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Not What You Thought on Teacher Ed

From Inside Higher Ed
By Zack Budryk

WASHINGTON -- The national group that represents teacher education colleges on Wednesday released data that it says show such programs have become more competitive to get into and more clinically oriented.

"The good news is that we are taking selectivity very seriously,” said Sharon P. Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, at a press briefing here, “and the programs are moving to incorporate indicated reforms and innovation regarding their own instruction.”

The key findings, according to the report, include:

  • “Contrary to many perceptions, teacher preparation programs are admitting academically competitive candidates into their programs.”
  • “Extensive clinical experiences are being incorporated in higher-education-based teacher preparation programs.”
  • “A majority of teacher preparation programs collect data on their graduates but do not have access to state data.”
  • “Teacher preparation programs are rising to the challenge of infusing technology into course work."

Academic competitiveness of teacher education may have been lacking in the past,  AACTE officials said, but they added that they were encouraged by the data they had compiled; according to the report, bachelor's candidates in the field had a mean grade-point average of 3.24, post-baccalaureate candidates had a mean G.P.A. of 3.27 and master's candidates had a mean of 3.31. "These results suggest that teacher preparation programs are, in fact, attracting academically strong candidates," said the report.

Robinson also spoke of recent increases in clinical programs --  that is, programs in which much of the work is in schools or directly related to teaching.

“We’re… encouraged to find that clinical development is becoming a much larger dimension of the preparation program,” Robinson said.  “It starts early, upon entering into the program… it is being conducted through an amazing array of methodologies… and it has been documented, in terms of candidate development, with ever more precision. “

“The increasing emphasis on clinical programs as a part of the preparation of teachers… the research says that that’s a critical piece,” added David Bergeron of the U.S. Department of Education.

According to the report, "virtually all programs require supervised student teaching for an internship for graduation." The report further says that the "average bachelor's-level clinical requirement ranges from 500 to 562 total clock hours (mean=14.50 weeks); the average master's-level clinical requirement ranges from 480 to 586 total clock-hours (mean=14.52 weeks)."

Diversity was another major area that both the report and the panel pointed to as needing improvement.  “The profile of our candidates is nowhere near matching the demographic profile of the students that we will encounter in America’s classrooms,” said Robinson. According to the report, of recipients of bachelor's degrees in education in 2009-10, 82 percent were white -- while many school districts are majority minority. “Diversity is probably the most difficult challenge that we face,” added Rick Ginsberg, dean of the University of Kansas School of Education. “There’s no simple answer here.”

AACTE officials also said they wanted to rebut what they consider common misconceptions about  teacher education. The association issued a list of “Myths and Facts” on the subject, with such “myths” including “Educator preparation is out of touch and hasn’t changed in 50 years” and “Graduates of teacher preparation programs do not know how to effectively use technology or assessment data with P-12 students.” The latter was also addressed both by the report and in Robinson’s remarks. “Technology is, in fact, being used in the programs,” Robinson said. “Technology is being used to support the instruction of the candidates, it is an objective of instruction so that candidates understand how to use technology to support and provide them a wider variety of instructional methods and approaches they might use in practice; it is being used to help our candidates access data."

The National Council on Teacher Quality, which has frequently been at odds with AACTE on the subject of teacher preparation, found some common ground on the new report. “We’re really glad that AACTE is focusing on the selectivity of the institutions that prepare teachers,” said Arthur McKee, the council's managing director of teacher preparation studies. “The fact that they’re giving this such high prominence suggests that the entire field is really behind this notion that we do need to set a reasonable but high bar for admission into the profession.”

McKee did, however, express curiosity about the methodology involved in compiling the report. “One of our questions is, we’d love to be able to see some of the individual-level responses to the report… the programs, as far as I can tell, are submitting their responses to AACTE, and then AACTE is sort of compiling it and publishing this report,” McKee said. “It would be great if we could… get another level of detail and see what the programs actually said, and I think, if that data were available, it would be really interesting to see how that compares with the findings.”

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