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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Photo Credit: breity via Creative Commons


Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener6 years ago

Wouldn't know...

K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Juliet D.
judith sanders6 years ago

I can't imagine where these ineffective student teaching programs are. I was definitely on the hotplate for 6 weeks, constantly watched by the homeroom teachers, and with surprise visits from the program directors. On top of all the lesson plan writing, I had to put together a large portfolio of essays on education, powerpoints demonstrating how I would teach certain SOLs, samples of student work demonstrating the effectiveness of my teaching techniques, etc.

If the program was lacking in anything, it was not enough instruction on how to deal with "differently abled" students. Just because you read their IEP doesn't mean you know how to best teach kids with ADHD or autism, or emotional problems. We really, really need more classroom aides, so these kids can be integrated without derailing the lesson for the rest of the class.

Rebecca S.
Rebecca S6 years ago

Hate to say it but being taught be student teachers is NOT easy for students. May be good for the student teachers but the students do suffer because of it.

Erika L.
Erika L6 years ago

Good teaching colleges produce well-prepared student teachers, make sure that supervisors know what is expected of them and do an excellent job of sending out teachers who are ready to teach. National standards will not make that happen any more than No Child Left Behind makes better students. School districts need to put their feet down on what they expect.

Carole Cherne
Carole Cherne6 years ago

It would be good for juniors and seniors to spend more time in schools. As a Speech Pathology student, I worked with children and adults (closely supervised, of course) from my sophomore year through graduate school. We did 2 semesters of student teaching in addition to 5 years in hospitals and clinics. By the time I had my master's degree, I was well-equipped to work in any setting.

Margaret Paddock
M A Paddock6 years ago

I really like the idea of students teaching because it is a more relaxed atmosphere and pace. I think students can learn more. Just watch kids teach one another. I builds a sense of caring and mentoring.
The downfall is of course, no oversight to make sure of the quality.
Perhaps they should have a certification before becoming a student teacher and that would be a certification for each subject or a least an intensive test.
Our school system is so poor anymore as they have dropped the "3 R's" that give most students a solid beginning. Our Reading program has all but done away with reading anything worthwhile and their is little comprehension taught along with debate which helps build logical thinking and the art of listening.
America needs to ditch this "new" curriculum and get back to basics.

Anthony Hilbert
Anthony Hilbert6 years ago

When my son needed to move from the UK to the US, he found that the guaranteed way to walk into a job was to get a British teaching diploma. US schools are keen to hire foreign trained teachers because the US teaching certificate is worthless.

monica r.
monica r6 years ago

I was in an alternative program. We got a summer of intense training plus teaching with supervision of a licensed teacher in a summer school plus additional teacher observers and district observers. Then we got assigned to the worst classrooms nobody wants. We did this while taking our classes at night towards a license. I had two mentors who came in at least 1 time per week (each one), plus more if needed, and quarterly visits from an observer. The last semester was "student teaching" after already being full-time teaching for a year and a half.

It may not be perfect, but what I liked is lots of support while you learn your way, and the college classes were a source of things to do immediately, and could be responsive to our needs as new teachers, not in some future-teacher theoretical way, but in a boots-on-the-ground OMG help me right now kind of way.

It was incredibly demanding, but I think the real experience with so much support/oversight is a real plus. This was not TFA. It is for people who plan to stay as educators for their career.

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

It's a shame but not suprising.