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View related content: K-12 Schooling
Revitalizing teacher education is best tackled as part of the effort to reimagine and reshape teaching for the realities of 21st-century schooling. The state of teaching and teacher education is the result of more than a century of compromises and adjustments demanded by the exigencies of another era (Cuban, 1984; Fraser, 2007). During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the teaching profession was designed to match the rapid expansion of schooling. It relied on a captive pool of inexpensive, educated female labor and assumed little in the way of a professional knowledge base, and teacher preparation and development were designed accordingly. Today, would-be reformers should recognize that the machinery and assumptions that once made sense may be ill suited for contemporary opportunities and challenges (Hess, 2004, pp. 101-132).
Existing arrangements hamper efforts to attract, prepare, and nurture effective educators in crucial ways (Darling-Hammond & Bransford,2005; Ingersoll, 2004). First, preparation programs are constructed with the expectation that most aspiring teachers will decide upon a lifelong teaching career while enrolled in college. This made sense 40years ago, when typical college graduates would hold only a small number of jobs in their careers and most teachers were college-educatedwomen with few career options. Today, however, the average college graduate holds 11 jobs in a lifetime–the majority of those before the age of 30–making it hard to be confident that new hires can be retained for an extended period, much less for decades (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008a).
Second, the bulk of teacher preparation is overseen and crafted by institutions of higher education–even as reformers of various stripes bemoan the lack of good classroom mentoring and call for more school-based preparation (Walsh & Jacobs, 2007). Yet, rather than rethink institutional roles in preparation, the same voices disgruntled with most college-based teacher education nonetheless expect that professors in tweaked college and university programs will begin to prepare their students much more successfully (Hess & Kelly, 2005).
Third, the job of a K-12 “teacher” has remained markedly undifferentiated over much of the past century. The vast majority of teachers in a given subject area or grade level are treated as largely interchangeable, with beginning teachers and experienced teachers taking on the same responsibilities with little or no regard for a given educator’s particular expertise or training.
Finally, the notion of what it means to be a public school teacher has remained remarkably static, even as advances in technology and communications, changes in society and lifestyle, and demographic developments have altered the tools available to educators and the roles that teachers are expected to play (Ingersoll & Perda, 2008). The expectation that teaching should be conducted by more than 3 million full-time educators sharing a rather homogeneous job description makes it unduly difficult to attract, retain, and nurture quality educators.
Indeed, many of today’s “cutting-edge” efforts to reform teaching and teacher preparation are little more than attempts to repackage outmoded assumptions (Hanushek & Rivkin, 2004). For instance, in perhaps the most widely discussed “critique” of teacher preparation of the past decade, the 2006 study Educating School Teachers simply appeared to presume that tomorrow’s teachers will and should look a lot like today’s, that teacher recruitment ought to be geared entirely toward new college graduates, and that aspiring teachers should be required to complete a supersized version of today’s training before being cleared to teach (Levine, 2006). Missing was any attention to whether students ready to commit to a career in teaching at age 22 are the optimal target population, to the dearth of evidence that most teacher preparation makes a consistent difference in outcomes, to whether the teaching role should perhaps be reconfigured, or to whether degree programs in colleges and universities are the optimal place to train the next generation of teachers.
If we instead begin by unshackling ourselves from the legacy of once-reasonable but now-constraining assumptions and arrangements, what new ideas might guide smarter approaches to attracting talent to teaching? How might we fundamentally reimagine the tapestry of teaching, schooling, and preparation so as to ensure that a newfound attention to the changing labor force serves to reinvigorate teaching and learning and does not become one more disappointing fad?
I will offer one quick aside. While I am well known for my skepticism of teacher licensure (Hess, 2001), I will not wade into that conversation here. I regard certification and licensure as impediments to revitalizing the profession, but this issue has been extensively discussed and most parties to the debate have settled opinions. (1) Consequently, I focus here on issues that have drawn less attention and may offer more fruitful grounds for discussion.
