A national panel of education leaders, teachers and researchers in Washington today called for turning teacher education “upside down” by shifting focus to clinical practice and creating deeper partnerships with school districts to track teacher performance in the real world.
Holding out the medical school model, a series of experts called for an infusion of clinical practices for prospective teachers from the minute they begin their training. (I listened via conference call to the two-hour panel.)
“That clinical practice has to be infused in every facet of teacher education through dynamic ways, none of this waiting to the end to student teach,” said Nancy Zimpher, chancellor of the State University of New York and panel co-chair.
Zimpher cited pedagogical labs, such as the ped lab at Boston College that simulates the classroom experiences teachers will face in the classroom. No one would consider sending a new pilot into a real cockpit without simulation training at the controls, she said. Teachers need those same simulations, with mentors serving as co-pilots.
Zimpher also cited the grand rounds in medical school residency training in which a team of experienced doctors works with new doctors on challenging clinical problems. Teachers need that intense level of review, guidance and support, she said.
The panel issued a sweeping report that recognizes all school reforms hinge on highly skilled teachers. And the responsibility for those skilled teachers starts with colleges of education, some of which have been collecting students’ tuition for decades but sending them forth without adequate skills to manage classrooms, especially in high-need schools.
The panel called for new accountability measures for schools of education that include how graduates perform in the classroom based on whether students learn.
Too many teacher training programs emphasize theoretical coursework only loosely supported by clinical experience, much of it reflecting uneven quality, said U.S Education Secretary Arne Duncan who addressed the gathering. He applauded the intention to emulate a medical school model fully grounded in clinical practice.
Duncan called for an end to university-based programs that don’t consider the impact of their graduates on student learning in actual classrooms. “There is little or no accountability for turning out effective teachers,” Duncan said. “It is time to start holding teacher preparation programs far more accountable for the impact of their graduates on student learning and achievement.. It is time to make accountability much more rigorous, outcome based.”
He cited Georgia’s plan to broaden its evaluation of teacher preparation programs to include retention rates and demonstration of content knowledge. “In Georgia, they will be tracking where graduates land teaching positions and whether they stay with them,” he said.
Duncan said the United States needs a revolution in how we train teachers, not an evolution or tinkering. He recounted how teachers told him that their preparation failed them in two main ways: They did not get the hands-on training to manage tough classrooms and they were not trained on how to use data to differentiate their teaching.
In his opening comments to the panel, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education president James Cibulka said there was no superman waiting to fix teacher education. “The only cape available for us to meet this challenge is the one that the field itself will create,” he said.
He announced the formation of an alliance of eight states willing to adopt the new ambitious agenda for teacher training. (Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida were the only Southern states among the eight. It is interesting that those three states have overtaken Georgia in reputation as incubators for reform in the last few years.)
The experts called for residencies for teachers, such as the Boston Teacher Residency sponsored by the system. That program puts teacher residents with a primary mentor for a full year in a Boston classroom. The residents are assessed every month during the program; they are supported for three years beyond their residency with ongoing help and mentoring. Almost all the graduates are hired by Boston Public Schools.
The panelists considered ongoing mentoring of young teachers by talented peers in schools a critical element of improving education outcomes. They stressed that those mentors must be compensated for their effort.
Teachers on the panel said they and their colleagues wanted to improve; they wanted to learn how to change their approaches; they wanted to see highly effective peers so they could learn how to help struggling students; they wanted to learn how to make better use of data to help their kids.
–By Maureen Downey, AJC Get Schooled blog