Teacher Education and Standards
In the past six years, hundreds of educators representing dozens of national organizations have begun developing two sets of national standards--one set for students, the other for teachers.
Now, those two parallel movements are beginning to come together. And yet, until a conference this month at the Wingspread center in Racine, Wis., a group of professionals with arguably the biggest stake in the standards-setting movement--teacher-educators--had never formally met with representatives of both of the standards-setting efforts to discuss how standards will affect the training of tomorrow's teachers.
After all, the intensive efforts now under way to define what students should know and be able to do in various subject areas won't amount to much if teachers themselves don't know the subject matter and aren't prepared to teach it. And many of the standards-setting efforts are calling for a new kind of teaching--one that helps students learn to think the way mathematicians and historians do, rather than to memorize and regurgitate facts.
At the same time that benchmarks are being set for students in various subject areas, increasing attention is being paid to setting standards for both beginning and accomplished teachers.
The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards launched the teacher-standards movement in 1987, when it was founded to create a voluntary national system that will certify expert teachers. Since then, a consortium made up of state policymakers, teacher-educators, and researchers has begun defining what should be expected of beginning teachers.
Both of the standards-setting movements have far-ranging implications for teacher education programs in colleges and universities, which must insure that teachers have both the subject-matter knowledge and the pedagogical skills they need to help students meet the new standards.
The question now, says David G. Imig, the chief executive officer of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, is: "How do those of us in teacher education help a 22- or 23-year-old come out of our program with a sense of professional obligation and responsibility, and also with the smarts to translate the standards and to help parents understand them?''
'A Very Important Role'
It is a daunting task, teacher-educators say. But many also see great promise in the standards movement.
"People have bashed teacher education for the last decade,'' Imig notes, "but now, there is the expectation that it's going to contribute something. Suddenly, teacher education has a very important role, because there is an understanding that teacher development is important.''
The conference at Wingspread this month, sponsored by AACTE, provided a forum for teacher-educators and standards-setters to grapple with the many questions raised by the standards movement. They spent four long days in intensive, sometimes-frustrating discussions that started at the beginning, with the question of whether setting standards is a promising reform strategy.
AACTE regards the standards-setting movement as so important that it plans to keep discussions of its implications on the front burner for the next three to five years, says Mary Diez, the president of the association.
Not all of the teacher-educators at the conference, of course, were comfortable with the idea of setting standards to achieve education reform. They worried that establishing national content standards and a related system of assessments could narrow the curriculum, straitjacket teaching rather than encourage innovation, and leave students in schools without adequate resources even further behind. There was also concern about whether the subject-matter standards would impose too much uniformity on a very diverse nation.
But at the same time, people expressed considerable optimism about the potential of the standards movement to help transform teaching from an occupation into a true profession, with teacher education playing a central role.
One of the most outspoken proponents of standards as a way to spur changes in teaching is Sharon P. Robinson, the assistant secretary for educational research and improvement at the U.S. Education Department, which is funding many of the efforts to set subject-matter standards. Her experience working on professional issues and with networks of restructuring schools when she worked for the National Education Association makes her particularly sensitive to the need to link the two standards movements and insure that the issue of teachers' development is addressed.
Her goal as assistant secretary has been to encourage educators and policymakers to regard standards broadly, she says, and not as a "silver bullet'' that will solve education's problems. "The challenge is to understand the full range of functions standards can serve, and not to be captured by one narrow definition,'' Robinson says.
A Boost for Professionalism
Robinson and Arthur E. Wise, the president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, both believe that standards-setting efforts are hastening the evolution of teaching as a profession. In an article in the October issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Wise writes that reforms in teacher professionalism, while still "piecemeal,'' are being supported by the "nationalization of education policy.''
Both of the standards-setting movements are beginning to have an impact on the three key policy mechanisms that characterize a profession: accreditation, licensure, and advanced certification. Proponents of professionalizing teaching argue that teachers should graduate from an accredited program, meet rigorous licensing standards, and continue to learn and grow on the job in order to qualify eventually for certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
In teaching, only about 500 of the 1,300 programs that educate teachers are accredited by NCATE. Standards for licensure vary widely among states. And states and school districts are just beginning to wrestle with how to create incentives and rewards for teachers interested in becoming board-certified
But the standards for both students and teachers are now beginning to influence these policies. They are being used as the basis for efforts to overhaul licensing systems and to strengthen the accreditation process for education schools. And the committees that are setting teaching benchmarks for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards are using the subject-matter standards that have been set in various disciplines.