Transcending Our Love Affair with Youth
In the early and mid-20th century, when most other professions were closed to women, schools enjoyed a captive pool of talented female applicants. Teaching offered only modest opportunity for career growth or merit-based promotion, yet this did not pose a significant hurdle to attracting talent, given that classrooms were primarily filled by women who enjoyed few viable alternatives. These realities, in turn, did much to influence teacher training, recruitment, and the shape of the teaching force (Carter, 1986; Loeb & Reininger, 2004).
In recent years, economic and employment trends have challenged these arrangements. By the 1970s, professional barriers for women began to crumble and schools could no longer depend on a steady influx of talented young women to fill the teaching ranks. The same women who once entered teaching began aspiring to jobs in engineering, law, medicine, and business. In fact, researchers have found that “high-ability college graduates are less likely to teach in public schools and, if they do, are more likely to leave after a few years” (Podgursky, Monroe, & Watson, 2004). Indeed, the likelihood that a woman ranked in the top 10% of her high school cohort would become a teacher fell 50% between 1964 and 2000 (Corcoran, Evans, & Schwab, 2004). Meanwhile, workers were becoming increasingly mobile. With the well of ready teachers running dry, two possible avenues emerged. One was to find new ways to continue attracting young women graduating from college and the other was to seek out an alternative pool of talent. Policy makers have, for the most part, adopted the default approach of leaning on the old model while, tentatively, beginning in the late 1980s, adopting piecemeal efforts regarding alternative licensure and midcareer recruitment.
The evidence from these alternative programs suggests that they do attract new talent: Half or more of those who enter teaching after the age of 30 or from other professions would not do so if forced to traverse traditional teacher preparation and licensure. A 2005 survey of those entering teaching via nontraditional routes reported that 50% of those over age 40 and 46% of those over age 30 indicated that they would not have become teachers if an alternative route had not been available. Among those entering teaching from a professional occupation, 54% said they would not have done so if not for the availability of an alternative route (Feistritzer, 2005).
Meanwhile, the changing age makeup of the teaching workforce suggests the need to reexamine the presumption that most new teachers will or should be recent college graduates. For one thing, the population of college-educated workers already well into their first or second careers, made comfortable by early success and now open to more rewarding, meaningful, and engaging work, is substantial (Gergen & Vanourek, 2008). A 2008 survey of college-educated adults age 24 to 60 found that 42% would consider becoming teachers in the future and that these potential teachers were more likely to have postgraduate degrees, to have attended selective schools, and to have received above-average grades than were those without an interest in teaching (Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2008, p. 5).
For another, the percentage of new teachers for grades 9 to 12 who began teaching past age 35 has grown steadily in recent years–from 7% of teachers in 1990-1991 to 16% in 2003-2004–while the percentage beginning by age 25 has declined from 70% to 56% of teachers (Snyder, Dillow, & Hoffman, 2008, p. 99; Snyder & Hoffman, 1995, p. 80). Such a shift raises the issue of what preparation is appropriate for potential teachers seeking to enter the profession from very different backgrounds, suggesting that the costs and benefits of licensure and professional development arrangements should be weighed with an eye to attracting talent in the 21st century.
Even “alternative” licensure programs have devoted little attention to such concerns. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation released a 2008 study of teacher preparation programs, concluding that most were ill designed to meet midcareer entrants’ specific backgrounds and needs. It declared,
In many ways, the most striking feature of programs for new teachers who have entered the profession at midcareer or later is their lack of difference from more traditional teacher preparation programs for college students and recent graduates. Indeed, some programs admit as much, noting that they have simply collapsed set college coursework into a shortened period of time. (Haselkorn & Hammerness, 2008, p. 17)
A supply of mature college-educated workers interested in migrating to fields like teaching suggests the value of abandoning the presumption that the typical teaching entrant ought to be fresh out of college. Given current life spans and career trajectories, it is reasonable to imagine that a typical 30- or 40-something lateral entrant may well teach effectively for 20 years or more. In fact, the National Center for Education Information has reported that new teachers entering through alternate routes at older ages are more likely to stay in teaching for longer periods than younger entrants are (Feistritzer, 2005).
