These private schools of education, associated with charter schools and other reform efforts, are issuing master’s degrees and promoting a clinical model of teacher education in which most learning occurs in the same place where teachers do their jobs—a classroom full of kids—rather than through traditional college coursework.
Some of the talk about these schools has been positive, and a lot of it—particularly from academics who teach in traditional schools of education—has been negative. But just about everyone agrees that, for good or for ill, these schools represent something new and innovative, a radical departure from traditional graduate education.
That conventional wisdom is wrong.
Higher education embedded in the workplace may be new to the field of teacher training, but otherwise it’s nothing new at all. It’s been going on for decades.
Corporate America has known for a long time that when it invests in educating its workers, they not only perform better, they are happier in their jobs and stay in them longer. And corporate America has gotten quite sophisticated at doing this. There are now thousands of “corporate universities,” and many have faculty and budgets that rival those of traditional schools.
When it comes to employer-sponsored clinical education embedded in the workplace, the world of teacher training has simply come to the party late."
Although the spectrum of corporate education includes entities such as Hamburger University (run by McDonald’s), many corporate universities could put a top business school to shame—for example, GE’s management-development campus in Crotonville, N.Y., which in 1989 lured former dean Steve Kerr from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business to become the nation’s first chief learning officer. At least a couple dozen corporate universities are accredited by regional authorities to award degrees.
Moreover, the clinical model of teacher training at High Tech High and Relay follows the model of professions like medicine or dentistry—a strong liberal arts education is followed by a professional school program that focuses heavily on clinical training in the presence of experienced mentors.
So High Tech High GSE and Relay GSE aren’t untried innovations. When it comes to employer-sponsored clinical education embedded in the workplace, the world of teacher training has simply come to the party late.
I find it troubling and myopic, then, that so many people who work in teacher education see these programs as something radically new and seem threatened by them. Here in education, we always seem to be about a generation behind other sectors of the economy when it comes to trying new things and instituting new practices.
Some might argue that this reluctance to adopt innovation is reasonable because we need to be conservative when we’re deciding how to educate our most precious resource, our children. On the contrary, the American reality of failing schools, stagnant test scores, and fading international competitiveness ought to instill in us a sense of urgency.
A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2012 edition of Education Week as It’s Time for New Ventures in Teacher Training