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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“Do Teachers Need Education Degrees?”

That's today's question on the New York Time's Room for Debate feature.

The debate suffers from confusing graduation from a school of education with the process of credentialing, understandable since graduation from a school of education is usually a prerequisite to a credential.

But current teacher training has a large chorus of critics, including prominent professors in education schools themselves. For example, the director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Katherine Merseth, told a conference in March that of the nation’s 1,300 graduate teacher training programs, only about 100 were doing a competent job and “the others could be shut down tomorrow.”

Do you agree with Katherine Merseth? Are you a graduate of a college of education? Maybe you are old enough to have started teaching before a degree from a college of education and possession of a credential were taken as proof of quality and competence.

See what the nine respondents and the myriad of comments (477 as I write) have to say and feel free to add your own two cents. Personally, I think it is instructive that of the nine respondents, only one is actually a school teacher. Our society does not have much use for someone who wants to be the best teacher they can be, and spend their whole life “making a difference” everyday for students. The only viable career ladder in education is outside the classroom. What is worse, many of the career ladder positions either do not require or do not value teaching experience. For example, a principal needs only three years in the classroom.

A teacher who waits too long to get on the career ladder may find it an unwelcoming place. Such teachers applying for positions outside the classroom may be rejected with a dismissive, “All you have ever done is teach” comment.

Anyway, here is a potpourri of excerpts from the debate:

Michael Goldstein wonders if someday proven experience might trump an embossed piece of paper.

Many education schools have already been wrestling with their mission. Is it to do education research and pose larger questions? Or is it to train 22-year-old schoolteachers to be ready for Day 1 in September?

If merit pay indeed becomes more common, then teachers are likely in turn to become more demanding customers — they will want more practical guidance.
One result may be a new labor market in education schools, where top veteran schoolteachers, those who know how to map backward from an algebra final or how to enlist challenging kids, are prized as lecturers, in lieu of ivory tower theorists.

On the other hand, Margaret Crocco thinks practical training is exactly what the colleges of education offer.

What T.F.A. represents for some parents are young people with knowledge, skills, intelligence and ambition. These parents may assume that such attributes aren’t found in those who enter teaching through traditional teacher preparation programs, which typically invest more time in education courses — addressing the “how” of teaching — than does Teach for America. As far as these parents are concerned, teaching boils down to talking

Patrick Welsh, the only practicing teacher on the panel, gets right to the point.

The credentialing game in public education may have once been a well-meaning effort to create some measurable criteria to maintain standards, but it has turned into an absurd process that forces both teachers and administrators to waste time jumping through hoops that have little or no relation to their job performance...

bureaucrats, obsessed with rules and numbers, would rather hire a mediocre but “fully certified” prospect than the brightest, most promising applicant who lacked the “education” courses...

one of the brightest... teachers in the school ... was told he would not be certified unless he took a basic composition course, a low-level course he had been exempted from at the University of Virginia on the basis of his Advanced Placement score in high school.

I understand that young man's frustration. I was denied a math credential in one state because I did not have College Algebra in my transcript. Never mind that I had been exempted by the college placement exam.

Mr. Welsh's recommendation? “hire enthusiastic candidates who exhibit knowledge and love of their subject and a passion for communicating that knowledge and love to students” credential or no credential.

Jeffrey Mirel allows that maybe colleges of education deserve criticism, but they are improving.

Attacked for being purveyors of progressive educational snake oil, for providing inadequate instruction for pre-service teachers, and for pervasive anti-intellectualism, schools and colleges of education are among the favorite targets of educational reformers...

For a long time ed schools did not focus specifically on how to teach challenging content to all students. But that is changing.

Colleges of education need to start by being more selective about the applicants they accept.

Some of those applicants may actually be practicing teachers going for their masters. Arthur Levine laments the motivation of some of those applicants.

This system lacks quality control and too often encourages universities to offer quick, low quality graduate programs in order to attract those teachers who may be more interested in salary bumps than professional development.

James G. Cibulka, president of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), is delighted that the NCATE is having such a big influence.

About half of our accredited institutions have aligned their master’s programs with NCATE’s propositions, and some have designed master’s programs to help prepare candidates for board assessments.

If you think teacher credentialing is more about state indoctrination than best practices, Martin Kozloff, a professor of education himself, is inclined to agree.
a master’s degree in most education subfields further stamps in the “progressive,” “child-centered,” “constructivist,” “developmentally appropriate,” postmodernist, pseudo-liberationist baloney that infects the undergraduate curriculum, and which leaves graduating ed students unprepared to provide their own students with coherent, logically sequenced instruction...

And if you ask graduating master’s students who have managed to escape indoctrination (because they are fortunately endowed with a wide streak of skepticism), they will tell you that they learned nothing new. Yes, many teachers with master’s degrees in education are more skilled teachers. But this is not because they got a master’s degree. They went for a master’s degree because they are intelligent, were already skilled teachers (self-taught), and had the gumption to go back to school.

I know when I went back to school for my masters, I was young and idealistic, and just wanted to be the best teacher I could be. I wish someone had told me what a waste of time and money the masters degree would be, especially a masters in education, and more especially a masters in curriculum development (as opposed to school administration). The masters degree has rendered many an out-of-district teacher virtually unemployable as the receiving district does not want to pay the higher salary. I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Finally, some common sense from Linda Mikels, the principal of Sixth Street Prep School, a charter elementary school in Victorville, Calif.

The art and skill of effective pedagogy is arguably equally critical to effective classroom instruction. While most aspiring teachers hope to develop these skills through university coursework, in reality the most effective training is acquired through an apprenticeship at a high-performing school with a highly effective classroom teacher. As with most trades, the craft of effective pedagogy is one that is best developed in the context of the “workplace.”

In other news, Bill Gates notices the obvious.
“We don’t know the answers because we’re not even asking the right questions and making the right measurements,..Better teachers are more likely to result in higher achievement than other approaches such as lowering class size...

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