Indeed, it is unclear why we would expect young entrants to be the most attractive pool of new teachers, given that effective teaching entails qualities such as leadership, mentoring, guidance, life experience, organization, commitment, and knowledge–with respect to many of which age may be an asset. In principle, one can identify a list of qualities that contribute to effective teaching. Having said that, the point is not to discourage young entrants but to be far more open minded in how we conceive of the talent pool.
Envisioning an expanded role for educators entering the profession via nontraditional paths, of course, implies different needs and expectations when it comes to recruitment, preparation, salaries, benefits, and career trajectories. If the ideal new teacher is a recent college graduate who intends to remain in the profession for decades, it makes sense to frontload preparation in the course of an undergraduate’s education and to rely heavily on seniority to drive salary, benefits, and positional perks. If, however, this assumption shifts so that many new teachers have years of professional work in other fields, along with accumulated experience and skills, this paradigm is needlessly constraining.
To the extent that some professionals seek security and stability as more attractive than flexibility and opportunity, it makes obvious good sense to take that into account when crafting salaries, work conditions, and benefits (Barr, 2008). For instance, the Merit Systems Protection Board, which conducts studies of the civil service for the White House and Congress, reported in 2008 that the average age of a new federal employee is 33 and that 28% of new hires said the top reason they chose jobs in the federal government was “job security”–trumping all other explanations. This suggests that some younger employees still have an affinity for traditional job benefits such as career stability, predictable pay raises, and generous benefits (U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board, 2008).
It Doesn’t Have to Be Done on Campus
In the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, states made schools of education and teacher training programs at colleges and universities the de facto gatekeepers for the teaching profession (Angus, 2001). Initially intended to ensure quality, the arrangement also gave education professors a chokehold over who entered the teaching profession. It also led these programs to adopt a “plug ‘n’ play” approach that implicitly presumed that a teacher certified by any of the nation’s teacher preparation programs was prepared to teach at any school that recognized the credential (via reciprocity with the state that issued the teaching license).
Historically, we have understood schooling and teacher training in terms of local geographies. In truth, when transportation and communication presented substantial barriers, it made sense to think in terms of localized teacher education. With 15,000 school districts across the continent, the emergence of 1,300 geographically scattered, discrete teacher training programs was a natural response, and institutions of higher education already possessed the expertise, intellectual resources, organizational capacity, and facilities to manage that kind of preparation (Ogren, 2005).
Circumstances have changed. Advances in communications and transportation make it possible to provide professional training and support over substantial distances; many other kinds of institutions already do so outside of the education sector and in K-12 schooling. Rather than a wealth of dispersed programs, quality might be well served by the emergence of a limited number of providers with a national reach, accumulated expertise, and the ability to address particular needs across hundreds or thousands of discrete locales. CaseNET, a provider of online, scenario-based professional development, incubated at the University of Virginia, provides just one example of how this might work. With CaseNET, participants across the United States, Canada, and Norway meet in person with their local instructors each week. They access case materials on the Web and discuss these cases with colleagues at other sites using online discussion groups, videoconferencing, chat, electronic journals, and e-mail. There is no compelling reason for teacher preparation programs to confine their services to a particular locale when geographically scattered clients are seeking similar skills or training.
A complementary alternative is helping K-12 schools to take advantage of new tools and providers that can offer on-site training without colleges or universities necessarily serving as coordinators or intermediaries. The High Tech High Graduate School of Education, for instance, now offers its own master of education degree (Robelen, 2007).Through course work and research, graduate students work with mentors and instructors on-site while pursuing questions relevant to their practice and applying what they learn. This model draws heavily on school personnel while minimizing the costs and complications of running such a program from a college campus (High Tech High Graduate School of Education, 2008). Rather than requiring schools and universities to find ways to make preparation relevant and to cajole university-based faculty into practitioner-centered training, such an approach puts practitioners in charge and enables them to invite in universities and university personnel as they deem useful and on their terms.
