Are Student-Teaching Programs Seriously Flawed?
On July 21, the National Council on Teacher Quality released a report titled “Student Teaching in the United States,” which examined 134 student teaching programs across the country and concluded that three-quarters of them did not meet five basic standards for high quality.
Three-Quarters Of Programs Do Not Meet Standards
Specifically, the report concluded that the schools differed so widely in their curricula, methods of assessment, and graduation requirements that it was impossible to know with any degree of certainty if students were being well educated. Although powerful changes were transforming some schools, the outlook was utterly hopeless for two-thirds of them.
Schools of education are understandably furious at these findings, especially since the group plans to give them letter grades that would appear in U.S. News and World Report. When the U.S. News rankings are published, the student-teaching programs will count for one-fifth to one-third of an education school’s grade, according to Kate Walsh, president of the council.
A Lack Of Program Standards
From The New York Times:
“Many people would say student teaching is the most important piece of teacher preparation,” Ms. Walsh said. “But the field is really barren in the area of standards. The basic accrediting body doesn’t even have a standard for how long a student teacher needs to be in the classroom. And most of the institutions we reviewed do not do enough to screen the quality of the cooperating teacher the student will work with.”
Even if the findings are open to question, the fact is that student teaching is the single most valuable part of teacher preparation. So it seems like an excellent idea to ask what can be done to remove any doubts about the quality of existing programs.
Should Ed. Schools Be More Like Med. Schools?
Walt Gardner, writing in Education Week, suggests that schools of education should be more like medical schools in their approach to training, although he goes on to give various reasons why it’s impossible for this transformation to take place.
The reality is that student-teacher training programs vary enormously. New York University’s elementary education students, for example, must have four different placements, and 15 weeks of student teaching. At the other end of the spectrum, some programs allow the teachers-in-training to observe classes for several weeks, and teach the occasional class.
Huge Disparities In Student-Teaching Curricula
There are also huge disparities in how mentoring takes place. When I did my student teaching in the U.K., through a course at the University of London, my “mentor” teacher had me observe his class for a week, and then left me alone with his students for the next eight weeks. During that time, my supervisor from the University of London showed up twice to see how I was doing. Talk about being thrown to the wolves!
Since then, as a mentor teacher myself in California, I have been held to pretty rigorous standards in terms of observing student teachers, giving them feedback, and reporting in person to their supervisors. But as I’ve spoken with other mentor teachers, such standards are not always in place.
A Need For Greater Consistency
Student-teaching is undoubtedly the most important element of a teacher training program, and creating standards that all 1400 schools of education in the U.S. would be required to enforce would be an important step in creating consistency in this training.
Such consistency would also benefit teachers. As a teacher who moved from the U.K. and has since worked in multiple states, I have discovered that it is extremely difficult to move from state to state as a teacher. The variety of tests, state-specific qualifications, and degree requirements definitely favor staying in the state in which you are educated. With national standards in place, if you were qualified in one state, you would also be qualified in others.
As Mr. Gardner suggests, perhaps schools of education should be more like medical schools.
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