Teacher Educators Discuss Shift To Graduate-Level Preparation

By Charlie Euchner — February 15, 1984 7 min read

San Antonio--In what appeared to be a major development in the debate over the quality of the teaching force, officials of the largest association of teacher educators expressed support this month for the idea of shifting teacher training from the undergraduate to the graduate level.

Leaders of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education said here they would support efforts to shift professional training to the graduate level to allow prospective teachers more time to learn core subjects and to ensure that their professional training is more coherent and has more relevance.

Speakers at the organization’s week-long annual meeting, the first gathering of the full membership since the release last year of several reports critical of teacher training, presented proposals for such a shift but said that making such a fundamental change would take several years to achieve. They said the shift might require the elimination of some teacher-education programs--a change that would be resisted by some of the vulnerable institutions.

The way education schools have operated over the last several years was sharply criticized by Theodore R. Sizer, the chairman of “A Study of High Schools” and the former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Mr. Sizer’s book, Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, is scheduled to be released in Washington this week.

Mr. Sizer said teacher educators have often shown “arrogance” toward teachers, conducted “reductionist” research projects with minimal classroom application, and shown “lamentable” indifference toward rigid state regulations.

Colleges of education “will wither away,” Mr. Sizer said, if teacher educators do not “shed themselves of the putatively important trivialities of their over-bureaucratized profession and engage themselves more imaginatively, thoughtfully, and resourcefully in the task of creating a modern education system.” He added: “Wake up, my friends, before it’s too late.”

He suggested that teachers’ colleges link with districts in their region to promote changes in the basic structure of public schools--such as requiring teachers to teach at least two major subjects. That strategy, Mr. Sizer said, would require the teachers to get to know only half as many students and enable them to work directly with their students for twice as long.

Respond to Criticism

The annual meeting here was the first opportunity for many teacher educators to respond to criticism directed at their profession in the past year by various study groups, including charges that many teacher-education courses are “superfluous” and that prospective teachers should spend more time studying core academic subjects.

Speakers and other participants at the meeting denounced as simplistic recent proposals in some states to eliminate requirements for prospective teachers to take courses in education methodology.

But the conference participants--acknowledging that many teachers’ colleges have become estranged from public schools and often do not prepare teachers adequately--said some major reforms, such as a shift of teacher education to the graduate level, are desirable.

Proponents of the undergraduate-to-graduate shift maintained that the idea was gaining support, and participants in large and small seminars did not challenge that assertion.

“There’s more talk about it than I’ve heard in a long time,” said Milton Goldberg, executive director of the National Commission on Excellence in Education.

Major in Academic Subject

David G. Imig, executive director of aacte, said a proposal for requiring prospective teachers to major in an academic subject for four years before taking teacher-education courses in a fifth year was “sensible.”

That proposal, included in last fall’s report on high schools by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, is similar to the pattern of the “master-of-arts-in-teaching” programs promoted by the Ford Foundation and others during the 1950’s and 1960’s.

Anne Flowers, the outgoing president of aacte and dean of education at Georgia Southern College, said the idea “makes very good sense.” She said she has been “a very strong supporter of liberal-arts education before you prepare teachers.” She added: “Trying to compact everything a teacher needs to know into four years is quite a task.”

Hendrick Gideonse, the dean of the college of education at the University of Cincinnati, and Hilton P. Heming, professor of education at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, both suggested that prospective teachers majoring in liberal-arts subjects would gain a better grasp of their subject matter and attain sufficient academic maturity to profit later from the methodology courses.

Mr. Gideonse, asserting that a liberal-arts education “is about all a baccalaureate [student] can handle,” said students should concentrate in a major academic discipline before entering a teacher-preparation program at the graduate level. The graduate training program, he said, should stress “clinical work” to allow prospective teachers to apply sophisticated methodology to the classroom.

Mr. Heming argued that undergraduates need more study in basic subjects because of an “expansion of knowledge” and called for a two-year training program at the graduate level similar to laboratory-school experiments of the 1950’s. He said teacher educators should set national standards for professional training, similar to those of the medical and legal professions, and should restrict admissions to training programs.

(In a related development, the National Council on Accreditation for Teacher Education was said to be prepared to approve higher standards for professional-training programs when it meets next month. Those requirements could push education schools to adopt five-year training programs, a leading official for the organization said.

(An internal committee is conducting the most extensive review of accreditation standards ever undertaken by the organization, said George Denemark, its acting director. The committee probably will approve an initial draft of the new regulations at a meeting in Memphis next month, Mr. Denemark added.)

Fewer Schools Needed

How the institution of graduate-level training programs would affect the smaller teacher-preparation programs is unclear. Both Mr. Gideonse and Mr. Heming said such a shift probably would reduce the number of education schools needed to train teachers and therefore would face stiff opposition. They said the proposal should be phased in over several years.

Mr. Gideonse suggested thatel5lsmall colleges have greater administrative flexibility and would be able to make the transition smoothly. But others attending the meeting said schools would face difficulties making such fundamental reforms on their own because state education officials have attempted to block even the most incremental changes in teacher education.

Diane L. Willey, associate professor of education at Kennesaw College in Georgia, said her school’s plans for developing a graduate education program with objectives different from those of its undergraduate program was criticized by the state chancellor of education. Others agreed that state officials often “jealously” guard the teacher-education regulations that they have promulgated.

Jane Stallings, professor of education, teaching, and learning at Vanderbilt University, said a high rate of teacher turnover in the years ahead would give teacher educators an opportunity to reform their programs without upsetting people now in the profession.

Shifting teacher training to the graduate level, conference participants said, should come in concert with other approaches, including increasing the salaries of teachers by as much as 40 percent, requiring them to teach more than one subject, putting them on a “career ladder” with differential pay, and reducing the number of students each teacher works with.

aacte members strongly criticized suggestions by the Council of Chief State School Officers and sev-eral prominent politicians--such as Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey and H. Ross Perot, the Dallas computer magnate who heads a Texas commission studying the state’s education system--that methodology courses are not always necessary. They overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning the use of emergency certification to qualify teachers with no formal teacher training.

Teacher Educators Isolated

That proposals to end professional-training requirements are receiving substantial popular support, conferees said, is evidence that teacher educators have become dangerously isolated from practicing teachers and others concerned with education.

“We have been so caught up in our own [professional lives] that many of us have lost sight of the challenges of our society,” said Ms. Flowers. “We have talked with each other much too long. It is time for us to talk to others.”

Teacher educators may have made a mistake, Mr. Heming said, when in the years after World War II they engineered the shift of the profession from normal schools to colleges and universities.

“In the last 20 years, we’ve drifted apart [from practicing teachers],” he said. “I can remember very warm relationships with teachers who used to come to campus on their own time to share ideas. ... I put a large part of the blame on teacher educators. We were very careless and let them slip away.”

A version of this article appeared in the February 15, 1984 edition of Education Week as Teacher Educators Discuss Shift To Graduate-Level Preparation