With an increasingly mobile workforce, teachers also benefit particularly from training that is portable, that responds to particular professional needs, and that can be continued if they relocate. The new Hunter College teacher education program launched in partnership with KIPP, Uncommon Schools, and Achievement First is a promising step in this direction (Keller, 2008), although its geographic limitations and reliance on Hunter College’s resources make it more of an incremental advance than a full-blown remodeling. Given their resources and expertise, institutes of higher education (IHEs) will inevitably prove sensible hubs for some training and IHE faculty will play an integral role in designing training. It is time, however, to reconsider the default role accorded to IHEs in training and professional development.
A shift away from the assumption of university-based, preservice preparation requires (and permits) an appropriate reallocation of funds. Today, traditionally prepared teachers are expected to bear the opportunity cost of additional schooling in order to pursue employment. Meanwhile, individual teachers, school districts, and state dollars finance university teacher preparation programs. Decoupling professional training from IHEs would allow these dollars to be utilized differently, but funding such a shift is only possible if policy makers and district officials alter licensure rules, hiring practices, and the credit-counting element of compensation systems so that new approaches have the opportunity to prove their mettle.
Taking Specialization Seriously
Historically, educators have been expected to handle a sprawling array of responsibilities. They facilitate discussions, give lectures, grade essays, monitor homework, call parents, design individualized education programs for students with special needs, craft tests, mentor colleagues, patrol the cafeteria, design lesson plans, discipline infractions, and on and on. Indeed, the implicit assumption guiding staffing and operations in schools and school systems is that most teachers will be similarly facile at all of these responsibilities. In fact, the growth in untracked classrooms, the mainstreaming of children with special needs, and increasing support for “differentiated instruction” have increased the breadth of demands placed on a typical teacher in recent decades. While nearly 50% of teachers have earned a master’s or “specialist’s” degree (Snyder et al., 2008, p. 95), these labels have minimal impact on actual responsibilities and often amount to little more than honorifics.
Most discussion of K-12 specialization to date has sought to wedge the notion into existing arrangements by treating specialists largely the same as other employees, assigning specialists the usual passelof ancillary tasks, and rejecting the need to fundamentally rethink the organization of schooling.
Progress in medicine, for instance, has charted a very different course. There, gains have been reaped by doctors taking on more precisely defined roles, as less expensive and less exquisitely trained paraprofessionals (such as registered nurses and physical therapists) tackle complementary tasks. Medical specialties in the United States first sprouted, about a century ago, in response to advances in research and technology. The first modern specialty to gain recognition was surgery. A few years later, a second specialty emerged, the “internist,” which entailed treating nonsurgical internal illnesses. Over time, the number of specialists grew: from 17% of U.S. doctors in 1931, to 57% in 1960 (Stevens, 1971, p. 181), to 98% in 2000 (American Medical Association, 2008, pp. 404-406). New developments continued to make it harder for doctors to stay abreast of medical treatments, creating pressure to specialize. Today, the American Medical Association officially recognizes 199 specialties in the medical profession (pp. 15-19).
Crucially, specialization does not entail a thoracic surgeon or anesthesiologist taking rounds, dispensing general medical advice, and sharing duties with registered nurses–instead, medical practice has been reconfigured so that the skills and training of these specialists are exploited as fully as possible. None of this is to suggest that medicine has gotten specialization, or the routines governing the interaction between specialists and others, just right–only that it has approached the fruits of specialization with a discipline and seriousness that has been absent in schooling. A nurse who does his job well allows a doctor to do hers, and incompetence in any role would put patients at risk. Similarly, in school, it is not that some teachers are more worthy than others but that specialization calls for attention to how their roles are designed and how they are compensated.
