, and John Goodlad’s Center for Educational Renewal.

The projects are developing at different speeds and with various emphases; but there is a common overarching belief: In order to fulfill the mission of a professional development school, restructuring must occur.

As one advocate explains, “We can’t prepare tomorrow’s teachers in today’s schools.’' Some of the projects focus more intensely on inservice, others on preservice, but all are engaged in the process of restructuring.

It looks like the movement is gaining momentum. Last year, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education with the Ford Foundation and the ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education decided to establish the first clearinghouse for information on professional development schools.

The Clinical Schools Clearinghouse has already collected and processed much research and news and is putting together the first directory, listing over 100 individual professional development schools across the country. According to the CSC, more programs are springing up like mushrooms.

As a researcher, writer, and speaker, John Goodlad has been at the forefront of school and teacher education reform longer than most. In 1985, the University of Washington professor and several colleagues established the Center for Educational Renewal to seek the simultaneous renewal of K-12 schooling and teacher education.

In its first five years, the center conducted intensive research on teacher education programs. From this research, came Goodlad’s 1990 book, Teachers for Our Nation’s Schools. In it, he outlined conditions that undermine teacher education and proposed 19 postulates necessary to recruit, prepare, and support outstanding teachers.

At the same time, Goodlad put his propositions into practice by creating the National Network for Educational Renewal to coordinate and link institutions that wanted to develop partnerships with schools. Now, the center is working intensively with 12 teacher education sites to advance the agenda outlined in Goodlad’s book.

The CER’s sites have much in common with professional development schools. Both stem from the basic conviction that schools and teacher education programs need fundamental change.

But what distinguishes the CER’s teacher education sites is rhetorical grounding. Goodlad sees the whole business of reform in a moral and political context. What does it mean to teach in a democracy and how does that effect how we prepare teachers? How will children learn about the responsibility of participating in a democracy if teachers don’t know themselves?

At the CER’s 12 sites, educators are working on revolutionizing general and professional curricula in teacher education programs to integrate the moral and political dimensions.

Among other tasks, educators are also involved in changing the reward structure for teachers at collegiate and precollegiate levels and assiduously assessing and evaluating both the people going through their programs and the programs themselves.

The CER provides technical assistance and guidance to its sites and helps keep them focused on what it considers to be the most important question: What is the nature of a just society and the role of its schools?

These alternative visions for teacher education emerged only in the late 1980s, according to Judith Lanier, education dean at Michigan State University and head of the Holmes Group.

“The 1990s are really going to be known for substantial actual change and pilot work,’' the dean predicts, “and for the construction of these alternatives so that you can see them in reality and practice.’'

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1992 edition of Teacher as Changing The Profession