"Is Teacher Education A Disaster?"

I've been meaning to get to this for a while.  Mike Rose wrote a 3-part essay on the Washington Post website.

There are a number of ideas in the air about teacher education: what’s wrong with college and university programs, what alternative programs should do, and the qualifications of those entering the teaching force. These ideas come from federal and local governments, from reports and advocacy groups, and from the opinion pages of our major newspapers. Some of these ideas, though they may be well-intentioned, run the risk of reducing teaching to knowledge delivery or technical craft. I want to consider these ideas in this and subsequent posts.

Part One: Why educating the educators is complex

Part Two: What's right -- and very wrong -- with the teacher education debate. 

Part Three: Is teacher education a disaster?

I don't agree with all that Mike Rose writes.  But I have to say, I love his tone.  Thoughtful.  Nuanced.  None of the jabbiness that characterizes most ed reform discussion. 

Anyway, here is one Rose's arguments.  It's from Part Two:

One of my concerns about the contemporary teacher ed debates is that knowledge—as represented by undergraduate major and GPA—is held in some circles as the touchstone of teaching excellence. Certainly a big part of Teach For America’s appeal is the undergraduate pedigree of its interns. And it seems to be the hope of some alternative programs that if we just get more “smart” people—smart defined by academic background, GPA, test scores—into teaching, we will have gone a long way toward solving the “teacher quality” issue. But an undergraduate at our most prestigious colleges and universities can go through four intense years of literature or chemistry and never once be confronted with the question: How would I teach this?

A while back, I spent time doing research in a top-ranked medical school. To a person, the students had through-the-roof academic credentials and did exceedingly well in their first two years of science courses. Talk about smart! The striking thing was that a fair number of them had real difficulty as they moved toward patient care. Not only were they socially inept—distant, awkward—but also diagnostically maladroit, partly because they couldn’t communicate with their patients and partly because of the difference between knowing physiology and using it to diagnose and help cure another human being. In response to this not uncommon state of affairs, medical schools across the country have been modifying supervision; instituting courses in communication, patient care, “doctoring,” and the art of medicine; and changing their recruiting and admissions policies to widen the net, gaining some students who might not have the same astronomical GPAs, but possess other qualities that contribute to being a good doctor.

I think we need to be cautious about conflating academic achievement with the ability to teach. The two are intimately related, but not one and the same.

There is a further issue, and that is the diversity of the teaching force. What happens to our talent pool as we tighten restrictions on who gets into teacher education programs? Who might get left out? Some of the young people who are most passionate about teaching in low-income communities come from those communities, and therefore have probably not had either the in-school or out-of-school resources that contribute to strong post-secondary achievement—particularly for certain majors. This scenario does not hold true for all students coming out of low-income schools, but for enough to concern us here. Passion alone does not warrant entry into the teaching profession by any means. If our candidates still need to further develop their academic knowledge and skills in certain areas, then they must do so before or during their teacher ed program—and the program needs to hold them accountable. But to systematically exclude them in a country so beset by structural inequalities is to bar from the classroom a group of people most familiar with the barriers low-income students face and deeply committed to helping those students get a better education than they did.

One last point. Another argument in the air for raising admissions is that a higher entrance bar will enhance the status of the teaching profession. Countries such as Finland are invoked where teachers face tough entrance criteria and enjoy solid professional status. These kinds of claims, and the invoking of other countries to support them, reveal one of the problems in the teacher ed debates: a tendency to make simplified causal connections and cross-cultural comparisons. Reading the sociological scholarship on the development of professions reveals what a complex process professionalization is—influenced by cultural traditions, politics and economics, gender and racial dynamics, the role of advocacy organizations and powerful leaders, and more. And the way these factors played out for teaching over the last century in the United States and Finland are pretty different.

Raising teacher ed entrance requirements in our country might have some effect on occupational prestige, but it would be one of many factors determining status, more potent ones being salary, gender bias, and degree of occupational autonomy. There may well be good reasons for a particular teacher education program or group of programs to raise its admissions standards, but that decision would need to be made after careful analysis of potential benefits and liabilities for its region and not on simplistic sociological abstractions.

I largely agree with his take on selection. 

Two thoughts:

1. What do Laura Laura Randall Orin Stacy Kat and Big Tuba do at the Charles Sposato Graduate School of Education?  Do they care about college GPA and SAT/GRE scores?

Yes.  I'm pretty sure this little Ed School has higher academic achievement of its masters students.  When I checked about 3 years ago and ran the numbers, our teacher residents were higher on GRE and SAT than either Harvard or Stanford masters in teaching programs.  And the program is so small, we have 15 or so applying for each spot, so of course we'll consider college academic background. 

However, our Ed School team agrees 100% with Rose's notion of being "cautious about conflating academic achievement with the ability to teach. The two are intimately related, but not one and the same."  In fact, we assume that a 99th percentile GRE history major from Yale with a 3.9 does NOT have the ability to teach.  She may have.  She also needs the mindset.  And she also needs to put in the work. 

That's why our whole program is set up with the end in mind.  "Many of you college smarties will not ultimately earn a masters in effective teaching," we tell our applicants up front.  You can't coast.  In the end, we'll measure you based on how you do in the classroom, and withhold the degree if it's not strikingly good. 

Moreover, among our alums, I have not run the Match data recently, but I have not seen a correlation between awesome schoolteachers (with kids) and GRE scores. 

Nor do I think TFA, which has their giant data, has found a tight correlation b/w TFA high GRE teachers and TFA low GRE teachers (who are probably still high relative to the typical teacher).  I wonder what the updated numbers are. 

And the research overall by Hanushek and others, I think, shows a fairly low correlation between teacher academic strength and "effective teaching of real-life children" as measured by student test score gains and VAM.

2. I share Rose's skepticism that an increase in entrance requirements will significantly lift "prestige."  But I disagree with Rose here on this: his assertion that teacher salary and degree of occupational autonomy will drive up "prestige."  I'm skeptical there too.  In cities that have had huge teacher salary increases over the past 20 years, has prestige for teachers risen more than in cities with small increases?  I wonder. 

I'm not sure how you manufacture prestige.  I think you'd sort of have to earn it -- millions of kids and their parents would experience a mix of teachers that they genuinely believe to be either good or great -- rather than get there through policy levers. 

Anyway, ignore my musings here.  The main thing I wanted to say, for all my friends in the teacher prep sector, is read all three Mike Rose essays and discuss amongst your teams.