The potential of specialization has been stifled by an attempt to shoehorn it into today’s educational structure with its radical egalitarianism and operational autonomy among teachers and its reliance on seniority and linear career trajectory. Discussion of specialization has often devolved into talk of career ladders or “master” teachers, with the implicit assumption that specialization is largely a function of experience and that many or most teachers can expect to ascend professionally in a fashion that ensures they get their turn at the top. This would be much like expecting all medical personnel to undergo similar preparation and to enter the profession as registered nurses, with the expectation that some experienced personnel will then eventually go on to become doctors. Such an arrangement would entail a massive overinvestment in the training of those personnel who never became doctors and would dramatically increase costs.
Such a construct would be bizarre, as it disregards the very tenets that make specialization useful. The entire point of specialization is that it leverages scarce skills, abilities, and knowledge, which means that not everyone can or should be a specialist. Indeed, nurses or orderlies play critical roles in providing medical care, and specialization allows them, as well as highly trained doctors, to better perform the tasks for which they are trained. Indeed, specialization is not simply a product of experience or natural skill but of particular training and preparation. The benefits of specialization are a consequence of a hand-picked, highly trained, and select number of individuals being freed to focus on the most challenging situations–enabling less specialized personnel to perform more routine tasks.
The reallocation of duties among specialists and nonspecialists implies appropriate adjustments in preparation, duties, compensation, and retention efforts. If a highly trained, demonstrably effective early elementary reading specialist is particularly valuable, then it makes little sense to have that teacher taking on ancillary tasks or to otherwise treat that teacher the same as a colleague with a less rarified skill set. Specialization allows employees with high degrees of training to delegate ancillary responsibilities to others, encouraging promising individuals to endure the rigors and opportunity costs of highly selective admissions processes and intensive training.
The resources to appropriately compensate these highly trained individuals can be freed up by reducing compensation for less specialized peers. This requires that training for the mass of nonspecialists be no more costly, time consuming, or exhaustive than is necessary. In the health sector, for instance, whereas doctors endure schooling that spans a decade or more, many states permit registered nurses and other support personnel in the medical field to be licensed with as little as 2 years of training (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2008b). It should further come as no surprise that there are five nurses for every doctor in the American health care system.
Although specialization is the norm in medicine, recognition for its implications has been largely absent even as educational reformers look enviously to medicine as a model of professionalization. To be sure, the medical profession faces its own challenges in coordinating the services provided by various personnel. Indeed, some of the guidance schools can draw is what to avoid when fostering collaboration. The lesson is neither to shrink from nor romanticize the potential benefits of specialization but to import useful insights about how to train personnel and support smart collaboration. Even in the most innovative schools and districts, teaching assignments bundle together the roles of content deliverer, curriculum designer, diagnostician, disciplinarian, discussion leader, empathizer, secretary, and attendant–and ask teachers to fulfill these roles for a variety of students. Efforts to import specialization into schooling have often been half-hearted, with special education or English language learning “specialists” spending 15 hours a week or more on mandated paperwork and assuming instructional duties that entail serving some students for whom their specialty is irrelevant. Similarly, the growing ranks of instructional aides have not been used to focus, narrow, or otherwise really rearrange the work that teachers perform.
In schooling, there appears to be areas–including reading, special education, English language learning–where specialists could be identified and prepared in a meaningful fashion. The state of research and development practice, preparation, and staffing, however, means that specialization even in these areas is more an aspiration than a reality. Identifying specialists in other domains will necessarily await advances in research and will require an investment in research and development that dwarfs efforts made to date (Bryk & Gomez, 2008).
Alternative models can be imagined. For instance, elementary reading instruction might be viewed as a distinct role parsed out from the other tasks of elementary instruction, with research-based preparation for diagnosing, instructing, and supporting early readers taught in highly specialized programs (perhaps analogous to accelerated programs that train many nurse practitioners). Or, scrutinizing teacher responsibilities might indicate that tracking attendance, supervising the lunchroom, or overseeing study hall draws on a limited knowledge base and set of skills that may be readily mastered by many.
