Schools of Education are increasingly under attack. In a speech delivered at Teachers College, Columbia University in 2009, Education Secretary Arne Duncan charged that the nation’s schools of education were "doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom." Duncan is not alone in raising concerns about teacher quality and blaming schools of education for the problem. For the last two years, there has been a growing chorus of criticism among policy makers who have been castigating teacher education and calling for new measures to insure teacher effectiveness. National newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Newsweek and The Atlantic Monthly, have each run major articles documenting what the authors regard as the most important problem plaguing American schools -- bad teaching. Though teacher unions have borne the brunt of the criticism, particularly since the release of the documentary Waiting for Superman, schools of education have also been held culpable for what is increasingly regarded as a crisis in teaching.
As the institutions responsible for producing most of the nation's teachers it is understandable that schools of education would be blamed as policy makers search for new strategies to improve public education. Yet, as is true in much of the current debate over the direction of education policy, the politics of blame does little to help us understand the full scope of the problem or in producing viable solutions.
There are approximately 1,300 schools of education across the country in the business of training and credentialing teachers. Certainly, not all of these institutions are outstanding but the same could be said of many of the nation’s colleges and universities. Yet, while some of the charges against schools of education may be unfair, it would be a mistake to conclude that there is no validity to the criticisms being leveled. Without making excuses, it is important to acknowlege the unique demands that teacher education institutions face. Teacher education is a uniquely challening enterprise because of the complex nature of the teaching profession. New teachers must be prepared to not only have a strong command over the subjects they will teach, they must also have the ability to implement a variety of pedagogical strategies to meet the needs of the broad range of learners they will encounter in the classroom. They must learn how to manage behavior and cultivate relationships with students whose backgrounds often differ significantly from their own, and they must guide the social development of their students. Most important, because schooling in the United States is mandated for children sixteen and younger, teachers are required to work with "compulsory clientele" (Labaree, 2004, p. 41). Unlike other professions, teacher results depend to a large degree upon cooperation and motivation of their students who are not always willing participants in learning. (Labaree, 2004).
Some schools of education have done a fairly good job in meeting the many challenges involved in preparing teachers. However, even in the education schools that are frequently cited as being among the best, the gap between the training student teachers receive and their experience in real classrooms is often too wide. Education schools frequently treat teacher education as low status work, and often those who take primary responsibility for the preparation of teachers are not supported adequately or held in high regard. It is even more troubling that many teachers graduate lacking a basic understanding of what it will take to teach and establish relationships with the children they will serve, especially those who have traditionally been least successful (e.g. poor, minority, recent immigrants and those with learning disabilities).
Schools and districts bear some of the responsibility for contributing to the problems faced by new teachers because they often assign the newest teachers (and often those regarded as the least effective) to the neediest schools and classrooms. For this reason, it is important to examine what both schools and institutions of teacher education can do to support teachers and increase their effectiveness, especially in urban schools where the challenges are frequently the greatest.
In many cities, universities, even those with massive endowments, are notoriously bad citizens. They frequently utilize public resources without contributing their fair share in taxes, take valuable land off of the tax roles, and drive up housing prices making it difficult for the poor and working class to remain. The unfair nature of this relationship often contributes to ill will and strained town-gown relations. A more positive and mutually beneficial relationship might be possible if universities treated their Ed schools like their Med schools. That is, if universities treated neighborhood schools as partners, and made a commitment to collaborating with them in research and teacher training, as they typically do with medical education in university-run hospitals. Were these types of partnerships to become the norm it might become possible for the intellectual resources of universities to support public schools in profound and meaningful ways.
This is not a new idea. Scholars like Linda Darling Hammond have called for the creation of teacher residency programs where university faculty provide supervision and support to student teachers in schools that have a long-term partnership with the university (Darling Hammond 1997; Darling Hammond, 2005). There are now several cities where such programs have been established such as the strong partnerships between the school of education at Stanford University and schools in East Palo Alto, CA. Similarly, several years ago, John Goodlad and others called for the development of laboratory schools that could serve as learning centers where research on teaching and learning could be applied in real schools (Goodlad, J. (1984) A Place Called School). Later this plan was embraced through a national consortium called the Holmes Partnership (Holmes Group 1986) However, Goodlad’s idea was never fully realized, and although there are few outstanding examples of collaboration between universities and schools -- the new charter schools managed by the University of Chicago, the handful of schools managed by the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University in Philadelphia, and the large network of schools supported by Montclair State University in northern New Jersey -- they are still minor in comparison to the tremendous number of schools that are in dire need of help.
Much more is possible if universities stop relying upon schools of education to support local schools on their own. Universities can create a variety of other partnerships with local communities that can be of mutual benefit to them and the public schools. For example, faculty from the arts and sciences can collaborate with teachers to develop curriculum in core subjects like science, math and history. In addition to offering teachers needed support in developing new and hopefully more stimulating curricula, this type of collaboration would also help to insure that schools had a clearer sense of how to prepare students to meet the academic standards of the university. Of course, for this to work, universities will need to create incentives for faculty and alter the criteria used to judge professors to ensure that those who became involved are not penalized in promotion reviews.
Schools of education can establish long-term partnerships with public schools where they commit to providing on-site training, supervision and support to new teachers during the first 2-3 years of service. As Goodlad envisioned, these partnerships schools can serve as laboratories where "best practices" in teaching and learning are developed, refined and modeled for other educators. Over time, such an approach would make it possible for universities to increase the number of young people who graduate from high school prepared for college and make it possible for them to play a role in developing the civic capacity of the communities where they are based (Stone, et.al. 2001).
None of this is possible unless schools of education are willing to embrace the preparation of teachers as a genuine priority and this becomes reflected in the way they allocate resources and reward faculty. Faculty who do exemplary work with public schools must be recognized and supported, by the university as a whole. Mutual interests, not charity or guilt, should drive collaborations between universities and schools. Undoubtedly, achieving such partnerships will also require visionary leadership; leaders who recognizes that the fates of these two institutions -- higher education and public k-12 education -- are inextricably linked.
- Darling-Hammond, L. (1997). The right to learn: A blueprint for creating schools that work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Goodlad, J. I. (1984). A place called school : Promise for the future. New York: McGraw-HIll Book Co.
Labaree, D. F., 1947-. (2004). The trouble with ed schools. New Haven : Yale University Press.
Stone, Clarence N., Jeffrey R. Henig, Bryan D. Jones, and Carol Pierannunzi (2001) Building Civic Capacity: The Politics of Reforming Urban Schools. (Washington D.C.: Studies in Government and Public Policy).
Tomorrow's teachers: A report of the holmes group.(1986). Lansing, MI: The Holmes Group.
Professional development schools: Schools for developing a profession(1994). In Darling-Hammond L. (Ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Pedro Noguera is Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University. He is the author of the book "The Trouble With Black Boys: Reflections on Race, Equity and the Future of Public Education." He is also a co-editor of In Motion Magazine.
Published in In Motion Magazine February 2, 2011.