Sunday, April 12, 2009

"Education Schools Need a Gold Standard"

James W. Fraser asserts in this Chronicle editorial that "Reform of teacher preparation is once again in the air". It only makes sense given the reform measures that are part of No Child Left Behind.

The challenge at the college and university level is a unique one. We have students who think they might want to be teachers but may not be sure. Yet, unlike some other majors in which you can't remain in and/or graduate from that major unless you can PERFORM well in the courses, students expect that if education is what they pick as a major or, as their "fall-back" option, they should be allowed to pursue and complete that major.

Our program has some very good students who care deeply about history and want to share that passion and knowledge with future generations. We have other students who have not done well pursuing other majors, or even began their college career as a history major, that think that "liking" history is enough to teach it. It is only the tip of the iceberg and I struggle with ways to convey that to them.

Having to pass the national Educational Testing Service's Praxis II 0081 Social Studies content test is not the best way to test potential teachers but, so far, it hasn't kept anyone out of the profession that should have been there. In fact, most students who don't pass it on the first try eventually admit that they did not study for it (despite our best suggestions).

How does this connect to the editorial? We need more examples of excellent models to which we should strive to raise the bar at all levels of teacher education. One of the reasons that society does not necessarily hold teachers to higher levels of respect is that so many lower level students opt for this particular major. This situation makes it extremely difficult for the majority of students who work their tails off to do a good job and to educate students.

I'm a former classroom teacher - junior high (even that term is now "historical") and high school for four years - before returning to school because my principal said students and parents complained I made them "write too much". It was a history class, after all. Just pick the best answer from the multiple choice. (The Language Arts (now Communication Arts) had a different outlook, however, given that my having them write meant that students wrote in other classes besides theirs.

The bottom line - we're feeling more pressure to keep enrollment up in these poor economic times. Yet how do I reconcile a student who resists (and sometimes belligerently) my advice that they need to pick another major? Like the PK-12 teachers, I'm eventually graded on their success even if they have trouble writing complete and coherent paragraphs before leaving college. I can't be the only "stop gap" but as long as public education makes it possible to "just keep rolling", we'll not have the solutions available that we need to offer those who work hard a better education and a better future.

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