Beyond the One-Size-Fits-All Job
Today, most professions feature a variety of part-time roles accommodating various life circumstances and degrees of ambition. In law, there are small family practices where attorneys work a few days a week as well as big-city firms where bleary-eyed attorneys work 90 hours a week. In accounting, there are employees who work intensive seasonal schedules and others who work pretty much 9-to-5 throughout the year. Statute, collective bargaining agreements, and district policies and staffing models typically take for granted the premise that the vast preponderance of personnel will be full-time, will be treated in similar ways, and will have similar sets of responsibilities. This has complicated the ability of schools to draw upon talent that seeks more opportunities or flexibility.
The default assumption in K-12 is that educators should be full-time careerists. Even though research suggests that the gross benefits of classroom experience taper off after perhaps 3 to 5 years of experience, the default staffing model continues to presume the value of indiscriminately encouraging 25 years of service (Ferguson & Ladd, 1996; Kane, Rockoff, & Staiger, 2006; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005). Now, if educators constitute an intensively trained body of professionals, as is the case with physicians, then this makes sense. Their acquired skill and expertise would be difficult to replace. However, to the extent that some educators draw upon less specialized or more readily acquired skills, as is the case with nurses, the challenge ought to be approached rather differently.
These distinctions tend to be lost in education, where discussion of teacher retention makes no distinctions–treating the loss of high skilled and less skilled educators as equally problematic. In a review of the teacher retention literature, Harvard University’s Susan Moore Johnson and colleagues concluded,
As we have seen, studies of teacher retention generally disregard the issue of teacher quality, even though retention is of little value as an end in itself. Ensuring that each of the nation’s classrooms has a teacher matters little if students do not learn from her. (Johnson, Berg, & Donaldson, 2005, p. 103)
Staffing might, for instance, be augmented by drawing on community resources. Boston-based Citizen Schools provides highly regarded after-school instruction and career-based learning by arranging for local volunteers to work with students after school as part of an ongoing instructional program, leveraging local professionals on a part-time basis and taking advantage of their expertise (Citizen Schools, 2008). Rather than having adults simply mentor students on a one-on-one basis, such an approach includes arranged weekly modules that permit adults to teach skills and tackle complex projects with interested students. Such innovations highlight the potential value of solutions that are not wholly reliant on full-time, careerist staffing, while raising questions as to the kinds of cost-effective training, preparation, and support that will enhance the skills and effectiveness of the adults involved.
Questions for a More Vital Field
Four design assumptions that frame today’s teaching profession should be challenged–suggesting a concomitant need to fundamentally rethink the preparation and training of educators. Allowing ourselves to revisit these assumptions will offer up enormous opportunities to revitalize teacher training and preparation.
The first assumption is the expectation that the typical recruit will be a recent college graduate, implying a vast shift in resources, delivery mechanisms, and program orientation. The second is the institutional presumption that the vast majority of teacher education should take place in institutions of higher education rather than at schools or in other venues. The third is the notion that teaching should entail a relatively homogeneous job description, without significant specialization or differentiation of roles. The fourth is the expectation that teaching should be conducted by 3.2 million full-time educators rather than a smaller number augmented by additional personnel and tools.
These assertions amount to a frontal assault on established notions of teacher professionalism and the familiar role of teacher education. I am explicitly questioning our notion of who should teach, where they should be trained, what teaching entails, and what it means to be a teacher.
