Liberal-Arts Colleges Wary of Teacher-Training Shifts

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Middlebury, Vt--Proposals to reform teacher education by shifting most professional training to the graduate level threaten to destroy effective teacher-preparation programs at some of the nation's top liberal-arts colleges, officials from those schools warned at a conference here.

Citing a new survey of their recent graduates, they argued that teachers from their programs, which combine undergraduate coursework in education with extensive study in the liberal arts, were better prepared than most of their colleagues from other colleges.

"We are threatened by major national reform movements" stressing graduate-level study, said Eva Travers, director of the teacher-education program at Swarthmore College. Advocates of such reforms "envision one way of training teachers," she said.

Richard H. Dollase, director of teacher education for Middlebury College, which hosted the meeting, added: "What we're saying is, 'This is another way of doing teacher preparation, and it works."'

Mr. Dollase and others argued that because highly selective colleges educate some of the most able students in the country, it is important that they continue offering undergraduate education programs to encourage their students to enter public-school teaching.

Furthermore, they contended, by integrating student teaching and education coursework into the liberal-arts curriculum, such programs offer students unparalleled preparation for the classroom.

The adoption of proposals such as those advanced by the Holmes Group, a consortium of research universities, and the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy would effectively abolish their programs, they charged.

In reports last year, the two organizations recommended that prospective teachers be required to earn an undergraduate degree in a liberal-arts field and receive pedagogical training at the graduate level.

'More Experiential Attitude'

But an official of the HolmesGroup sought last week to minimize differences between the group and the liberal-arts colleges.

Frank Murray, dean of the education school at the University of Delaware and a member of the Holmes Group's executive board, said in an interview that the group's position had "evolved" since the publication of its report.

"The group has a more experiential attitude as to how institutions will improve their programs," said Mr. Murray, who did not attend the conference. "Our position is not exactly the way it was interpreted earlier."

Mr. Murray maintained that the Holmes Group and the liberal-arts colleges shared a similar view of how teachers should be educated and differed only on "peripheral issues."

Teacher Survey

Representatives of the liberal-arts institutions spoke at a conference of 200 teachers, teacher educators, and humanities faculty members. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the conference was sponsored by the8Consortium for Excellence in Teacher Education, a group of 16 Northn liberal-arts colleges seeking to improve teacher preparation.

Members of the consortium include most of the Ivy League institutions, as well as smaller colleges, such as Wellesley, Swarthmore, and Middlebury.

In addition to cete schools, some 25 other liberal-arts colleges sent representives to the gathering.

The conference participants argued that, although cete schools collectively graduate only about 300 teachers a year, those teachers are exceptionally well qualified.

According to a survey of recent graduates of cete schools released at the conference, two-thirds of those who had taught school said they considered themselves better prepared than other beginning teachers they worked with, while fewer than 2 percent said they were less well prepared.

When asked which aspect of their training was most effective, most teachers surveyed cited student teaching. A smaller percentage indicated that their education courses were most effective in preparing them for the classroom.

By contrast, "a very few teachers mentioned courses other than education courses as being significantly effective preparation," states the report on the survey. The study was based on the responses of 534 graduates of 15 of the 16 cete institutions.

Integrated Programs

Educators at the conference rejected the counsel of such critics as Lynne V. Cheney, chairman of the neh, who argued in a recent report that prospective teachers need greater instruction in subject-matter knowledge and less in education methods. Both aspects of teacher preparation are necessary, they said.

"The ability to write a deconstructionist critique of Lear's madness is not enough to teach Shakespeare," said William Kessen, professor of psychology at Yale University.

Moreover, participants argued,el10lprograms integrating education courses and clinical preparation into the liberal arts can attract potential teachers from a wide range of majors.

For example, noted Margaret Favretti, a social-studies teacher at South Burlington (Vt.) High School, the directors of Yale's teacher-preparation program welcomed her, even though she was pursuing a degree in art history--an unconventional course of study for a prospective history teacher.

"They could have turned me away, or told me to major in something like history," she said.

Instead, Ms. Favretti added, the directors told her to use her background to enrich the teaching of history.

Largely because of their "integrated" approach, teacher-education programs at cete colleges enjoy relatively high status within their institutions, participants said. At many other colleges, education programs are "in the basement," they suggested.

Out of the Basement

Edith McMullen, director of Yale's teacher-preparation program, said other departments at Yale recognized the high caliber of the work performed by students in the program. As an example, she noted that a biology major was allowed to write a junior-high-school biology curriculum as a senior thesis.

Peter Witt, director of the education program at Brandeis University, added that the combination of broad liberal-arts instruction and professional training also benefits 6students who choose not to enter teaching.

"Some students don't go on to teaching," he said. "I've had students who went to law school, rabbinical school."

But such students see the teacher-preparation program "as furtherance of their self-knowledge," he said.

'The Next Generation'

While most conference participants praised their programs as effective, many also suggested that they could be improved by restructuring some humanities courses to make them more applicable for future teachers.

"The undergraduate major is oriented to people who are going on to get a Ph.D. in literature," noted Judith Liskin-Gasparro, a lecturer in Spanish at Middlebury.

Prospective foreign-language teachers, she said, should be taught to be proficient users of the language.

Similarly, in teaching prospective teachers, English faculties should teach more writing, use more works by non-Western authors, and encourage multidisciplinary studies, said Thomas F. McHugh, chairman of the department of education at Vassar College.

In every case, added Marvin Bressler, professor of sociology at Princeton University, faculty members should treat prospective teachers differently from other students.

In preparing teachers, Mr. Bressler said, "we are responsible for the education not only of the person sitting in front of us, but of the next generation as well."

Vol. 07, Issue 09

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