If national panels and commissions are any measure of an issue’s importance, then it seems that the oft-studied subject of teacher education is about to have another 15 minutes of fame.
At least five national panels and commissions have wrapped up or are beginning work this year on how best to prepare the nation’s teachers. Two of those groups offered preliminary glimpses of their work here this month during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, which represents 22,000 researchers worldwide.
The Washington-based association’s own panel on research and teacher education is expected to release its final report next year. Put together by leading researchers, the five-year-long effort aims to look critically at the state of the art of research in the field and the evidence undergirding some of its most contentious policy debates. The report will also suggest directions for future research.
Marilyn Cochran-Smith, the Boston College education professor who co-chairs the group, told conference-goers the report will add some counterpoint to the growing interest among policymakers and some researchers in judging teacher education programs and strategies by test scores.
“We hope that one of the points we will make clear is that the horse-race mentality regarding teacher education is simply and ultimately not useful,” she said.
Evaluations of programs and strategies should take into account how teacher education efforts affect teachers’ own learning and professional practices, Ms. Cochran-Smith said, and the impact they have on teacher recruitment and retention.
Another scholarly panel, organized by the National Academy of Education, is taking a broader sweep at distilling the knowledge base for teaching and learning to teach.
“We’re thinking about it as, ‘What do children need for their teachers to know?’” said Linda Darling-Hammond, a co-chairwoman of the academy’s panel and an education professor at Stanford University.
The academy, an invitation-only group made up of many of the field’s most distinguished academics, began its effort three years ago. The final product, spanning three volumes, is due out in February.
The work is atypical, the researchers involved said, because it encompasses research on teaching and learning from a wide range of fields, including cognitive science, language development, assessment, and multicultural education.
Experts said the flurry of activity may reflect the growth in the knowledge base on teaching and a growing recognition that improving teaching is central to improving student learning.
“Teacher education has moved from the periphery of education research to its very core,” said Lee S. Shulman, the president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, based at Stanford. His group is midway through a study looking at the professional preparation for a wide range of careers, including education, the clergy, nursing, and law.
The interest in preparing teachers goes beyond the participants at the April 12-16 conference, though.
In January, a national blue-ribbon panel made up of leaders from business and government issued “Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action,” a report focusing on the national need to prepare, recruit, and retain high-quality teachers.
Congress also tucked an order for a study on the quality of the nation’s teacher-preparation programs into its omnibus 2004 appropriations bill, an effort the National Research Council is expected to undertake later this year. (“Congress Orders Thorough Study of Teacher Education Programs,” March 3, 2004.)
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to ensure their classrooms are staffed with “highly qualified” teachers by the end of the 2005- 06 school year. But scholars and policymakers disagree over the degree to which education school training should be part of the preparation of those teachers.
While the panels reflect renewed interest in teacher education, reports on that subject date back to at least 1963, when the late James B. Conant published his book titled The Education of American Teachers.
Subsequent reports, however, ended up collecting dust, according to Mr. Shulman.
To avoid the same fate, he told the National Academy of Education panelists, they should put teeth in their recommendations.
“I would argue that we prescribe a new doctorate in teacher education,” he said.