Such an exercise can provide important questions to explore and alternative approaches to ponder. There are at least four sets of questions deserving empirical exploration and thoughtful debate. First, how much potential is there to attract nontraditional educators into the field, how effective are they relative to more conventional candidates, and what–if any–kind of training is required for them to be effective? Whereas most alternative certification programs address the same basic skills and content as traditional programs while utilizing a different schedule and calendar, it may be that such preparation is not well suited to the needs of many entrants. Can we isolate the strengths and weaknesses that characterize midcareer entrants (relative to educators who enter the field as a first career) and adjust their preparation accordingly? Do midcareer entrants benefit from different preparation than do conventional educators–and, if so, do their needs vary with their backgrounds or the populations they intend to teach?
Second, if teacher preparation is not automatically presumed to be the responsibility of programs based in colleges and universities, where might it be situated and how might it be ordered? How might dollars be appropriately channeled to new providers? How might public officials, applicants, and education providers police against fraudulent or ineffectual providers? What can be learned from innovations like the High Tech High Graduate School of Education or CaseNET about the costs, benefits, and limitations of new delivery models?
Third, what kinds of instructional specialization are practical given our existing knowledge base? What kinds of specialization might be practicable with additional research, and what lines of inquiry are necessary to produce the requisite knowledge? What kind of training and licensure should be required for specialists, and how should pay scales and professional arrangements be modified to accommodate them? How do we determine which roles will require intensive screening and substantial investment in training and which ought to be regarded as requiring less selectivity or training? If classroom instruction is simplified by assigning specialists to deal with particular needs and challenges, how much more tractable might routine classroom activities become–and how might that alter the amount of requisite training for generalists? Recall that medical schools focus on training specialists and leave the preparation of many support personnel to institutions ranging from regional institutions to community colleges. Given the potential merits of such a model, how might various kinds of teacher education be uncoupled and provided in appropriate venues?
Finally, what would it look like for part-time educators to become an integrated component of the instructional force? What roles might they fill? What would be the costs of their more limited contact with students, and what benefits might accrue? What kinds of preparation and ongoing support would be most useful for part-time employees or volunteers, and how might training be focused or abbreviated in appropriate ways?
Rethinking the shape of the profession calls for a shift from the assumption that teacher preparation and training should necessarily be driven by institutions of higher education toward a more variegated model that relies on specialized providers, customized preparation for particular duties, and a “just-in-time” mindset regarding skill development and acquisition. Abandoning the default role for colleges and universities creates new opportunities. Rather than struggling to connect college-based teacher education programs with site-based mentors or to boost the quality of practice teaching, new models might permit new providers or district-based operations to house training in more client-friendly locales and to import academic expertise, input, and structure as they deem useful. Instead of the familiar and frustrating struggle to reshape teacher education programs or promote K-16collaboration, such avenues provide a largely untested but intriguing opportunity to erect new institutional forms and forge new arrangements.
Is there cause for concern that would-be reformers might run too far or too incautiously with the ideas floated above? Of course. With regard to specialization, for instance, it may well be that medical specialization has gone too far. It is certainly the case that educators cannot simply “hand off” a student the way that complementary specialists can hand off a patient, given the role that relationships, role-modeling, and personal connection play in K-12 instruction. These challenges and how they might be fruitfully tackled are precisely the kinds of questions that should occupy a vital and imaginative approach to rethinking how we prepare and support teachers.
Opening the door to unproven strategies poses obvious concerns about maintaining quality. If we change familiar practices, it would be absurd to expect that we can monitor quality with the same old approaches. Reshaping teacher education, instructional responsibilities, and the teaching profession will necessarily require new approaches to how we monitor performance, but the need to develop new quality control mechanisms should not provide an excuse to cling to outmoded practices.
Ultimately, teacher education suffers from a tendency to treat as inevitable the professional arrangements that have emerged through happenstance and accommodation. The modem teaching profession is well suited to the labor market, technological environment, and body of knowledge that held sway as the profession matured in the mid-20th century–but that context has evolved while the profession has not. It is my hope that a discussion along the lines sketched here will enable us to begin the process of crafting a profession better suited to the exigencies of the 21st century, harnessing new tools and answering new challenges–and that this will revitalize teacher education by bringing it out under the shadows of the past.
Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI.
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