School & District Management

Panel Examines Teacher Training

By Debra Viadero — December 13, 2005 4 min read
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A national panel of scholars met here last week to begin work on a mammoth task: synthesizing research on all the ways in which teachers are prepared across the United States and advising policymakers on how to improve the process.

The $1.5 million study, which members of Congress quietly commissioned last year as part of an appropriations bill, will take 2½ years to complete. It’s being overseen by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academies, a group created by Congress in 1863 to advise the federal government on scientific matters.

More information on the National Research Council‘s Committee on the Study of Teacher Preparation Programs is available from the National Academies.

The project unfolds at a time when teacher education is rising in importance—and in controversy—on the national education agenda. The No Child Left Behind Act, the nearly 4-year-old federal law that set in motion President Bush’s signature education program, calls for staffing every classroom with a “highly qualified” teacher by this school year or next. Experts and policymakers bitterly disagree over how to do that.

“On the one hand, there is an optimism on the importance of teachers,” Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the director of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U. S. Department of Education, told the group. “On the other, there is a … general concern about the quality of teachers we have now.”

The 18 panelists selected by the research council to carry out the study include deans and former deans of education schools, critics of traditional teacher education programs, and mathematics and engineering scholars.

“We tried to get everything in the sense of people who are all involved in and know something about research,” said Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, a panel co-chair. Currently a professor of history of American education at Harvard University, Ms. Lagemann is also a former dean of the university’s graduate school of education. The panel’s other co-chair is Kenneth I. Shine, the executive vice chancellor for health affairs of the University of Texas System.

Questions and Evidence

Committee Roster

The co-chairs of the Committee on Teacher Preparation Programs in the United States are Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, a professor of history of American education at Harvard University, and Kenneth I. Shine, the executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the University of Texas System. Other members are:

Herbert K. Brunkhorst, professor of science education and biology, California State University-San Bernardino;

Margarita Calderón, senior research scientist and professor, Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore;

Marilyn Cochran-Smith, professor of teacher education, Boston College;

Janice A. Dole, associate professor of teaching and learning, University of Utah, Salt Lake City;

Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor emeritus, University System of Maryland;

Ronald M. Latanision, professor emeritus of materials science and engineering and nuclear engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.;

W. James Lewis, professor of mathematics, University of Nebraska-Lincoln;

David H. Monk, dean of education, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa.

Annemarie Sullivan Palincsar, chair of reading and literacy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor;

Michael Podgursky, professor of economics, University of Missouri-Columbia;

Andrew C. Porter, professor of educational leadership and policy, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.

Edward A. Silver, associate dean for academic affairs, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor;

Dorothy S. Strickland, professor of education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.

Suzanne M. Wilson, professor of teacher education, Michigan State University, East Lansing;

Hung-His Wu, professor of mathematics, University of California, Berkeley; and

James H. Wyckoff, associate professor of public administration, public policy, and economics, the State University of New York at Albany.

SOURCE: The National Academies

As part of its charge from Congress, the group will address questions on who enters teacher-preparation programs and whether they do it through traditional university undergraduate or master’s-level programs or through the newer alternate-route programs that are proliferating nationwide.

It will also explore the content of those programs to determine whether they cover common ground and the extent to which the practices they preach converge with existing scientific evidence on effective teaching in reading and mathematics.

In addition to those goals, the group is expected to articulate where research gaps exist and map out new directions for future studies.

Panelists and presenters at the panel’s opening meeting on Dec. 7 seemed to agree that panelists faced a challenging task. Besides wading into controversy, committee members will need to sift through a body of research that experts agree is sparse and contradictory.

“My fundamental bias is I’m not yet convinced we have any idea how to construct a science of pedagogy,” Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute in Washington, told the panel. “Just because you can get a bunch of experts in a room to hammer out a consensus doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about.”

Mr. Hess was among eight experts invited to speak at last week’s meeting. He argued that the lack of solid research in the field was reason for making pathways into teaching more open and flexible.

But other speakers offered a range of other suggestions for the panel’s work. The ideas included: Studying the syllabi used in teacher education programs; determining how to inculcate in teachers a disposition to teach all students rather than those who are easiest to educate; defining what teachers should know at several points along their career trajectories; and creating a model education school.

“We ought to figure out how to get it right someplace to prove that it could happen,” Deborah M. McGriff, the chief communications officer for Edison Schools Inc., a New York City-based company that manages public schools, told the committee.

Flurry of Studies

As ambitious as it is, the study is among a small flurry of reports in the last year or two to explore research on teachers. Two Washington-based groups, the National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association, produced reports this year tackling similar research questions from different angles.

The most recent, the AERA’s 766-page report on teacher education, took four years to complete. But several experts said the committee could still make a contribution by assessing the research candidly and pointing to definite future directions for policymakers to take.

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