For Education Schools: A Search for Purpose and Identity

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The country's teacher-training programs are in a state of disarray: enrollments have plummeted, budgets are drying up, morale is low.

Critics say the education schools themselves are partly to blame because they lack stimulating programs, fail to attract good students, and have too many mediocre faculty members.

Education-school administrators, such critics also charge, have neglected to define adequately the missions of their schools and programs, and have failed to strike a proper balance between their roles as teachers of teachers, on the one hand, and as researchers and trainers of researchers, on the other.

But, most observers agree, there are other, external reasons for the dismal condition of the nation's teacher-training programs.

J. Myron Atkin, dean of the school of education at Stanford University, asserts that the lingering legacy of the rift between pedagogy and research not only continues to damage the prestige of education faculty members—relegating them, he says, to second-class citizenship within universities—but also impedes attempts by education schools to define their missions clearly.

"A school of education is beginning to run a double risk," he says. "It risks losing its authority to prepare people for a teaching credential unless it honors the values being established for practical work, and it risks losing its place at the university unless it emphasizes reflective and publishable scholarship."

Recent university-sponsored evaluations of the education programs at the University of California at Berkeley and Duke University each recommended that the institution's program be closed down, and both evaluation groups cited insufficient and substandard published scholarship by education faculty as the principal reason for their judgment.

For most education schools, that kind of second-class citizenship in the university also means working with a second-class budget.

A 1980 study by two University of Alabama researchers, Paul G. Orr and Bruce A. Peseau, concluded that more is spent on educating a typical third-grader ($1,400) than on training a teacher ($927). And according to Congressional testimony given earlier this month by representatives of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), as recently as 1977, teacher-education generated 11 percent of all credit-hours earned by university students—but in return, received less than three percent of the institution's programmatic budget money.

On another issue, most observers agree that the accreditation (state, regional, and national) and certification systems designed to insure the quality of education-school programs, although an improvement over the almost nonexistent standards of 15 years ago, are not nearly rigorous enough to accomplish their goal.

"There is a fallacy of quality in the present accreditation process," says J. Arthur Taylor, director of the North Carolina education department's division of standards and staff development, which is in part charged with maintaining accreditation standards in the state. Adds Sharon Robinson of the National Education Association: "There is not much link between the accreditation process and quality education."

State Scrutiny Never Rigorous

State scrutiny of education-school standards has never been rigorous, says Robert A. Burnham, dean of the School of Education at Ohio State University.

During the period of massive public-school expansion in the 1960's, he says, state education officials, more concerned with numbers than with quality, paid little attention to the caliber of education programs. Now, he feels, that strategy has caught up with them.

Others contend that it is politically naive to expect state departments of education to deny accreditation to in-state schools.

"State approval of teacher education often made on the basis of politics rather than of program quality," says David G. Imig, executive director of AACTE.

"State [accreditation] programs put the responsibility on the schools. It is a conflict of interest that cannot be accommodated," adds Doran Christensen, associate director of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), an organization that accredits 540 schools of education on a national level.

The accreditation method that is currently being used by most states—"program approval"—evaluates a school's course offerings and leaves it to the school to insure that the student has acquired the skills necessary to teach effectively.

However, NCATE has also come under attack for superficial evaluations and a conflict of interest of its own. In an opinion echoed by many education school deans, John R. Palmer, dean of the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, asserts that NCATE has not been successful in removing weak programs. "It is a loose, haphazard operation," he says.

Christopher W. Wheeler of the Institute for Research on Teaching at Michigan State University, who has just completed a lengthy and highly critical study of NCATE, contends that the accrediting body "contributes to the low quality of teacher-training programs by providing superficial stamps of approval to weak programs."

He argues that because NCATE's operating budget comes in part from fees collected from schools it accredits, it tends to accredit substandard schools.

NCATE denied accreditation to one or more programs at 21 of the 67 schools it reviewed in 1979—a denial rate of 31 percent. However, Mr. Wheeler estimates that this figure is misleading because, in fact, only 1-2 percent of the total number of programs reviewed are not approved.

Mr. Christensen of NCATE asserts that this figure is too low and "not meaningful." He says, however, that he could not quickly produce what he would consider a more accurate percentage of programs denied accreditation.

The NCATE official acknowledges there may be a conflict of interest in the fact that the accrediting group receives 50 percent of its operating budget in fees from the schools it regulates. But he points out that this situation exists in all accrediting systems.

