"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Teacher Education is Out of Touch, and I am Proud of It

No doubt much hand-wringing will result from Arthur Levine's out-of-touch appraisal of how out-of-touch teacher education programs are. Here is how Brahmin Levine's Executive Summary (PDF) frames it in the opening sentence:
The nation’s teacher education programs are inadequately preparing their graduates to meet the realities of today’s standards-based, accountability-driven classrooms, in which the primary measure of success is student achievement.
I haven't had a chance to read the whole report, but there is enough here to get my attention. Let me say unequivocally that, as a teacher educator, I agree wholeheartedly with Levine's opening statement, and, furthermore, I would not have it any other way. Teacher education programs, the best ones at least, are entirely out-of-step with the present-day disaster of "accountability-driven classrooms" to which Levine refers.

Indeed, the present-day "accountability-driven classrooms" neither require, nor desire, teacher education programs, particularly if these programs include any departure or variation from this high tech version of the same iron-fisted 19th Century traditional pedagogy that was just as ineffective a hundred years ago as it is today. The fact is that the federally-mandated classroom of today looks much more like the prevailing model classroom of 1906 than it does the education models of 2006, which, by the way, continue to be the focus of good teacher education programs despite the anti-democratic aberration that has sucked the oxygen from any other educational narrative or methodology. So yes, Levine is right, thank god--we are hopelessly out of step with the march toward the past, a past that makes teacher preparation as irrelevant and foreign as, let's say, social justice and equality of opportunity.

In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs teacher training to teach to the the high-stakes standardized junk tests that have replaced professional standards and curriculums all across the nation. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs teacher training to do the parrot math and reading programs that are pushed by the Reading First thugs (and what will soon be Math First thugs). In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs a child development course when the insanity of testing kindergarteners and first-graders has made core principles of child development entirely irrelevant. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs an historical or philosophical foundations course when the current agenda of worldwide economic domination has replaced all the other purposes and aims that historically shaped schools that were once devoted to creating good people and to building a good democracy. In today's test-obsessed classrooms, no one needs educational psychology courses when the current chain-gang behavior modification tactics for classroom control are provided in the various commercial scripts and canned instructional programs that accept no deviation in their lock-stepping toward "data-driven" results.

When, eventually, sanity is restored, when the public dialogue once again replaces the silenced voices, and when these crooks, hucksters, and corporate fascists are expelled from the seats of power in Washington, we may, in fact, come to celebrate those teacher education programs now demonized for not "preparing graduates to meet the demands of today's . . . accountability-driven classrooms." Perhaps those university teacher prep programs will have at least preserved the possibility of a free and just society during this melee of the fundamentalist cultural revolution, and perhaps then, when humanitarian decency is again restored, we can truly begin to give teacher education programs the attention they need to honestly make them better.

In the meantime, let us celebrate our failure.


  1. Anonymous11:51 AM

    I am a public secondary school principal. I have extensive experience in Catholic education K -12. You are 100% correct. I particularly liked your descriptors, "corporate fascistists, test-obsessed classrooms." We are losing our "soul". Educators are simply running scared, waiting for the next published local school report card, anticipating the next year of treadmill-like activities that will improve our test scores. In any case, teacher prep programs and university programs are next under the microscope.

  2. Anonymous12:25 PM

    I just traveled to Mississippi and met with a state director there who is heading the federally mandated flagship component of perfunctory NCLB which will remain nameless here. She touted the benefits of testing students in her state and were eager to report that in conjucntion with publically-funded state universities the state has mandated 15 hours of reading currculum for all teachers prior to becoming certified to teach elementary school in the state.

    It is frightening to think that despite your teaching intentions one is mandated to complete courses in literacy instruction that are not the best ways to teach. Not all children are going to learn to read by killing and drilling with phonics, and nor should they be condemned to failure if they don't know the differences between the long a and short a vowel sounds. This type of teacher education reform is wrong. It's misguided and destroys any creativity teachers are offerd in thier classroom.

    I was recently discussing with a friend, if our schools looked like schools in India and China (which is what neocons would love so we could churn out more math and science majors), we would lose our competitive edge in areas like innovation, creativity, and leaderhsip skills that this country's schools teachs better than any other nation in the world. Teachers that don't allow thier students to explore int he classroom and garner academic freedom upon thier students, then we are doomed to become a nation of compulsively obient machines.

    I think that there is something to Mr. Levine's report; however, it is not in preparing teachers for standards-based curriculum in schools.
    Standards for teacher education is not such a bad thing if it is done well and advocates the good things that all teachers should know. Teacher education should have a common approach and teachers should definitely learn how to design invigorating, motivating and challenging curriculum; learn how to assess students' learning FAIRLY and ACCURATELY; write thorough lessons plans that are flexible in meeting the needs of all students; engage in community outreach to extend teaching beyond the classroom; and learn how to continue with their own teacher education to be life-long learners themselves (that all schools advocate in their own mission statements, and want their own students to become).

    I've thought about this while in the midst of my own applciaitons for teacher ed programs. What sets teacher education programs apart from other professional programs such as medical schools that trains doctors or law schools that trains lawyers (do we really need more lawyers anyway)? In other countries, for example a colleague from Scandinavia has mentioend that becoming a teacher there is considered an honor and in many cases can be extremely competive. When will Americans begin to show similar respect?

  3. Anonymous2:20 PM

    I am in my fourth year of teaching high school and do believe that education schools are out of touch and do not do a good job preparing teachers. My criticisms have nothing to do with "teaching to the test."

    First, I believe education professors lack something vital, recent real world experience. Teaching college students is not the same as teaching high schoolers. I think adjuncts, though not as accomplished academically, can bring this into the college classroom.

    Second, class discussions and assigned class readings were heavy on theory. The concerns of young teachers and future teachers were rarely discussed with any depth. Perhaps, this is a by-product of professors not having recent real world experience.

    Overall, I would describe my time in an education school as mind-numbing. Reading books that all come from the same ideological place class after class, semester after semester, year after year was not enjoyable.

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