Mike Rose Sorts Out Debate about Quality of Teacher Education

This morning Valerie Strauss has published the second in a series of three articles by UCLA education professor and writer Mike Rose about college programs in teacher education.  I blogged on the first piece in the series here.

You might think a series of articles about the education of teachers sounds boring, but stop and think about the hot debate these days on this topic.  After all, Congress just re-inserted  the Teach for America exemption into the continuing resolution on the federal budget and the President signed it into law.  This is the provision that rates young people who have come through just five-weeks of summer training “highly qualified teachers.”  And there are proposals to stop all pay incentives for teachers to earn masters degrees in the subject they teach or for taking courses to improve their teaching practices.

Personally I think this series by Mike Rose is Valerie Strauss’s holiday gift to us all.  I urge you to read today’s article and also the one that preceded it.  Today Rose addresses this question: What’s right—and very wrong—with the teacher education debate?

Should we make teaching programs more selective and close smaller programs in state universities and local colleges.  Rose wisely notes, “I think we need to be cautious about conflating academic achievement with the ability to teach.  The two are intimately related, but not one and the same.”  He remembers the teachers he observed as the basis of his widely acclaimed book about teaching: “With a few exceptions, the teachers in Possible Lives came from modest middle-class to working-class backgrounds… A fair number went through local or regional teacher ed programs—the kinds of programs that have been targeted in teacher ed critiques.  Because of finances or family expections or cultural norms, some of the teachers I observed had few other options.”

And what about research like that of Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College at Columbia University, research that showed that students taught by teachers trained at large research universities learned one-and-one-half more weeks of math every year than teachers trained in less-selective college programs.  Here Rose confronts a troubling misuse of such academic research when it is taken as a simple prescription for policy.

Rose writes, “Levine extrapolates from a single one-year study and projects out over 12 years… For the score differential found in one year to maintain itself over 12 years requires that all other factors in the lives of the children and their schools remain the same: that the students maintain the same level of motivation, don’t get sick, don’t experience family disruption. That teachers are equally immune from life’s perturbations, and when that is not the case, they are quickly replaced.  That the school-level leadership doesn’t change; that new policies aren’t enacted; that funding remains stable; that the community isn’t hit with economic hardship; and so on.  The 12-year extrapolation assumes an ‘other things being equal’ statistical model in a world where very little remains equal.  Such extrapolations make for dramatic statements, but they are not conceptually sound and should not be part of the logic of a policy recommendation that would have serious consequences for many regions of the country.”

There is much more in Rose’s excellent article.  Please read it and enjoy.

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