Turning teacher prep upside down

Yesterday, at the National Press Club, an education panel (of which I was a part) released our recommendations for a radical change in the way our nation prepares its teachers. The full report: Transforming Teacher Education Through Clinical Practice: A National Strategy to Prepare Effective Teachers is the result of months of hard work and honest conversations among friends and critics of teacher education.

Sponsored by NCATE, the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning brought together teachers, superintendents, deans of education, state and federal policymakers, education researchers, teacher union leaders, and other key stakeholders to develop a set of recommendations and an action plan that “call for teacher education to be turned upside down by revamping programs to prioritize clincial practice and partnerships with school districts” (press release).

Co-chaired by Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor, of SUNY and Dwight Jones, Colorado Commissioner of Education, the panel included a wide range of views and responsibilities related to preparation of teachers. I was impressed with the sincerity and the tenacity of this group. At our face-to-face meetings, we had over 90% attendance (100% at some), and these were long, working sessions. We asked hard questions and struggled with some very real problems. But when the smoke cleared, we had reached consensus on ten principles and a general plan to help make move teacher education toward a more clinical (in real school settings) based, a model similar to that used to train doctors.

It’s important to note that there has been a good deal of redesign work going on for some time in teacher education programs around the country. Sharon Robinson of AACTE (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education) and the several deans of education around the table reminded us of these notable efforts, and that this was not the first attempt to improve teacher education as Marilyn Cochran-Smith, distinguished teacher educator and former editor of the Journal of Teacher Education noted. The panel analyzed varied examples of innovative and effective teacher preparation such as the Boston Teacher Residency Program (its Executive Director, Jesse Solomon was also part of the Panel), and that of St. Cloud State University.

While recognizing the efforts teacher education has made, however, the Panel tackled the fact that these pockets of improvement would not by themselves meet the nation’s need for highly effective teachers, particularly in our most challenging schools. “The nation needs an entire system of excellent programs, not a cottage industry of pathbreaking initatives” (5).

The Panel agreed on ten principles that should drive the design of effective teacher preparation, and made 17 recommendations addressed to NCATE, lawmakers, preparation programs, states, and school districts.  The recommendations include:

  • Remove barriers to preparation program/district collaboration and provide incentives for meeting district needs.
  • Establish new staffing models to support clinical preparation in schools.
  • Hold all [teacher preparation] programs to the same standards.

My major contribution on the Panel was to bring the voices of my teacher colleagues into these important deliberations. With the help of Center for Teaching Quality, a focus group of 15 members of the Teacher Leader Network, including newer and veteran teachers, lent our ideas and experiences to the Panel’s work. Those discussions were captured in a briefing paper that accompanies the main report, along with a separate report by CTQ Director, Barnett Berry. One of the final recommendations that grew directly out of the teacher’s input was the need for the classroom and school level partners to share in determining which candidates have satisfactorily met qualifications for certification, not just the higher ed faculty.

NCATE (soon to be CAEP after its merger with TEAC the other major accreditation organization), has already taken up the challenges the Panel directed at its role in the preparation process by launching a pilot of eight states in which to create demonstration sites for these new clinical models.

The entire process and the steps being taken so far, leave me hopeful that we will see a productive approach to this important piece of education reform; a welcome relief from the destructive and distracting policies and proclamations of recent months.

Here’s a link to the webcast of the panel discussion at National Press Club.