Archive for the ‘PACT’ Category

Getting Ready

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Rumbles about teacher preparation keep surfacing in the newspapers, on TV, on teacher internet websites, in union magazines.

The concern engulfing the education world is not just teacher quality, but how to improve schools of education, whether undergraduate or graduate programs.

Impressive statistics describe the dilemma.  Of 3.2 million teachers in 95,000 schools in the United States, half are Baby Boomers who will soon retire.  The data estimates that within four years schools will lose 1/3 of those veteran teachers.  By 2014 almost 1 million new teachers will be needed, roughly 200,000 new teachers a year.

Those numbers stood out when Arne Duncan, U. S. Secretary of the Department of Education, in an October speech at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, New York, addressed mediocre-his words-teacher preparation in the United States.

Veteran teachers may shake their heads.  A long line of famous educators, Horace Mann, William James, John Dewey among them, have despaired of weak teacher preparation.

My favorite quote is from Jacques Barzun, a revered philosopher and educator from Columbia University, who disparaged teacher education as having “a strong anti-intellectual bias, enhanced by a total lack of imagination.”

The good news from the second half of Duncan’s speech is that over the past ten years a few “rigorous practice-spaced initiatives to adapt to the reality of preparing instructors, to teach to diverse students in our information age” have developed.

Sounds like good news for young men and women in schools of education, until those that oversee teacher education look at the kinds of students for which their programs must prepare new teachers.

English Language Learners, isolated rural children, high poverty-high need urban students, kids who need excellent math and science teachers, diverse ethnic groups that would do well to see a diverse teacher population.

What to do about these disparate needs?

A number of options for schools of education have surfaced.  One essay by Susan Engel, “Teach Your Teachers Well,” New York Times, November 2, 2009, suggested more time student teaching, not just sitting at lectures about class management or the latest reading research.  Next, she suggests videotaping and analyzing the lessons taught, similar to training for therapists who analyze good points and difficult moments in therapy sessions.

Also, she suggests more study about watching children learn, not merely memorizing Piaget’s theories, for example, but in-depth study.  Last and best, is Engel’s suggestion to provide financial incentives to public schools to hire several teachers from a similar training program.  With this strategy, called a teacher residency, participants will have backup and camaraderie that may be a boost during difficult moments which any veteran teacher knows will occur.

PACT, Performance Assessment for California Teachers, has been pioneered by a wide-ranging consortium of teacher education programs in California.  It offers some of Engel’s strategies for the aspiring teacher.  Fourteen states are piloting similar performance assessments based on PACT.

One caveat: in California, as well as many other states, the current fiscal budget deficit and the solution of pillaging money from education places a pall over success.  However, there are those who will never say die.  Veteran teachers count on that determination.

Get ready!