Teacher-Training and Credentialing Programs Attacked in Hearing

By Cindy Currence — October 31, 1984 5 min read

San Francisco--In the last of five hearings held around the country, the National Commission on Excellence in Teacher Education last week heard, for the first time, harsh criticism of teacher-training programs and credentialing procedures at its session here.

“I am not completely familiar with the present scheme for certifying someone as qualified to teach physics in high school or general science in junior high, but I can attest to the fact that the student who obtains the relevent credentials is far less qualified than the candidates who obtain just a ba in the discipline,” charged Gerald A. Fisher, chairman of the department of physics and astronomy at San Francisco State University.

The 17-member commission is a project of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Under a grant from the U.S. Education Department, the commission has held regional hearings during the past two months to address issues in teacher education. The commission is scheduled to make recommendations in February on how to improve teacher-training programs.

Urges Dropping Requirements

Mr. Fisher urged the commission to recommend the removal of certification requirements that prevent “well-trained people in the sciences” from teaching in public schools.

He told commission members he was “flabbergasted” to learn that one of his brightest students, who held a degree in physics, had a difficult time finding a teaching job. Under California law, those who wish to obtain teaching credentials must graduate from a state-approved teacher-training program and pass the California Basic Education Skills Test.

“Because [my student] did not possess a credential, the entire public-schools sector was closed to him,” Mr. Fisher said, noting that the3young man eventually found a job teaching mathematics and physics in a private school. “In my judgment, this is but one more area where the public sector fails to compete with the private,” he added.

Mr. Fisher also told the commission that his son, who is 13 years old, often comes home and relates “totally erroneous” information obtained in his science classes. He added that he prays his son will somehow survive such science instruction until he gets to college.

More Training Backed

Mr. Fisher’s views on teacher preparation were not seconded by other speakers at the hearing. Several educators who testified recommended increasing the amount of professional training prospective teachers receive.

Recent efforts in California and other states to minimize teacher training or remove it as a requirement altogether are serious mistakes, according to Trish Stoddard, a graduate student in the school of education at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Teaching is just as complex [a profession] as medicine,” Ms. Stoddard said, “and it is time that the complexity of education is recognized.”

In addition to obtaining an undergraduate degree in a particular content area, Ms. Stoddard suggested, all teachers should be required to complete two years of post-baccalaureate study culminating in a master’s degree.

Focus on Pedagogy

Edna Mitchell, head of the department of education at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., agreed that prospective teachers need more training in pedagogy than time allows at the undergraduate level.

“Intensive professional preparation should be reserved for the fifth year and beyond,” she said. “Prospective teachers, once carefully selected and admitted to a professional program, should be able to devote their full time to the development of the knowledge and skills required by their profession.”

Although Ms. Mitchell advocated graduate-level teacher training, she also encouraged colleges of education to provide students with a much earlier introduction to teaching.

“With formal and informal opportunities to learn about teaching--to learn about children and schools during the undergraduate years--recruitment and screening of potential teachers would be more rational and less wasteful of human lives and institutional resources,” she said.

Professional Exam

In her testimony, Ms. Stoddard suggested that postgraduate teacher training be followed by a professional examination modeled on the state bar examination.

The examination would test candidates’ knowledge of the theory and practice of teaching and learning. Four main content areas would be covered: child development, theories of teaching and learning, application of instructional methods to specific subjects, and curriculum development. The exam would consist of six essay questions based on real-life school situations, in which the candidate would be required to make and justify instructional decisions.

‘Antiquated’ Teaching Methods

Other educators who testified called for radical changes in teacher training and instructional methods.

Television, for example, has made “traditional conceptions of classel20lroom teaching and, thus, our traditional conception of teacher training, antiquated,” according to Mark Phillips, chairman of secondary and postsecondary education and educational technology at San Francisco State University.

Moreover, television is not the only factor influencing students, Mr. Phillips said, citing “changes in the family, the growing number of latchkey children, changes in male and female roles, changing societal norms regarding authority, and the computer.” Schools of education must address these issues and their implications for teaching, Mr. Phillips told the commission.

In further testimony at the open hearing, William Spady, director of the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development, said educators need to consider alternative teaching methods, such as “mastery learning,” and must be willing to experiment with programs that depart from traditional teaching methods.

Papers Presented

In a formal paper commissioned by the commission and presented the day before the open hearing, Michael D. Andrew, director of teacher education at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, also called for basic changes in teacher-training programs. His recommendations included high academic standards for entry into teacher education, classroom-teaching experience early in the program, and a well supervised, year-long internship.

Formal presentations also were made by Richard Kunkel, executive director of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and Henrietta Schwartz, dean of San Francisco State University’s School of Education.

The formal papers presented to the commission at its five meetings will be published next fall by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

A version of this article appeared in the October 31, 1984 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Training and Credentialing Programs Attacked in Hearing