‘Excellence’ Panel Urges Rigorous Teacher Training

By Cindy Currence — March 06, 1985 6 min read
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The report of the National Commission for Excellence in Teacher Education, released here last week, calls for longer and more intellectually rigorous training programs for prospective teachers.

But to the dissatisfaction of at least 10 of the commission’s 17 members, the report stops short of advocating an additional year of post-baccalaureate pedagogical study.

The commission’s unwillingness to urge such a change prompted a majority of the members to add a dissenting footnote to the report; some also aired their criticism here during the annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

The 17-member excellence panel--which includes teacher educators, teacher-union officials and legislators--was established last March by aacte to formulate strategies to improve the preparation of the nation’s public-school teachers.

The group’s 56-page report recommends that colleges of education adopt “exacting, intellectually challenging” programs that include a one-year supervised internship.

"[This will require] longer programs than most colleges and universities now require, and we urge that, as states review their certification requirements and colleges and universities study their programs, they let the educational needs of teachers determine the length of teacher education,” states the commission report, “A Call for Change in Teacher Education.”

Performance Standards

The commission also recommended that admission to, and graduation from, teacher-education programs should be based on rigorous academic and performance standards; that states launch a nationwide campaign to recruit qualified candidates into the profession; and that special programs be developed to attract capable minority students to teaching.

The aacte board of directors unanimously approved the recommendations of the report last week.

“We welcome the findings and recommendations,” said David C. Smith, president of aacte. “We recognize that much has to be done to prepare educators for more complex and demanding conditions of teaching.”

Footnote to the Report

In a footnote to the report’s recommendation on improving teacher-education programs, nine commission members criticized the final report for not being “more forthright” on some issues.

“We are concerned particularly about the issues of the liberal-education perspective teachers should receive and about the amount of time to properly prepare teachers,” the dissenting commission members wrote.

“All prospective teachers, as part of their liberal education, should be educated in at least one academic major. This is as true for the person who will teach 1st grade as it is for the person who will teach high-school physics,” the footnote states.

“We believe that the kind of teacher-education program proposed by the commission cannot take place within the usual four-year baccalaureate. A minimum of four years should be devoted to the liberal arts component of the teacher-education program; a minimum of five years to the total program,” the nine members wrote.

‘Mechanistic’ Approach

The division on the issue of program length developed out of a reluctance on the part of several commission members to prescribe a “mechanistic” approach to improving teacher-training, said C. Peter Magrath, chairman of the commission and president of the University of Missouri.

Mr. Magrath said at a press conference last week that he “personally” supported the footnote, but that he did not sign it in order to maintain neutrality as the chairman of the commission. He added that he would “stand on the report.”

“It is wonderful to come out with a report that attracts a big headline,” he said, but he added that the commission’s work was designed not for that purpose but to guide educators and policymakers in developing program reforms.

Robert L. Egbert, director of the commission project, said at the press conference that he supported post-baccalaureate teacher training. ''But I don’t think that the length of the program is that important,” he added. It’s the outcome of the program.”

In a later speech to conference participants, Mr. Magrath encouraged deans of colleges of education to seriously consider the recommendations in the footnote.

Outspoken Critic

The most outspoken critic of the report, Albert Shanker, a member of the commission and president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement following the release of the report that he saw “major shortcomings” in the recommendations and called it a missed opportunity “to expose the full range of deficiencies in teacher education.”

Representative Stephen Cobb, also a commission member and a member of the Tennessee General Assembly, said that he fully supported the report but that “it could have gone further.”

Despite the majority support for an additional year of study and the requirement of at least one academic major, commission officials decided to take a “consensus approach” in developing its recommendation on the issue in order to hold the panel together, according to David C. Imig, executive director of aacte.

Different Requirements

W. Anne Reynolds, chancellor of the California State University and one of the key proponent of the commission’s final recommendations on teacher-training programs, said that she “did not feel [the commission] should go on record” as advocating a five-year extended program.

A distinction must be made, she said, in the necessary requirements for elementary-school teachers and secondary-school teachers.

“There is really a difference in teaching first grade and in teaching high-school seniors computer science or physics--it’s an entirely different arena,” she added.

Ms. Reynolds said different requirements for elementary-school teachers and secondary-school teachers should “drive the time” spent in a teacher-training program.

California is one of the few states in the country that has a teacher-training program for prospective secondary-school teachers that requires five years of college study. Prospective elementary-school teachers are not required to obtain a baccalaureate degree in a discipline other than elementary education.

Other Recommendation

The commission made several other recommendations for improving the quality of the teaching force in the United States. Among them:

States should encourage and assist the development and evaluation of experimental teacher-education programs.

Certification and program-approval standards and decisions should continue to be state responsibilities in consultation with the profession.

States should maintain and strictly enforce rigorous standards for program review. Voluntary national accreditation should be strengthened and made to serve as a means for improving teacher education.

Sufficient resources must be assigned to teacher education to provide thorough, rigorous programs.

A National Academy for Teacher Education should be established, to which promising teacher educators could be nominated for post-graduate traineeships.

Teachers’ salaries should be increased at the beginning of and throughout their careers to levels commensurate with those of other professions requiring comparable training and expertise.

Teachers should be provided professional development opportunities and incentives so that they can consistently improve their practice.

The recommendations of the commission, which was formed in response to a call from the National Commission on Excellence in Education for ''substantial improvement in teacher-preparation programs,” are based on testimony gathered at hearings held last fall in St. Paul; Austin, Tex.; Atlanta; New York City; and San Francisco. (See Education Week, Oct. 3, 1984, and Oct. 31, 1984.)

Funding for the commission’s activities was provided by the U.S. Education Department, the National Institute of Education, the Ford Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and the University of Texas, Austin.

According to Mr. Imig, aacte officials were also expected last week to adopt a resolution opposing a national bill that would require colleges of education to provide “teacher warranties.” Representative Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, last month introduced legislation that would require any school of education receiving federal funds to provide a two-year warranty on the classroom performance of its graduates.

A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 1985 edition of Education Week as ‘Excellence’ Panel Urges Rigorous Teacher Training


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