New effort aims to turn teacher education ‘upside down’

Aspiring teachers need more time in classrooms to learn their trade, according to a new report.

Eight states are beginning a national pilot program to transform teacher education and preparation to emphasize far more in-field, intensive training—as is common practice in medical schools.

“Teaching, like medicine, is a profession of practice,” said State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who is co-chairwoman of the expert panel that released a report on the recommended changes Nov. 16 in Washington, D.C. “Making clinical preparation the centerpiece of teacher education will transform the way we prepare teachers.”

The pilot program—developed by K-12 and higher-education officials, along with teachers unions, to improve instruction—is being rolled out in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and Tennessee. The states agreed to implement the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Clinical Preparation and Partnerships for Improved Student Learning, created by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE).

Instead of exposing student teachers to varied classroom experiences at the end of their academic pursuit, the new system would put student teachers into classrooms earlier and more often. It could include rounds, similar to the system used in teaching hospitals in which mentors provide constant critiques to students in real-life situations.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Nov. 16 gathering, which was webcast nationally, that too many colleges stress theory with too little classroom time.

“There is little or no accountability for turning out effective teachers,” Duncan said, calling for “outcome-based” reviews of teacher education programs. “It is time to start holding teacher preparation programs far more accountable for the impact of their graduates on student learning and achievement.”

The expert panel also recommends more online and video demonstrations, as well as case-study analysis by teachers. Video evaluations of teachers-in-training already are being tested in 19 states.

“This is huge, a real turning point,” Zimpher told the Associated Press.

She said the new model will “turn teacher education upside down” and could be in colleges within two years. And in states with pilot programs, the first elements likely will be in place beginning in the fall 2011 semester.

States with pilot programs will work with school districts and their regional teacher colleges, with an emphasis on improving instruction in high-need, low-income urban and rural districts.

The reform would make teacher education and continuing education a shared responsibility of schools and universities.

“NCATE’s call for prospective teachers to receive more clinical experience is a smart first step in a profession that sees nearly half of teachers exit in their first five years of teaching,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.

“The recommendation that teacher education programs work more collaboratively with school districts will help ensure that teacher preparation and hiring are more closely aligned to the needs of communities. Other recommendations—from establishing new research standards to revamping higher-education staffing and instruction—also will help upgrade and update teacher education programs.”

In yet another sign of shakeup in the teacher education process, NCATE and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) last month said they’re in the process of consolidating to form a new accrediting body: the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).

CAEP’s goals include raising the quality of teaching in the nation’s K-12 schools, as well as creating high accountability standards for teacher colleges.

A 14-member Joint Design Team, composed of equal numbers of NCATE and TEAC leaders, met frequently during the past two years to develop the groups’ consolidation plan. During a two-year transition period, the Joint Design Team will function as the interim CAEP board of directors. The president of TEAC, Frank B. Murray, will chair this board; the president of NCATE, James G. Cibulka, will become CAEP’s president and CEO.

The interim CAEP board will select the initial CAEP board when consolidation is complete, but the chair and president will remain in office.

“We have not approached our task as merely unifying NCATE and TEAC with the least possible change to two accrediting systems that are already quite similar,” says a joint statement by Cibulka and Murray. “Rather, we have set a much more ambitious goal: to create a model unified accreditation system” for ensuring high-quality teacher education.

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