What is good teaching?

What Is Good Teaching? asks New York Times columnist Joe Nocera. The New Public  shows how hard it is to teach in an inner-city school, he writes. Teachers College at Columbia plans to use the documentary to train teachers

“What is good teaching?” asked Anand Marri, a professor at Teachers College who has championed the film. “Is teaching different in the Bronx versus the suburbs? How much do you start with where the students are?”

Ed major is easy, students tweet

Education schools aren’t trying to draw high achievers to teaching, complains the National Council on Teacher Quality’s PDQ blog. Admissions requirements are low and assignments are undemanding. (See page 162 to 164.)

Tweets on #edmajor show education majors bragging about how easy their classes are.

By contrast, students on #mathmajor#sciencemajor and #nursingmajor frequently tweet about how hard they work and how much they enjoy solving difficult problems.

Ed schools don’t ‘train’ teachers

Ed schools don’t train teachers, writes Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, in Education Next. “Training” is taboo. Instead, teacher educators believe it’s their job to “prepare” or “form” professionals who will decide how to teach.

 The function of teacher education is to launch the candidate on a lifelong path of learning, distinct from knowing, as actual knowledge is perceived as too fluid to be achievable. In the course of a teacher’s preparation, prejudices and errant assumptions must be confronted and expunged, with particular emphasis on those related to race, class, language, and culture. . . . candidates reveal their feelings and attitudes through abundant in-class dialogue and by keeping a journal. From these activities is born each teacher’s unique philosophy of teaching and learning.

Many teacher educators think it’s more important for teachers to be “activists committed to diminishing the inequities of American society” than to be effective instructors, writes Walsh.

Methods courses no longer teach the best methods of instruction, write Renee T. Clift and Patricia Brady in Studying Teacher Education. Instead, “instructors work simultaneously with prospective teachers on beliefs, teaching practices and creation of identities—their students’ and their own.”

This puts a huge burden on new teachers, notes Walsh.  At the age of 21 or 22, they’re sent into classrooms to figure it all out for themselves.

In a 2012 Fordham survey, only 37 percent of teacher educators said it’s “absolutely essential” to develop “teachers who maintain discipline and order in the classroom.”

Worse, future elementary teachers aren’t trained to teach reading effectively, Walsh writes. In most ed schools,  a prospective teacher  is told to “develop her own approach to teaching reading, based on exposure to various philosophies and approaches, none more valid than any other.”

Walsh has ideas for improving teacher education.

The Obama administration’s $5 billion teacher initiative is here.

Best ed schools make a difference

Students’ progress can be linked to where their teachers trained, concludes a study of Washington state education schools Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research.

“Improving teacher training has the potential to greatly enhance the productivity of the teacher workforce,” Goldhaber wrote in the report.

Overall, only a small percentage of the differences in teacher effectiveness were linked to education schools, but the best programs were much better than the worst. The effects outweighed smaller class sizes or teacher experience. “Hiring a teacher from the best training program could be equivalent to shrinking a class by five to 10 students,” AP reports.

National Center on Teacher Quality is working with U.S. News and World Report to evaluate and rank all 1,400 education schools in the country. NCTQ’s Transparency Central lists all the letters from teacher preparation programs objecting to the review.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education has urged members not to participate in the “fundamentally flawed” project, reports Teacher Beat.

(The AACTE letter)  also calls the review an “outrage,” a “cause for alarm,” and NCTQ’s tactics “unprofessional.”

If education schools refuse to cooperate, NCTQ will file Freedom of Information Act requests to see course syllabi and hire students collect and submit documents.

Student teaching done wrong — and right

Student teachers don’t work with excellent classroom instructors in many cases, concludes a report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, which analyzed and rated 134 colleges and universities. Almost 75 percent of education programs don’t require the student teacher’s mentor to be an effective classroom instructor.

Programs are “begging” for student-teacher placements and can’t afford to be choosy, the report finds. In part, that’s because programs admit too many students, says NCTQ President Kate Walsh.

 “Right now, far too many institutions accept anyone and everyone, including many who have no intention of ever teaching.  Some students enter the program because it has the reputation for being the easiest program on campus to complete, while others discover that teaching is not for them, yet they have to student teach in order to graduate.  The teaching profession needs much higher standards.”

