Analysts Recommend New WI Teacher Training Program

Published December 1, 1997

A new report from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute calls for a dramatic shift away from the state’s present system of teacher licensure and university-based training, calling it “a costly, outmoded, and unreliable” way to secure high-quality teachers for the state’s K-12 schools.

According to authors Mark C. Schug and Richard D. Western, professors at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, the problem “is not that university-based training leads new teachers astray; it is that it leads them nowhere, so that they must learn their job virtually from scratch when they begin full-time work.”

In fact, new teachers say they learn more from their cooperating teacher during student teaching than from anyone at the university, and they tend to rank their student teaching experience as more useful than their education courses.

The report’s conclusion–that good teaching comes more from experience than from education courses–is not new. In the early 1980s, for example, B.O. Smith and others sought to refocus teacher education on providing practitioners “with workable procedures, techniques, and materials,” and training in the use of effective teaching practices. Despite that effort, teacher educators continue to promote an unrelated set of faddish themes, including constructivism, multiculturalism, multiple intelligences, authentic teaching, integrated thematic learning, education for caring, and self-esteem. Teacher training programs actually denigrate instructional skills, says educator E.D. Hirsch.

The intellectual monopoly held by education schools “needs to be shaken up because their ideas have not worked,” comments Hirsch. “They’re wrong,” he emphasizes.

To address the failure of university-based teacher training programs, Schug and Western recommend simplifying the licensure system and enabling K-12 school districts to recruit, hire, and train their own teachers. Teacher trainees would be accepted into an apprenticeship program after completing a degree course from an accredited college or university and clearing a criminal background check. Trainees would be certified after meeting ten performance standards recommended to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction in 1995.

The report also recommends implementation of a teacher-training voucher program, development of specific hiring and training procedures in participating districts, and establishment of an independent evaluator to assess the effect of the new reforms.