Teacher Education Is Flawed: Report

Published November 1, 2006

A report by the former president of Columbia University Teachers College, one of the nation’s premier institutions of teacher training, released September 18, cited serious flaws in the way young teachers are currently being trained for the classroom. The author called for an overhaul of the system.

But education reformers are concerned that similar calls to revamp teacher training have been issued in the past and resulted in ineffective bureaucratic changes, not new paradigms that lead to greater student achievement.

Flaws Identified

In “Educating School Teachers,” former Teachers College President Arthur Levine concluded most education schools’ curricula are seriously disorganized and the faculty is disconnected from actual classrooms.

“Like [Dodge City], it is unruly and chaotic,” Levine wrote of current teacher-prep programs. “There is no standard approach to where and how teachers should be prepared, and the ongoing debate over whether teaching is a profession or a craft has too often blurred the mission of education schools that are uncertain whether to become professional schools or continue to be grounded in the more academic world of arts and sciences.”

According to the report:

  • approximately 60 percent of teacher education alumni reported their schools did not prepare graduates well to cope with the realities of today’s classrooms;
  • less than one-third of principals reported schools of education prepare teachers very well or moderately well to address the needs of students with disabilities, diverse cultural backgrounds, or limited English proficiency; and
  • fewer than half of the principals said education school alumni are very or moderately well prepared to use technology instruction, employ student performance assessment techniques, or implement curriculum and performance standards.

Solutions Proposed

To solve those problems, Levine suggests:

  • transforming education schools into professional schools focused on classroom practice;
  • closing failing programs, expanding quality programs, and creating the equivalent of a Rhodes Scholarship to attract the best students to teaching; and
  • making student achievement the primary measure of teacher education program success.

Outside Factors Blamed

John E. Stone, president of the watchdog group Education Consumers Clearinghouse and a professor of human development and learning at East Tennessee State University, said Levine “is calling for another round of rearranging the deck chairs.”

Stone cited a 1996 report from the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), which issued similar findings and recommendations following a two-year study. The report found major flaws in teacher preparation, and it suggested closing inadequate schools of education.

“Levine’s report follows the trajectory of the earlier NCTAF report,” Stone said. “It opens by being critical of teacher education and admitting to a list of problems. Then it blames most of said conditions on factors outside of teacher education.”

Public, Teachers Disagree

The core issue Levine reports, Stone said, is that “most of today’s teachers have been trained for process-oriented schooling instead of the results-oriented schooling the public now wants. What his analysis fails to note is that the old-style, process-oriented schooling that he says must be changed is nothing other than the ‘best practice’ schooling that teacher educators have for decades been promoting as the most effective methodologies known to science.

“Moreover, the public has not changed. It has wanted student achievement gain all along,” Stone noted.

The programs Levine highlights in his report–including the Stanford University STEP program and Alverno College–were also mentioned in the 1996 NCTAF recommendations.

“None of these model programs can show data that their teacher-graduates are able to produce superior gains in student achievement,” Stone said.

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

“Educating School Teachers,” by Arthur Levine, September 18, 2006, http://www.edschools.org/teacher_report.htm

“What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future,” published by the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future in September 1996, is available through PolicyBot™, The Heartland Institute’s free online research database. Point your Web browser to http://www.policybot.org and search for document #19827.