No teacher education in the U.S.?

Lee S. Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for theAdvancement of Teaching and professor emeritus at Stanford University (via The Education Wonks), states,

Teacher education does not exist in the United States. There is so much variation among all programs in visions of good teaching, standards for admission, rigor of subject matter preparation, what is taught and what is learned, character of supervised clinical experience, and quality of evaluation that compared to any other academic profession, the sense of chaos is inescapable. The claim that there are "traditional programs" that can be contrasted with "alternative routes" is a myth.

We have only alternative routes into teaching. There may well be ways in which the teaching candidates of Teach for America or the New York City Fellows program meet more rigorous professional standards than those graduating from some"traditional" academic programs.

Compared to any other learned profession such as law, engineering, medicine, nursing or the clergy,where curricula, standards and assessments are far more standardized across the nation, teacher education is nothing but multiple pathways. It should not surprise us that critics respond to the apparent cacophony of pathways and conclude that it doesn't matter how teachers are prepared.

I am convinced that teacher education will only survive as a serious form of university-based professional education if it ceases to celebrate its idiosyncratic "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach to professional preparation. There should be no need to reinvent teacher education every time a school initiates a new program. Like our sibling professions, we must rapidly converge on a small set of "signature pedagogies" that characterize all eacher education. These approaches must combine very deep preparation in the content areas teacher are responsible to teach (and tough assessments to ensure that deep knowledge of content has been achieved), systematic preparation in the practice of teaching using powerful technological tools and a growing body of multimedia cases of teaching and learning, seriously supervised clinical practice that does not depend on the vagaries of student teaching assignments, and far more emphasis on rigorous assessments of teaching that will lead to almost universal attainment of board certification by career teachers.

The teacher education profession must come to this consensus; only then can accreditation enforce it. Commitment to social justice is insufficient; love is not enough. If we do not converge on a common approach to educating teachers, the professional preparation of teachers will soon become like the professional education of actors. There are superb MFA programs in universities, but few believe they are necessary for a successful acting career.

Schulman's announcement was brief, and so room was not available to develop his assertions, but on the surface, he makes quite a few claims and assumptions that are illogical.

1. Variation is conflated with chaos, and thus variation leads to a less than desirable level of quality in programs.

2. Standardization of curricula across the nation is equivalent to quality.

3. We must be like our sibling professions.

4. The initiation of new programs is equivalent to reinventing teacher education.

My brief responses are:

1. There is no evidence that variation diminishes quality of education. However, if diversity is good for learning, then one would think that variation of programs would be good for education. Of course, both should be supported by research.

2. One can standardize bad quality. Of course, Schulman is not thinking of that. I imagine that standards for content knowledge can be established, but how does one establish standards for creating rapport with students, for motivating students, etc.? Schulman says "love is not enough." I agree, but it is essential. Too much a focus on rigorous standards (and what's rigorous, something made more difficult?) will cause love to fade into the background, and so too the quality of teachers. As it is now, outside of a few educators, love is not a part of teacher education at all. Schulman's mentioning it is a red herring.

3. The claim that we should be like others is an appeal to the status of the other professions. It is not a consideration of whether education might (or might not) require other ways of achieving quality . Nor does it consider whether the siblings' professions methods are appropriate to education. It's simply assumed. Not to mention that the media constantly report on how, at least in business, college does not prepare students for the real world of work. We might argue that education colleges do not prepare students for real teaching in real schools, but that does not mean that we should be like other professions.

4. Nothing is invented de novo but builds on previous pedagogy. All new knowledge builds on what came before, is an integration of older sources. Still, it's not altogether odd that Schulman decries new programs. One favorite education bandwagon is "multiple intelligences," a theory that has no research supporting it.

Many with Schulman question the quality of teacher education programs. Although it's hard to imagine anyone denying the need for content mastery and good student teaching experiences and supervision, I'm not sure that equating quality with conformity to particular standards will achieve it. In any particular ecology, there are usually a variety of species. Should this concept apply to education programs and schools?

The notion of "converg[ing] on a small set of 'signature pedagogies' that characterize all teacher education" is one that has potential. If all species evolved from the four building blocks of DNA and all social interaction is governed by four relational models (Fiske), then there may just be a few crucial pedagogies that when combined in various ways allow for effective teaching in different contexts. But what would they be?