One of the most frequently mentioned standards-setting efforts is the project by the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium, sponsored by the Council of Chief State School Officers. The consortium has developed a set of standards for beginning teachers that is compatible with the standards set by the teaching-standards board. In both cases, the emphasis is on assessing teachers' actual performance, not in counting what coursework they have completed.
The consortium is now writing more specific standards for teaching various subjects, using the benchmarks developed by such subject-matter groups as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Eventually, it hopes to develop prototypes of assessments that could be used to determine whether novice teachers meet the standards.
Already, a number of states that are interested in overhauling their licensing procedures are using the INTASC standards.
And these standards are influencing the accreditation process. The board of directors of NCATE, Wise says, is considering allowing education schools to use the beginning-teacher standards to make the case for why their programs should be accredited.
"What we are seeing,'' he explains, "is the profession sending messages to colleges of education about what they think beginning teachers should know and be able to do. The same thing occurred in other professions in times past where practicing members of the profession began to articulate what they wanted from their professional schools.''
Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who has been involved in writing teaching standards, agrees that the standards movement has given the teaching profession a voice. But some standards efforts, she points out, are not being led by classroom teachers and may not represent a professional consensus.
And the decisions that Congress makes about how to use the standards will be critical, she warns. "We have often undermined the value of statements of principle about teaching and learning by doing a very, very bad job of translating them into assessments,'' she explains.
In the meantime, the conversations and debates that the standards-setting efforts have prompted are placing increased demands on education schools.
Because the standards are being set in academic disciplines, they are seen as placing a special burden on elementary teachers, who teach all subjects to students. In the case of geography, for example, standards are being set for a subject that few college students study in any depth, notes James M. Cooper, the dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia.
"That's part of the dilemma that we have with each of the disciplines independently developing its own standards for what they think students should know,'' he says. "Where are the tradeoffs in the curriculum as undergraduates experience it?''
What the standards-setters should do, Cooper suggests, is sit down together and decide what is truly most important for elementary teachers to know.
"We need to drive home the point that compromise is going to be required if we're going to be realistic in our expectations for what elementary teachers need to know,'' he says.
Some teacher-educators view the standards movement, with all its implications, as demanding new relationships between education colleges and K-12 schools.
Rather than assuming responsibility only for the "first piece'' of a teacher's education--usually undergraduate work--Diez of AACTE says teacher-educators must become involved in the "continuum'' of teachers' learning. One way to do that, she suggests, could be through a professional-development school, in which classroom teachers, novices, and teacher-educators come together to study problems and carry out research on teaching.
Another role for teacher education in this climate of standards-setting, many suggest, is in helping practicing classroom teachers improve their practice, possibly toward the goal of becoming board-certified.
'Connections and Webs'
At its best, says Gary Sykes, an assistant professor of educational administration at Michigan State University, the standards movement could serve as a stimulus for creating rich professional-development opportunities for teachers. And at its worst, he adds, it could boil down to a system for high-stakes testing of students.
"It's fair to say that they are in tension with one another,'' Sykes says of the two movements. "The professional-development agenda is going to be expensive, whereas student testing is not.''
For teachers to have the time to improve their knowledge and skills, however, the organization of the school day and the use of time in schools will have to change to allow teachers to learn on the job. Arguing that teachers cannot accomplish all they are being asked to do within the confines of the existing school calendar, the National Education Association last summer released a report, "It's About Time,'' calling for "a reconceptualization of what constitutes 'teaching.'''
The report notes that teachers in some other nations are responsible for teaching students for no more than three hours a day, spending the rest of their day working together or engaged in professional development. It raises the issue of whether teachers should receive 12-month contracts with paid vacation leave, instead of the nine- or 10-month salary schedules more commonly in use now. The association's board of directors is scheduled to vote on whether to approve the report next month.
Several teacher-educators say they now would like to see models of redesigned programs developed using both the subject-matter standards and the teaching standards. What is clear, says Diez, is that many more conversations are needed across many levels. "We need to create ongoing connections and webs, and that is going to cost money and time and effort,'' she says.
The Education Department's office of educational research and improvement plans to hold a conference early next year that will bring together people from states that are paying close attention to professional development as part of systemic-reform efforts. Representatives of the various national standards-setting efforts will also be invited.
The office is also planning to award grants that will support improvements in higher-education programs to support teachers' development.
"The thing that could--and should--unify us,'' Robinson says, "is teaching.''