Education

Reforms May Dissuade Some From Career in Teaching, Group Says

By Lynn Olson — April 24, 2008 5 min read
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Recent proposals to concentrate teacher education at the graduate level would “significantly reduce” the number of students from selective liberal-arts colleges who choose to teach in the public schools, according to a group of leading private colleges and universities in the Northeast.

In a 15-page statement released last week, members of the Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education argue that graduates of universities such as Princeton and Yale are the kind of “bright, well-prepared, and highly motivated” candidates needed to raise the caliber of the teaching force.

To increase the number of such graduates entering teaching, the consortium states, “we must maintain certification options for students desiring to teach directly upon graduation.”

Few students entering highly selective colleges initially plan to become teachers, the statement notes. They are attracted by such institutions’ focus on a liberal-arts education, it says, and their interest in teaching is sparked later by individual education courses and field work.

If those institutions dropped their teacher-preparation programs because their graduates could not be certified, the CETE members warned, their students would either have to make their decision about teaching in a “vacuum,” or would never consider such a career at all.

Response to Reports

The statement, “Teacher Education and the Liberal Arts,” responds to proposals last year by both the Holmes Group consortium of research universities and the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession to shift the bulk of teacher training to the graduate level.

According to the Holmes Group, for example, graduates of four-year liberal-arts programs should not be certified as teachers, but be required to work in schools as “instructors” under the close supervision of certified personnel.

The CETE statement was endorsed by 14 of the coalition’s 16 members, including Barnard College, Brandeis University, Connecticut College, Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, Smith College, Swarthmore College, the University of Pennsylvania, Vassar College, Wellesley College, Wesleyan University, and Yale University.

Harvard University, which has joined the Holmes Group, did not have time to act on the proposal, according to Katherine K. Merseth, director of teacher training in the university’s graduate school of education.

“We had no formal faculty meetings in place before the time when they needed to have the word back,’' she said, “so we didn’t take any official action on it. It was sort of a non-decision, not a rejection by any means.”

Brown University, which has declined to join the Holmes Group, also did not endorse the statement.

“We wavered back and forth,” said Theodore R. Sizer, chairman of Brown’s education department. “We warmly agree with a lot of the sentiments in the document, but our feeling is that the argument shouldn’t be based on four versus five years. It should rather be based on whether a person is a good teacher.’'

‘Well-Qualified’

CETE was formed in 1983 to support education programs at member colleges and to ensure that teacher preparation remains a “compelling option” for undergraduates at those institutions.

Although several CETE institutions offer graduate-level teacher-education programs, the statement notes, the “collective experience” of its members is that undergraduate teacher-education programs can effectively prepare “exceptionally well-qualified and talented individuals.’'

Nearly all undergraduates preparing for teacher certification in CETE institutions major in an academic discipline, according to the statement, and undergo comprehensive preparation in the liberal arts.

In addition, students take a sequence of professional-education courses —including classroom observations, internships, and practice teaching—that integrate field work and academic study.

“We believe that segregating professional coursework and field experience from the study of the liberal arts would sacrifice important opportunities for intellectual synthesis and personal development,’' it contends.

‘Multiple Paths’

According to the statement, CETE does not oppose state requirements that teachers eventually earn a master’s degree or pursue other post-baccalaureate study in order to be permanently certified.

It also would support integrated five-year programs that combine undergraduate- and graduate-level study, “if the economic disincentives of additional study, which may be especially problematic in the case of minority or low-income students, could be remedied.”

Instead of a single approach, CETE emphasizes the need to support “multiple paths’’ for preparing teachers.

“Excellence in teacher education,’' it stresses, “will not be attained by wholesale prescriptions for reform which ignore the diversity of the institutions that educate teachers or of the individuals who want to become educators.’'

Joint Efforts

CETE institutions have taken several steps to strengthen the commitment to teacher preparation on their campuses.

For example, six colleges—Brandeis, Dartmouth, Middlebury, Vassar, Wellesley, and Wesleyan—now offer a tuition-free or low-cost semester of practice teaching and seminars, after graduation, to students unable to complete their certification requirements within the normal four-year undergraduate program.

Member institutions have also created a CETE Placement Clearinghouse, which for the last three years has sent listings of its graduates to several hundred public school systems with job openings.

In addition, the members have begun collaborative research to find out what their graduates liked and disliked about their education courses and practice teaching; how well prepared they felt in comparison with other beginning teachers in their schools; and why they have left or might consider leaving teaching.

The survey findings are expected to be published within the year. The group will try to build on the data on a regular basis in the future, Ms. Travers said.

A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 1987 edition of Education Week as Reforms May Dissuade Some From Career in Teaching, Group Says

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