Citing a lack of “the most basic information’’ on undergraduate programs that prepare liberal-arts majors for careers in teaching, the Association of American Colleges has undertaken a national study of the subject.
“We are interested in people who will be graduating with a major in one of the arts and sciences and who, in a peripheral way, have at the same time been prepared as teachers,’' explained Jane Spalding, assistant director of programs for the organization of 575 colleges and universities.
Attracting more liberal-arts students into teaching offers one of the best hopes for improving public education, she said.
Such students, she noted, “tend to be a well-qualified, academically able group of people, who many times do not have a definite career direction.’'
In addition, Ms. Spalding said, liberal-arts majors constitute approximately 35 percent of the nation’s undergraduates, compared with 7 percent in education.
The association, which comprises institutions oriented toward the liberal arts, has not addressed issues of teacher preparation in the past, she noted.
But in the past few years, the group has become interested in “making the link’’ between a liberal education and preparation for a number of professional fields. That interest, and indications of a growing teacher shortage, attracted the organization to the topic, she said.
The study began this spring; the final report will be published early next year.
According to Ms. Spalding, the organization hopes to answer such questions as:
What are colleges and universities doing to recruit arts-and-sciences majors into teaching?
How many liberal-arts majors are being prepared as teachers each year? Of these, how many are minority students?
What are schools doing to integrate the education courses and clinical work required for teacher certification with the academic majors of students?
Only when such questions are answered, the association argues, will educators know the advantages and disadvantages of shifting most teacher preparation to the graduate level, as recommended by both the Holmes Group and the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy.
According to the association, “although recommendations to abandon the four-year model of teacher preparation are central to the current reform proposals ... [w]e lack the most basic information about the baccalaureate-level certification of arts-and-sciences majors.’'
Ms. Spalding, who is coordinating the study with Joseph S. Johnston Jr., the association’s director of programs, said, “One of the things pushing us along is that we’re most interested in seeing that a number of different paths to teacher certification are retained in the system.’'
“We would not care to see that everyone jump onto one particular bandwagon,’' she said.
Last month, the association mailed a survey seeking basic information about teacher-preparation programs to the approximately 1,400 colleges and universities that grant undergraduate degrees in the arts and sciences.
The directors of both the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education signed the cover letter for the survey.
The two directors, along with such representatives as Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and Harold Raynolds Jr., commissioner of education in Massachusetts, also serve on a 17-member advisory committee for the study.
A second survey will try to identify what differentiates programs that do an exemplary job of recruiting and preparing liberal-arts majors to become teachers from those that do not. That survey will be mailed to 50 to 75 institutions.
In addition to the survey results, the final report will include descriptions of 10 to 12 exemplary programs, or components of such programs, for preparing undergraduate liberal-arts majors to become teachers.
The report will also recommend ways to strengthen the teacher-preparation and recruitment of arts-and-sciences graduates.
For example, Ms. Spalding said, “one of the things that scares arts-and-sciences majors away from the idea of becoming teachers is the [negative] reputation that education courses have.’'
“We’ll look for programs that are making the study of education much more compatible with the liberal education that these students have experienced,’' she said.
In some states, she noted, classes within the arts and sciences--such as a general-psychology course--can be used to fulfill some of the education coursework required for state certification.
A $122,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation is helping to pay for the study.