Thursday, November 18, 2010

Clinical vs. Theoretical? Yes, both.

The National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education issued a report this week arguing that teacher preparation programs, who have been traditionally heavy on theory and lighter on in-class internships should turn this model on it's head.  The recommendation is for the majority of a pre-service teacher to spend many more hours with a mentor teacher in a public school and far less time in their university classes.

I don’t think needs to be turned on its head. I think it needs to be expanded. Part of being an educator is being a scholar. We should be scholars of our fields (history, science, language, mathematics, art, etc…) and we should be scholars of educational theory, philosophy, and pedagogy. Reducing the number of classroom hours in order to increase the number of at-school hours is misguided and will result in a further deskilling of teachers that will eventually turn us from professionals to administrators of curriculum.

At the same time, some of the most important lessons I’ve learned have been at my schools where no university experience could have prepared me. When I began teaching fifteen years ago, I frankly expected to eventually mourn the death of a student. My own high school graduating class mourned the loss of three of our fellows to drinking and driving. When I heard on the 3rd of January that Ryan was dead, I was shocked but ready to handle the grieving I expected my classes would be experiencing. When I learned that he had been gunned down in front of his girlfriend and baby daughter by another teenager who mistook him for someone else, I was too shocked to cope effectively with the day.

What I am most concerned with proposals like NCATE’s proposed reforms is that these reforms are being born at the close of the NCLB era but before the functional birth of the Common Core Standards’s era.

Perhaps NCLB’s most damaging legacy is the decade long process of redefining the concept of “good schools” into a number of a fill-in-the-blank test. As this era sunsets, we are experiencing strong efforts to redefine “good teaching” and the behaviors that teachers can do that result in high scores on fill-in-the-black tests. I sincerely hope that NCLB does not succeed in redefining “well-educated person” as a high score on a fill-in-the-blank test.

I understand how emotionally satisfying it is for most people to look at one simple number and infer from it a judgement on a very complex system. It’s easy and satisfying to see a test score going up and think “good school,” “good teachers,” “well-educated children.”

We get the same feelings from watching the Stock Market go up or the stock values of a company go up. Stock up equals successful company. Stocks down equals failing company.

I want to remind each of us that Toyota’s stocks were climbing while they were making cars that would have unintended acceleration problems that caused dozens of deaths and injuries. BP’s stocks were going up right before the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Lehman Brothers’s stock was going up right before the bubble burst.

Our very best education experts tell a similar tale for schools. Rising scores on standardized tests are actually in indication of deep problems at a school and not improvement. This is because high scores on tests like the CST and the High School Exit Exam reflect superficial memorization of facts rather than deep complex thinking.

I get worried thinking that California’s teacher preparation programs may begin training a new generation of teachers to very good at the failing practices and processes of the last century.

I may be wrong, NCATE’s recommendations may in fact be dove-tailed in with the new Common Core Standards and the new generation of authentic assessments being presently designed for use in 2014. I certainly hope it is.

No comments: