NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teacher Education Needs More Structure

July 16, 2013

For almost as long as there have been institutions dedicated to the preparation of new teachers, the endeavor has come in for criticism. Teacher education has long struggled both to professionalize and to fully integrate itself into mainstream academia. At the core of this struggle was a perception that there was no body of specialized knowledge for teaching that justified specialized training, says Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Almost all teacher educators acknowledge that the field has deep problems, but their concern has seldom been about the issues raised by external critics such as lack of selectivity, an imbalance between content and pedagogy, or the lack of value delivered. These differences aren't always recognized because the insider critiques often sound a lot like the external critiques. In reality, insiders are more concerned about the chaos in the field.

  • The core of insider complaints is not that the profession is marching in the wrong direction, as some believe, but that too many of its foot soldiers are out of step, inadequately provisioned and carrying the wrong weapons.
  • This disarray is not surprising, given that the training takes place at 1,450 higher education institutions in the United States, each of which houses anywhere from three to seven teacher preparation programs.
  • Fewer than half of these institutions have earned national accreditation (an anomaly not found in other professions) leaving the rest answerable to no one.

While few would disagree that new teachers generally get very little practical training before they enter the classroom, the reasons are profoundly misunderstood.

  • It is not, as many have assumed, because of ideological resistance to various teaching methods.
  • And it is not that teacher educators don't understand the realities of the 21st century classroom and need to come down from their ivory tower.
  • It is because training a teacher is viewed as "an oversimplification of teaching and learning, ignoring its dynamic, social and moral aspects."

Academic freedom only works if a field is willing to police itself on what constitutes acceptable content, which has yet to occur in the field of teacher education.

Source: Kate Walsh, "21st-Century Teacher Education," Education Next, Summer 2013.


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