New Report Urges Major Reforms in Teacher Training

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The improvement of teacher-preparation programs in the South must become an "urgent" item on the agenda of policymakers and college presidents, concludes a new report by the Southern Regional Education Board.

The report criticizes as "weak" the college education of prospective teachers and calls for major revisions in teacher-training programs, including a more rigorous general education, fewer education courses, revised financing formulas for colleges of education, and the development of alternative-certification plans.

See related story, page 5.

The sreb, an Atlanta-based coalition of education officials and policymakers from 14 Southern states, based its recommendations on a survey of 3,283 education graduates and 2,760 arts and science graduates who earned baccalaureate degrees in 1982-83. Seventeen ''flagship" public universities participated in the survey.

"It is reasonable to conclude that the curriculum in these universities illustrates teacher education in the South," sreb officials note in the introduction to the survey, "Teacher Preparation: the Anatomy of a College Degree."

The survey, supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, was conducted by Eva C. Galambos, Lynn M. Cornett, and Hugh D. Spitler, sreb researchers.

The survey results and the sreb's recommendations for change in teacher-training programs were scheduled for simultaneous release this week.

The sreb report is the latest in a series of national reports criticizing teacher preparation and calling for major reforms in schools of education.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education this month approved a number of strict standards as part of a two-year reform effort. And earlier in the month, a group of deans from the nation's leading research universities adopted strict standards that will require participating institutions to offer only master's degrees in education. (See Education Week, June 12, 1985.)

"There is no dearth of suggestions by numerous groups about new directions for educating teachers," noted Winfred L. Godwin, president of the sreb "But the advantage enjoyed by the sreb Commission for Educational Quality in recommending this statement is the recently acquired knowledge of the actual courses teachers now take in their baccalaureate programs."

According to Mr. Godwin, the improvement of teacher education has been a central concern of the sreb since 1981, when the board issued a report, "The Need for Quality," on higher education and the impact it has on the quality of elementary and secondary education.

He added that the recommendations are different from other current proposals in that they are "based on what students are actually studying as they prepare for teaching careers, and they point toward higher education's obligation to improve what it offers now, instead of superimposing more of what is currently not done well."

'Weaker' Education

According to the sreb survey, most college students who major in education receive a less rigorous general education than their counterparts who major in the arts and sciences.

The survey reveals that education majors complete fewer upper-level courses in the liberal arts and take fewer courses overall in English, mathematics, the physical sciences, economics, history, political science, sociology, foreign languages, and philosophy.

In addition, teachers often take academic courses in sections specifically designated for them. For example, the survey shows that elementary-level teacher candidates take half of their mathematics credits in courses that the mathematics departments label as "mathematics for elementary teachers."

The survey found that only 22 percent of the mathematics courses teachers take actually are college-level courses, defined as those that require prior completion of high-school algebra I, algebra II, and geometry.

Further, 11 percent of both elementary and secondary teachers earned a degree without ever taking a single mathematics course, the sreb survey shows.

'Conspicuous Absence'

Although secondary teacher candidates are required to complete a major in a content area, they take fewer credits in the major and less coursework at the upper level than do their classmates who are not prospective teachers, the survey shows.

"Secondary teachers of science and social science do not usually take courses across the fields as a whole," the report notes. "In the social sciences, their preparation is concentrated in history, with conspicuous absence of work in political science and economics."

The survey shows the preparation of teachers lacking in languages and technology, as well. "Although communication across the world is now possible instantly, three-fourths of the teachers take no foreign-language courses in college," according to the survey. "Two-thirds of the teachers take no college work in the two sciences that have tremendous relevance to technological change--chemistry and physics."

sreb researchers also found that teachers take "substantially more courses in education than states require." Education credits exceed the average minimum by 65 percent for elementary teachers and by 27 percent for secondary teachers.

Improving Teacher Education

The sreb report, "Improving Teacher Education: An Agenda for Higher Education and the Schools," calls on colleges of education to "hold fast to their minimum standards," despite predicted teacher shortages, and to direct their efforts toward attracting students whose qualifications exceed the minimum criteria. "Indeed, a worthy goal for the colleges of education is to raise the average of the [test] scores of those admitted," the report states.

The report suggests that states and colleges establish loans and scholarships to attract better students.

Upgrade General Education

According to the report, a more rigorous general-education program during the freshman and sophomore years is the essential change on which other improvements hinge.

The sreb commission recommends that colleges allow credit toward graduation only for college-level courses and that they require the same core curriculum, or general-education courses, for all baccalaureate candidates, regardless of their major.

The report questioned the number of education courses that prospective teachers, particularly elementary-school teachers, take in college. It suggested that colleges of education reduce the number of courses on pedagogical methods to allow stu-dents more time for academic coursework.

In addition, the report suggests that the colleges:

Assess their programs to determine whether current offerings actually benefit prospective teachers, rather than "cutting and pasting" to accommodate current offerings.

Provide more practical opportunities for students to try out the pedagogical theories presented in lectures and readings.

Consolidate methods courses into a more generic approach, integrating methods and materials with information about child development and learning theory.

Require all faculty members whose courses deal with teaching and learning to maintain regular contact with the public schools.

State Action

State education officals and policymakers also must take an active role if teacher-training programs are to improve, according to the report.

"While it is preferable for reforms in higher education to originate within the institutions and the colleges of education, inertia and built-in rigidities tend to inhibit reforms," sreb officials state in the report. "Therefore, there is a need for leadership at the state level, including the state higher-education agencies, to assist in the implementation of changes that will strengthen the general education and pedagogy curriculum in the perparation of teachers."

The report suggests that each state's governor appoint a group to promote reforms in teacher-education programs.

Another key reform recommended in the sreb report is the development of financing formulas for colleges of education that are linked to the quality of the programs and their graduates. "Adherence to the enrollment-driven formula is no incentive to produce reforms in the colleges of education," the report states.

It suggests that financial rewards be provided for colleges of education that are willing to make "serious" curricular and structural improvements.

In addition, the report recommends that states support "alternate-certification programs" on an experimental basis.

"Institutions and states," the report says, "should explore alternative teacher-education and certification models which open teaching to a wider range of talented students while maintaining standards. These alternative approaches should emphasize the development of professional teaching skills primarily in the classroom setting."

Minority Recruitment

The sreb report concludes with recommendations on the "critical issue" of recruiting minorities into the teaching profession.

"As efforts progress to improve undergraduate education through tightening entry, curricular, and graduation standards, specific steps must be taken to provide better preparation to disadvantaged students so they can meet the higher standards," it states.

sreb officials recommended that leaders in minority communities undertake a comprehensive campaign to recruit qualified minority students into teaching, and that states establish financial incentives to attract qualified minority students to the profession.

Vol. 04, Issue 39

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