Teacher Programs Urged To Shift Emphasis From Research to Training

April 25, 1990 6 min read

The majority of teacher-education programs should stop trying to become “world-class research institutions” and focus instead on becoming exemplars of teacher preparation within their state, according to researchers working on a five-year study of teacher-training programs.

Preliminary results from the study, conducted by John I. Goodlad and his colleagues at the University of Washington, and a series of recommendations were released here last week at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

According to findings from the in-depth study of 29 representative teacher-education institutions, faculty members perceive a large disjuncture between the current values of their universities and what they think those values should be.

For example, only 7 percent of faculty members at “flagship” public universities felt that preparing teachers was essential to gaining tenure, but 46 percent felt it should be.

Among respondents at the major private universities studied, 72 percent said their institutions claimed teaching was centrally important, but only 25 percent indicated it actually was essential for tenure.

Similar findings highlighted the shift at most institutions away from teaching and the preparation of teachers toward an emphasis on research and publication. This change “is making things particularly nasty for a lot of faculty,” said Roger Soder, a research-team member.

The study will also recommend redesigning teacher education to develop “a sense of community” among prospective teachers.

According to Zhixin Su, another member of the study team, “in nearly all the programs we visited, there was little evidence of the formation of a strong community” and “no clear sense of group identity as education students.”

Of the nearly 2,800 students surveyed, for example, only 7 percent said they met informally with other students every day. Both students and faculty considered peer influence to be of little importance in the development of students’ educational and professional beliefs and values.

Ms. Su contrasted that situation with the strong peer groups created in medical schools.

She suggested that part of the problem in education stems from the lack of orientation programs, the failure to create cohort groups that move through their teacher training at the same time, and the large number of students who work part or full time while earning their degrees.

The study will also recommend a “reconstruction” of the curriculum for future teachers.

“Simple tinkering ... will not suffice,” said Phyllis Edmundson, a professor of education at Boise State University and another project researcher.

Although Mr. Goodlad had previously hinted at the study’s findings, last week’s presentation was the first time that the research team had unveiled any of its recommendations. The final report is expected to be released this fall.

The federal government must lead efforts toward developing a national curriculum, the dean of Stanford University’s graduate school of education urged last week.

Speaking at an AERA symposium, Marshall S. Smith noted that several recent developments, such as the expansion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, reform reports by national subject-matter groups, and the creation of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, suggest that a national curriculum is in the offing.

But without coordination by the federal government, Mr. Smith added, such efforts could lead to “chaos.”

If teachers trained in one curriculum teach students who will be tested in another, “everything will be out of whack,” Mr. Smith said. “It would be worse than now.”

But, he added, “if it happens in a coherent fashion, the federal government will have a substantial hand in it.”

Christopher T. Cross, assistant U.S. secretary of education for educational research and improvement, denied that the nation is moving toward a national curriculum. Rather than develop such a structure, he said, the federal government should encourage improvements in assessments that could provide data to help policymakers.

“If that happens, the current, faint specter of a national curriculum would disappear,” Mr. Cross said.

Speaking at the same symposium, the presidents of the two major national teachers’ unions disagreed over the desirability of a national curriculum.

Keith B. Geiger, president of the National Education Association, said such a move would run counter to the trend toward decisionmaking at the school site.

But Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the idea of local control over education a “myth,” and said the development of a national curriculum would help convince the public that educators are trying to improve schools.

“We may end up going in the wrong direction,” Mr. Shanker said, “but on balance, I believe we ought to move forward.”

Six New England states and New York plan to create a regional credential for administrators that would make it easier for job candidates to move from one state to another.

The plan of the Northeast Common Market project was announced here by W. Ross Brewer of the Vermont Department of Education.

The consortium also hopes to establish regional teacher-induction and -mentoring programs, and to improve its regional certificate for teachers so that it is not limited to a two-year period before individuals must apply for a regular state teaching certificate.

Mr. Brewer said the group is also debating whether the regional certificate should be awarded for a higher level of achievement than required for a normal state certificate.

In addition, the consortium is working to develop a comprehensive database on teacher supply and demand throughout the region.

The project is based on the “explicit belief,” Mr. Brewer said, “that competition for talent has to be healthy” for everybody.

The issue of holding schools accountable for student performance remains a hot one in the states, a 1989 survey by the Council of Chief State School Officers has found.

Only one state—North Dakota—reported that it did not have an accountability system, the survey found, compared with 5 states that responded to a similar survey in 1987.

In addition, it found, the number of states that link policy consequences to performance has grown over the same period. In 1989, it found, 29 states rewarded high performance or imposed sanctions against schools for poor performance, compared with 24 in 1987.

Emily O. Wurtz, a researcher in the U.S. Education Department’s office of educational research and improvement, said the findings from the new survey appeared to confirm the view that a “paradigm shift” in the way schools are evaluated has occurred.

“The basis for judging school performance is shifting from local satisfaction—on local criteria—toward achieving student outcomes that can be objectively measured and compared on an international basis,” Ms. Wurtz said.

One possible exception to this trend, she noted, is the unusual decline between 1987 and 1989 in the number of states that reported using achievement and competency tests.

This trend may suggest, she said, that states are relying on measures other than test scores as a way of evaluating school performance. —LO & RR

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 1990 edition of Education Week as Teacher Programs Urged To Shift Emphasis From Research to Training