Monday, March 7, 2011

Target Practice

I think we would all agree that our country is confronting a series of challenges in key areas such as the economy, health care, education, the environment, and national security.  How we handle these challenges will determine whether the United States continues its global leadership role or whether we are eclipsed by other great powers on this globe.  Regardless of your priorities, as we look to secure our future, education has to be a key part of any solution.  But at this moment in time, education and especially schools of education are under attack.

The basis for the attack is that often in K-12 education, our students are not performing up to their potential and no one would argue with that assessment.  The blame for this lack of performance or lack of progress is placed on the shoulders of our teachers and further blamed on the education they have received.  The solutions suggest that a stint with Teach for America or an experience with a museum could provide the same or a greater level of expertise than pursuing a graduate degree in education. The threat is clear— if schools of education don’t change, students will be encouraged to go elsewhere to pursue their graduate education. 

I happen to think that Teach for America is a terrific program and I love visiting museums and always find them to be a valuable learning experience.  There is no question that such programs can enhance teaching techniques and content knowledge.  But what about pedagogy?  What about the learning process? What about a more in depth understanding of the students we are educating? What about the need for a strong liberal arts and sciences background?  No one argues about the need for significant hands on experience for teachers but hands on cannot substitute for the proper educational foundation. Where is there any concrete evidence that teacher education has caused a lack of student performance? 

Clearly student performance is impacted by teaching quality and I’m not sure that that the prevalent K-12 structure sufficiently recognizes merit and the quality of teaching.  Yearly increases, step increases, and lane changes are almost totally tied to quantity of teaching and quantity of credits taken rather than the impact of the teacher. We have an obligation on the K-12 level and in higher education to give merit a more prominent place in the educational equation.  But we also all have an obligation, and that includes our public officials, to recognize that school funding, the student’s family,  the economic status of that family, the educational attainment of the family members, and discrimination all have significantly impacted student learning.  And does anyone think that alternative paths to certification will remedy these issues?

I wholeheartedly support outcomes assessment and efforts to measure the learning that has taken place.  I wholeheartedly support a continuous review of teacher education programs to also assess their effectiveness.  We can do a better job in providing K-12 education and in providing teacher education.  Change is necessary but so is an understanding of all the issues.  Looking for a target, looking for a simple solution to complex issues, won’t solve our problems.  You need to see the issues clearly and completely before significant progress can be made.  As educators we have an obligation to help make that happen.

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