Schools of education, often considered “cash cows” for their universities, turn out more than twice as many graduates as schools hire, NCTQ estimates. The surplus is greatest for would-be elementary teachers. The report suggests requiring a fallback major so students who leave the teaching track can graduate on schedule.

In addition, working with a student teacher should be a more attractive proposition for exemplary classroom teachers, the report suggests, calling for “monetary incentives, prestige for being selected and assurance that the student teacher is qualified for the experience.”

NCTQ did find 10 model programs: Key Ingredients for Strong Student Teaching offers suggestions.

NCTQ’s analysis is controversial, writes Inside Higher Ed.  Most schools of education aren’t happy about the methodology NCTQ developed for U.S. News & World Report‘s upcoming teacher-education program rankings.

Teaching teachers: How colleges are doing

How well are teachers’ colleges teaching our teachers? Most first-year teachers were satisfied with their training, concludes Public Agenda’s Lessons Learned survey. Overall 8 in 10 felt they were prepared for their first classroom (42 percent said “very prepared).

However, only 39 percent said their training in dealing with diverse classrooms helped them “a lot” once they were in their own classroom.

New middle and high school teachers said their training put too much stress on theory and not enough on the practical demands of the classroom.

Teachers, especially at the high school level, were more critical of the support they got — or didn’t get — when they started teaching.

Just a quarter of new high school teachers (26 percent) said they get excellent advice on lesson plans and teaching techniques, compared to 39 percent of elementary school teachers who said the same.

There is also a 10-point difference on the advice they said they got about handling unmotivated students: 31 percent of high school teachers say they get excellent advice, compared to 41 percent of grade school teachers.

U.S. News and World Report and the National Council on Teacher Quality plan to rate teachers colleges. The education schools aren’t pleased.

Accountability for education schools

How well are ed schools preparing tomorrow’s teachers? The National Center on Teacher Quality will evaluate the quality of the nation’s 1,400 education schools.

. . . very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs—their selectivity, the content and pedagogical knowledge that they demand that their teacher candidates master, or how well they prepare candidates for the rigors of the classroom.

The review will be based on 17 standards “based on the highest caliber research on education and best practices of states and countries with excellent education systems” and vetted by national experts in a variety of fields.

NCTQ field-tested the methodology in analyzing education schools in Texas and Illinois.

U.S. News & World Report will publish the review annually, starting in the fall of 2012.

Alternative routes to teaching will be included only if they’re housed at education schools, writes Teacher Beat. That will exclude Teach for America and district-created teacher-prep programs.

Selling the idea to education deans may be difficult, Teacher Beat notes.

NCTQ’s Texas review was criticized by deans there even before the results came out.

In Texas, deans objected to the fact that the ratings were based on reviews of syllabuses and materials culled from websites rather than in-depth visits to schools. They argued that important topics might not be listed on such outlines. The forthcoming reviews are going to be based on a similar methodology, so anticipate more back-and-forth in this vein. (In fairness to NCTQ, ed. schools grumbled in the past about accreditation visits, too.)

NCTQ’s review will look at how well would-be teachers learn classroom-management skills, understand assessment and demonstrate expertise in their content area, among other things. In addition, programs will be judged on how well student teaching experiences are organized and whether the program collects data on graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Barnett Berry writes about building the 21st-century teaching profession in Ed Week.

Can ed schools emulate biz schools?

Education schools can learn a lesson from business schools, which used to be a haven for mediocre students and improved dramatically, write Robert Maranto, Gary Ritter and Arthur E. Levine in Education Week.

A 1959 Ford Foundation report recommended that business schools reorganize around applied mathematics, economics, and behavioral science. The foundation spent $30 million to encourage reform, investing in “near-great schools anxious to compete with the likes of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, and Columbia.”

Education schools “were designed, in an era of rapid school expansion, to quickly increase the supply of teachers, no matter their quality,” the authors write.

. . . American schools of education lack sufficient academic rigor and applied acuity. Consequently, those they train—teachers and administrators at traditional public schools—often do not have the knowledge and skill for their very difficult work.

“The ambitious near-great schools, rather than the field’s leaders,” will be willing to change. 

. . . we propose that contemporary schools of education, like the business schools of the 1950s, be reorganized around highly rigorous academic disciplines with well-established academic quality, and which seem likely to offer the skills and content teachers and administrators need. Psychology, biology, statistics, and content knowledge in the disciplines taught in K-12 schooling make the most likely candidates.

Education schools are worth saving, they argue.