Improving Instruction on Instruction in Education Grad Schools

Few schools prepare teachers for life in the classroom, research shows.

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More than 60 percent of teachers surveyed reported that their schools of education inadequately prepared them to cope with the realities of today's classroom. Fewer than half of the principals said schools of education were doing a good job preparing teachers to implement curriculum and perform- ance standards or to assess those performance standards appropriately. These problems in the classroom stem from a litany of shortcomings Levine observed in the nation's worst schools of education, including disorganized curricula, faculty who are not in tune with the realities of today's classroom, and low admission standards.

Darling-Hammond ties teacher education's decline to the 1950s, when teachers began learning their craft at universities. At many schools, academics could not strike the right balance between teaching pedagogy and learning on the job, and some programs today still fail to achieve this balance. But teacher education could experience an across-the-board turnaround. In the early 1900s, there were concerns that medical education for doctors was not rigorous enough. Doctors in training would sometimes shadow more experienced practitioners and learn by example, but this left them without much-needed content knowledge in biology, chemistry, and anatomy, as well as knowledge about the causes and treatment of disease. The solution: the birth of the first teaching hospital at Johns Hopkins University, where theory and practice were learned in tandem, just as they are at the best schools of education.

Duncan noted the importance of keeping track of teachers once they reach the classroom. Louisiana is the only state in the nation using data culled from hundreds of thousands of students and tens of thousands of teachers to identify effective and ineffective teacher education programs. Duncan is pushing for all states and all school districts to adopt similar practices. Students would then be held accountable for their performance on the job, and so would the schools that educated them. Data analysis identified the teacher education program run by the University of Louisiana–Lafayette as one in need of improvement, and officials at the school have increased admission requirements and added a career counseling program to better prepare teachers for their transition to the classroom.

One practice Alverno student Clements will take into the classroom is an attention to students' demonstrated knowledge of skills and concepts rather than their ability to memorize and regurgitate materi­al. "The strategies that are reviewed on teachers' professional development [days]—like the different strategies a teacher can use in reading—are skills that I'm already a step ahead on because of this program," Clements says. "Just yesterday, someone asked if I was familiar with a particular learning strategy, and I happily responded, 'Yes, I learned that from Alverno.' "