Other conflicts result from the activities of state education authorities. Critics charge that while they have failed to insure adequate quality in the education schools, they have been more than eager to "capriciously" realign the schools' curricula.

"More and more we are being told what to teach," says Mr. Palmer. ''We do a lot of responding to state influence."

The problem, Mr. Palmer and others assert, is that the state departments of education are vulnerable to shifting political winds, and therefore find themselves constantly responding to mandates brought on by the lobbying efforts of a variety of special-interest groups seeking to institutionalize social change in education-school curricula.

"Special interests have control of state [education] mandates," says W. Timothy Weaver, associate professor of education at Boston University. That special-interest influence leads to such practices as requiring course-hours for education majors in such subjects as "driver ed," "human relations," and "how to view the media."

Deans of education are quick to point out that building an education school's curriculum by special-interest fiat further fragments the attention of both students and faculty members, and further drains already shrinking resources.

"Schools of education are expected to respond to one social problem after another," says Ohio State's Dean Burnham. "When the process gets taken to an extreme, students do not have time to learn the fundamentals."

In the face of such vexing dilemmas, the future of the education schools does not look particularly bright either. The introduction of "competency-based certification," with its primary emphasis on the use of a minimum-competency test, will, observers say, have a serious impact on many schools, if not on the quality of the education-school graduate entering the classroom.

New Pressures on Enrollment

Already under intense pressure from drastic enrollment declines, the education schools will now have to contend with state-mandated entrance requirements in some states, as well as exit examinations of graduates.

The latter, in some cases, may have a direct impact on the state's decision to accredit a school, because some states are considering proposals to disaccredit education-school programs whose graduates perform poorly on the tests.

Moreover, a recent announcement by the Educational Testing Service that in November 1982 it will offer a revised National Teacher Examination designed to be more easily used by school districts and by states as an entrance exam for admission into education schools, further increases the competency-test "threat" to the education schools.

However, not all those who are forecasting the closing of many education schools would be upset if the schools did shut down.

"Some of us will go out of business, but that might not be all bad,'' says William G. Monahan, director of the Association of Colleges and Schools of Education, an association of education-school deans. He adds, "There are no more than 200 academic institutions in this country capable of maintaining a competent teacher-training curriculum."

Adds Peter L. LoPresti, chairman of the National Teacher Examination Policy Council and professor of education at California State University, Los Angeles: "Ed schools will have to fish or cut bait; the marketplace may very well resolve the problem."

Many, including Mr. Burnham and Mr. Weaver, argue that the schools have too narrowly defined their mission and must attract a new clientele if they are to survive. Business and industry, the argument goes, in the next several years will have a tremendous need for people to retrain employees to keep up with changing technology.

Says Mr. Burnham: "We thought for too long that all education had to take place in a red brick building—it's not so."

Competence Questioned

But others claim that while changing the missions of the education schools might keep a few more of them in business, it fails to answer the question of why the schools seem unable to supply competent elementary and secondary school teachers. "The core of the education school,'' claims Mr. Atkin, "must be education in the schools." A few schools, such as the University of Kansas, have tried to improve the quality of their graduates by adding a fifth year to their baccalaureate programs.

However, the question of whether the condition of the schools can be turned around so that they are producing effective teachers is problematic, most observers agree.

Emerging state initiatives—in the form of competency tests, five year training programs, in-service internships—might help. But almost everyone involved claims that competency-testing is more a short-term stopgap measure than a realistic means of improving the quality the country's education-school programs. "A test is an easy answer, a simplistic answer, to a complex problem," admits Mr. Taylor of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

Mr. Weaver, for one, argues that such proposals will be effective only to the extent that they force education schools to improve the quality of students coming into education programs. And that, he says, under present circumstances is all but impossible, since he does not foresee any general increase in demand for teachers during this decade—a prognosis in which he differs with colleagues.

Nonetheless, as public dissatisfaction with the quality of teaching in the nation's elementary and secondary schools increases, the pressure on the country's teacher-training programs to provide solutions is not likely to decrease.

As a state certification official in Connecticut put it, "The legislature is breathing down our necks." The question is, will the education schools, given their modest performance over time and their current state of disorganization, be able to respond?

Vol. 01, Issue 03, Page 14-15

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