Teacher education programs are so focused on content knowledge that they often fail to provide adequate preparation on child and adolescent development, concludes a report scheduled to come out this week from two leading organizations in those respective fields.
The report from the Washington-based National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which evaluates more than half the teacher-training programs in the nation, and the Bethesda, Md.-based National Institute of Child Health and Human Development says that a majority of teacher colleges do offer courses on child and adolescent development. But while textbooks carry the current research on the subject, they often fail to explain how new teachers can apply that research in their classrooms.
Release of the report comes at a time when teacher retention is considered by many in the field to be in something of a crisis. Experts say more than 30 percent of new teachers leave the profession in five years, and the blame is often placed on the lack of skills and resources new teachers have acquired to tackle the needs of students, especially those who are most disadvantaged.
Given that situation, as well as the changing demographics in school communities and persistent disparities in educational achievement, integrating new research on child and adolescent development into teacher-preparation programs is crucial, those behind the report say.
Arthur E. Wise, the president of NCATE, said that the current focus on academic content, while important, is not enough. “What’s missing is an adequate understanding of social, cultural, developmental aspects of whether a child comes to school ready to learn or not,” he said.
Valerie Maholmes, a program director at the NICHD’s child-development and -behavior branch and the author of the report, said, for instance, that if a child is in a classroom where he or she is not fully engaged, or if the classroom is not supportive, it could have an effect on the child’s ability to understand and draw from the material presented.
“If they are coming from an environment where they are experiencing trauma and instability, they bring it to the classroom, so a teacher needs to be aware of how it can impact their learning,” she added.
The report grew out of two roundtable discussions between researchers and teacher-educators. NCATE already requires candidates at accredited teacher-training institutions to know the ways children and adolescents learn and develop. Mr. Wise said he hopes the report will influence how schools of education approach the subject of child and adolescent development.
Teacher colleges themselves have expressed a need for integrating more research-based practices on child and adolescent development into their programs. In a survey of NCATE-accredited institutions, 80 percent of the respondents said they offer courses in child and adolescent development. But 59 percent said that more coursework in that area would be valuable to candidates.
The report lays out guidelines for colleges to consider, including lengthening teacher education programs over a six-year period with graduate study or more in-service residency, which could help strengthen a new teacher’s ability to understand and apply such research to practice.
It calls for revisiting state, local, and institutional policies that limit what schools can do to shift the focus toward child and adolescent development, making the research more accessible to preservice teachers. Mr. Wise said several states, for instance, have policies that restrict the number of hours and credits for teacher education programs.
Kathleen Shank, the chairwoman of the department of special education at Eastern Illinois University, in Charleston, Ill., who participated in one of the roundtables, said internship programs and clinical experience can help better prepare teacher-candidates to understand child and adolescent development. However, she added, it would be beneficial if student-teachers could learn more on the subject through activities and case studies in textbooks.
At her university, Ms. Shank said, programs are rigorous, and she believes the faculty members are already doing much of what the report calls for. “But we would like to see a change in that texts would have more application-type [activities] in them,” she said.
A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2007 edition of Education Week as Teacher Colleges Urged to Pay Heed to Child Development